If you enable backups through Lion’s Time Machine feature, you can literally move backward through the contents of your MacBook’s hard drive, selecting and restoring all sorts of data. Files and folders are ridiculously easy to restore — easier than any restore you’ve ever performed, no matter what the operating system or backup program.

Time Machine can even handle things like deleted Address Book entries and photos you’ve sent to the Trash from iPhoto! To be blunt, Time Machine should be an important and integral part of every MacBook owner’s existence.

It’s also important to note that you must have an external hard drive to use Time Machine — and if you travel often and want to maintain a timely backup, you’ll have to take that external drive with you on the road so that it can stay connected whenever possible. (Luckily, there are countless portable hard drives on the market these days that take up less space than a paperback book.)

Before you can use Time Machine, it must be enabled within the Time Machine pane in System Preferences. Invest in an external USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire hard drive to hold your Time Machine backups.

Here’s how you can turn back time, step-by-step, to restore a file that you deleted or replaced in a folder:

  1. Open the folder that contained the file you want to restore.

  2. In a separate window, open your Applications folder and launch the Time Machine application, or click the Time Machine icon in the Dock.

    Naturally, you can also click the Launchpad icon in the Dock and click the Time Machine icon. If the Time Machine icon appears in the Finder menu bar, click it and choose Enter Time Machine.

    The oh-so-ultra-cool Time Machine background appears behind your folder, complete with its own set of buttons at the bottom of the screen. On the right, you see a timeline that corresponds to the different days and months included in the backups that Lion has made.

  3. Click within the timeline to jump directly to a date (displaying the folder’s contents on that date).

    Alternatively, use the Forward and Back arrows at the right to move through the folder’s contents through time. (You should see the faces of Windows users when you “riffle” through your folders to locate something you deleted several weeks ago!)

    The backup date of the items you’re viewing appears in the button bar at the bottom of the screen.

  4. After you locate the file you want to restore, click it to select it.

  5. Click the Restore button at the right side of the Time Machine button bar.

    If you want to restore all the contents of the folder, click the Restore All button instead.

Time Machine returns you to the Finder, with the newly restored file now appearing in the folder. OUTstanding!

To restore specific data from your Address Book or images from iPhoto, launch the desired application first and then launch Time Machine. Instead of riffling a Finder window, you can move through time within the application window.

For simple backup and restore protection, Time Machine is all that a typical MacBook owner at home is likely to ever need.