Back-in-Time: Making the Most of Time Machine

Time Machine is one of Apple’s greatest inventions – instead of dreading backups and regretting not having one when your disk fails, you can now just switch to your backup disk and restore it.

But as comfortable as the backing up itself is, it can still be tricky to find the one file you are needing. That’s where Back-In-Time comes in. This handy little tool allows you to dive into your (and not just your own) backups and quickly get what you need.

What You Can Use Back-in-Time For

Most of us will have a partition of an existing hard drive, or an entire external hard drive, set aside for backups. As long as your partition or hard drive with the Time Machine data is accessible, Back-In-Time can read it.

Better yet, if you have multiple Time Machine backups or multiple backup disks hooked up, you can access all those at once too. Oh, and have you ever switched to another Mac only to find that Time Machine wasn’t accessing the backups made by your previous hardware? Well, Back-In-Time does.

What You Can’t Do With Back-in-Time

Still, you will need Time Machine to actually create backups. Back-In-Time is more of a helper tool to allow for easier navigation, search, and restore of data. It doesn’t back up data by itself.

Getting to Know the Interface

Back-In-Time is divided into several panes. On the left, your folders and connected drives that contain Time Machine data are displayed. You will also see Recent Items (folders you have accessed recently), which can speed up a search if you need to look into a specific folder more often. You can also add a folder to your items list to have it accessible all the time.

The Back in Time Interface

The Back in Time Interface

The main window is divided into an upper and lower part, with the upper part displaying a timeline of tiny calendar sheets, and the lower part displaying the content of the folder you selected on the left.

If you choose to show it, you can have a display with extra information appear as a fly-out-window. It will also explain some of the icons shown next to your files (more about that a little later).

If, during a search, you keep forgetting what was where, do not despair. Back-In-Time allows you to open as many browser windows as you need so you can have different backups displayed next to each other for comparison.

Work with Multiple Windows

Work with Multiple Windows

Working With Backups

Navigating between backups is as easy as sliding up and down on the timeline. I actually prefer this method, since Time Machine’s animation – while gorgeous – isn’t the quickest interface to navigate.

If you have an item selected in the lower part of the main window, you will have colored indicators in the timeline. The backup that included the file for the first time will be red, the backups that include the file unchanged will be yellow and backups missing the file will have a light blue indicator.



This is one of the huge advantages of Back-In-Time over Time Machine: the latter does show you when a file was added (by highlighting or graying out the tiny bars on the right), but it will not show you when it was changed.

More importantly, Back-In-Time gives you the option of showing deleted items simultaneously with current items. Deleted items will sport a little waste basket icon, indicating that the file is not part of the currently viewed backup, but has been in that folder at some earlier time. Again, if you don’t remember where you stored a deleted file, that will make the search go much faster.

Deleted Items

Deleted Items

By far the most amazing feature of Back-In-Time is what I’d like to call “versions”. If you see a little red circle with a number next to a file or folder, it means that there are multiple version of the same file inside of that Time Machine backup of yours.

I found that especially useful with my iTunes library files – I can see exactly at what time a backup was made and how big it is, without having to actually having to go to every backup separately (as with Time Machine).



Restoring or Copying Files

Now that you have found the file(s) you were looking for inside your backup, how do you restore them? With Time Machine, you need to select the file and click restore. For better or worse, there are very few options.

Back-In-Time, on the other hand, lets you use the easiest method possible – drag and drop. You can also go through the menu and adjust the copy/restore settings there.

Restoring an Item

Restoring an Item

Modifying Time Machine Settings

While being mainly a tool to help access the data backed up, Back-In-Time can also adjust the default Time Machine backup interval.

As the application cautions, changing the setting might cause issues and – of course – it could fill up your backup disk much faster. If it’s just certain applications you need to backup often, for example backups of your Photoshop files or video edits, consider an application like ForeverSave which allows a much more fine-tuned backup of specific files/applications.




Back-In-Time is a very useful tool, especially if you have many different backups or need to look for specific files quite often. The in-built search capabilities are somewhat more comfortable and easier to handle than those provided by Time Machine.

For the occasional Time Machine user, this application is probably over-kill. Apple’s interface is simple and clutter-free for a reason.


Back in Time is a utility for making Time Machine backups more useful, and easier to access. It works well, but might be a little overpowering for the casual Mac user.



Add Yours
  • Seems pretty easy

  • Back in Time seems to have many of the features I wished Time Machine had.