Accessing The Time Machine From Other Computers

I have a Mac OS X setup in my office that includes an Apple Time Capsule in the middle of the network, streaming backups of every computer and laptop in our organization. One of the laptops was stolen, however, and I can’t figure out how to access the backed up data from it on the device.

Dave’s Answer:

Though my tale is a bit less dramatic (fortunately!) I too recently found myself needing to dig around on a Time Machine backup. Here’s how I solved it…

For clarity, “Time Machine” is the backup software system that’s included with Mac OS X and a “Time Capsule” is a physical device that serves as a backup storage system, along with an 802.11g wireless station and simple Ethernet hub. It’s quite a versatile box, actually, and I’m a big fan.

I first tried just launching “Time Machine” on one of the other Macs on our network, but while that offered a neato view of versions of my existing computer, there was no apparent way to get to other backups of other computers. Not useful.

Instead, a quick search of produced one splendid sounding match:

“Back-In-Time… Transcend Time Machine restoration possibilities. Back-In-Time offers an easy access to all the data backed up by Time Machine. Features that you can do with Back-In-Time only: Show how many versions of each document are available, and when they were saved. Show items that were deleted. Drag and Drop to copy items anywhere. Open multiple browsers at the same time. Handle multiple Time Machine disks. Access Time Machine data from other Macs. Preview different versions of each document. And much more…”

What caught my eye was “Access Time Machine data from other Macs.” That’s what I seek. So I downloaded Back-In-Time 1.0 the first thing I get to decide is if I really want to open up a disk image from a remote Internet source

mac open disk image

Yeah, I do, so I click on “OK” and proceed:

mac open disk image opening

Hold on a second, pardner! Are you sure you want to open a disk image that has an app downloaded from the Internet?

mac open app downloaded internet

Yes, Mr. Big Brother, I do. (actually, it’s very useful to get these reminders before you do something dumb and install some malicious software on your computer without thinking about it)

Now, just to make this scary, you need to actually tell this new application you just downloaded your Mac OS X administrator password:

back in time password

Since it’s going to be working with Time Machine disk images, it does legitimately need access to root so it can manipulate files and get to the file system. Go for it, I’m 99% sure it’s safe. 🙂

Now you finally start the actual application, which immediately prompts you for your registration serial number:

back in time serial number

If you have one, enter it here, but if you don’t just wait a few seconds and you can click on “Demo” and proceed with a fully functional application anyway.

When I finally got the app running, I promptly hit this error:

time machine data not found

Aww jeez, that’s frustrating! Since I am working with a Time Capsule (e.g., remote network backup device for Time Machine on my Mac OS X system) I need to do what it indicates, namely mount the remote volume and actually open the disk image.

The fastest way to get to the right spot in this situation is to click on the Finder (or Desktop) then type Shift-Cmd-K, which shows you all the network drives visible to the computer. One should be your remote drive. Connect to it by double-clicking:

mac time tunnel connected

When I double-click on the actual icon for the Time Capsule (in this case, the “Dave’s Time Capsule” icon in the above screen shot) I see information for each of the two computers I back up to the device:

mac time tunnel connected systems

The file I’m seeking is on the system identified as “Lighter than Air” (any guesses what kind of laptop it is? 🙂 so I double-click on that to open it, and see this:

mac mounting time capsule checking

The first time I did this, I waited. And waited. And waited for the “check” to finish up. Literally 90 minutes later I clicked on “Skip” and *poof* I was ready to proceed. Further tests show that you can also click on the “Skip” button faster than 90 minutes into the process, in fact immediately works pretty well too!

My theory is that because of how the Time Capsule stores its data, it’s a very, very long process to verify the data remotely. Whatever the reason, once you’re past – or skip – the verification step, it mounts the remote drive:

mac mounting time capsule mounting

Now Back-In-Time suddenly looks like a darn useful app as it automatically detects the newly mounted Time Machine archive and shows a summary of what’s there:

back in time mounted

The file I seek is in “Documents”, so that’s what I open up by simply double-clicking on that entry on the screen and see a helpful listing of what’s there:

back in time mounted image

It’s the 2007 tax worksheet that I was seeking and it’s conveniently right on top. Good. To grab a copy of it is simplicity itself: I just drag and drop the file entry onto my Desktop and… I have recovered the file from the Time Machine backup!

Very nice job, Thierry Rolland (the programmer who wrote Back-In-Time). If you ask me, Apple should just buy your application and include it with the Time Capsule subsystem. It’s that useful. No question, if you’re going to use this at all, though, do also register your copy. It’s $29 well spent the first time you use it!


Dave Taylor
About Dave Taylor
Dave Taylor has been involved with the Internet since 1980 and is internationally known as an expert on both business and technology issues. Holder of an MSEd and MBA, author of twenty books and founder of four startups, he also runs a strategic marketing company and consults with firms seeking the best approach to working with weblogs and social networks. Dave is an award-winning speaker and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs.

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