Inside Leopard's Time Machine: Backups for the rest of us

Think backups are a bore? Think again

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To exclude items from backup, click the Options button in the Time Machine preferences screen. A list box will display currently excluded items. (The backup drive is always listed here and can't be backed up.) Use the + button to browse through the file system and add files, folders or hard drives to the "Do not back up" list.

Excluding files and folders to back up.
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Excluding files, folders and drives to back up. (Click for larger view.)

To stop excluding something, just select it in the list box and click the button. To exclude system files, browse to and select the System folder at the root level of your hard drive. Leopard will then ask if you want to exclude all system files or just the System folder.

Note the check box below the + and buttons. Check it if you want Leopard to warn you when old backups are being deleted because the backup drive has run low on space.

Traveling through time

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Ease of use and setup might be the well-achieved goals for Time Machine, but what everyone remembers from Time Machine demonstrations is the interface. Click the Time Machine icon in the Dock, and you're immediately transported to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." (A gratuitous Star Wars quote, but it seems accurate given Time Machine's sci-fi styled interface.)

Time Machine's restore interface.
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Time Machine's restore interface. (Click for larger view.)

The galactic background theme may be a bit over the top, but the actual three-dimensional interface is very clever. Most backup systems rely on lists of snapshots of an entire file system from which a user has to pick a single backup, read through the list of included files, pick one and restore it, and hope that they've picked the correct item on the first try (or else repeat the process). Time Machine, however, uses 3-D space to let users scroll through actual windows containing actual files.

Those files aren't just place-holding icons, by the way. You can use Leopard's new Quick Look feature to get a gander at any file -- complete text in Word or Pages, full-size preview for photos, and even playable video for movies, to offer some examples.

To scroll through the backups, you can click the on-screen arrow buttons; the windows will zoom backward and forward as you slide through time. You can also use the date bar on the right-hand side of the screen. This bar lists every available backup as a white dash, with gray dashes indicating dates where there is no backup. If you position the cursor next to the date bar, it will expand to allow you to read and select a backup, much like the magnification option for the Dock.

You can also navigate the file system in Time Machine just as you would in the Finder. Start out looking for something that was on the desktop, and then decide you want to check for something in an old Documents folder? No problem. Just click the Documents item in the sidebar of the window displayed in Time Machine and then inside a folder in there if need be.

This two-dimensional navigation of the file system is where using a three-dimensional interface pays off. You couldn't do that anywhere near as well as Time Machine does if you were relying on a list or window to identify the dates of a backup. It's an ingenious approach to using a three-dimensional space as something other than a visual effect or gaming technology.

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