Benefit Windows 8′s File History gives back your previous version files

Backing up your data is an important task that most of us neglect to do. Windows has included backup software of some kind for a long time now, but few people actually use it, because they forget, or don’t understand it, or don’t know it’s there, or simply can’t be bothered.

Microsoft’s latest attempt to get Windows users to back up their files is Windows 8′s File History. File History is an automatic point-in-time backup system that periodically saves snapshots of your data to a separate location (either a network file share or a directly attached hard disk).

Every hour, by default, any modified data files get safely archived away, and there’s a reasonably simple user interface to browse all the different versions of a file or folder that the system has stored, and from there they can be opened or restored.
However, Windows 8 is not the first Windows version to include a file history feature. Since Windows Server 2003, Windows has had the ability to automatically store historic file versions, in a feature known as Shadow Copies. Windows Vista (Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions) and Windows 7 (all versions) both include the same capability, calling it Previous Versions.

What is File History?

File History is a backup application that continuously protects your personal files stored in Libraries, Desktop, Favorites, and Contacts folders. It periodically (by default every hour) scans the file system for changes and copies changed files to another location. Every time any of your personal files has changed, its copy will be stored on a dedicated, external storage device selected by you. Over time, File History builds a complete history of changes made to any personal file.

It’s a feature introduced in Windows 8 that offers a new way to protect files for consumers. It supersedes the existing Windows Backup and Restore features of Windows 7.
What is unique about this approach compared to a more traditional backup and restore?

Regretfully, backup is not a very popular application. Our telemetry shows that less than 5% of consumer PCs use Windows Backup and even adding up all the third party tools in use, it is clear nowhere near half of consumer PCs are backed up. This leaves user’s personal data and digital memories quite vulnerable as any accident can lead to data loss. In Windows 8 Microsoft is actively trying to accomplish the following:

1.    Make data protection so easy that any Windows user can turn it on and feel confident that their personal files are protected.

2.    Eliminate the complexity of setting up and using backup.

3.    Turn backup into an automatic, silent service that does the hard work of protecting user files in the background without any user interaction.

4.    Offer a very simple, engaging restore experience that makes finding, previewing and restoring versions of personal files much easier.

While designing File History we used learnings from the past and added requirements to address the changing needs of PC users.

•    PC users are more mobile than ever. To address that, we optimized File History to better support laptops that constantly transition through power states or are being connected and disconnected from networks and devices.

•    PC users create more data and are more dependent on it than ever before. So we do not only protect what’s currently on the system drive but also any work they have done and data they have created in the past.

When a specific point in time (PiT) version of a file or even an entire folder is needed, you can quickly find it and restore it. The restore application was designed to offer engaging experience optimized for browsing, searching, previewing and restoring files.



Apple’s Time Machine backup system works in an almost identical manner, the only major difference being that Time Machine has a rather more whimsical user interface for restoring files.

File History (and Time Machine) work in a very different way to Previous Versions/Shadow Copies, and this has both good and bad aspects. Previous Versions depended on a file system feature called the Volume Snapshot Service (VSS). VSS solves the problem by letting the file system make static snapshots that freeze the file system at a given point in time. This allows multiple “views” of the file system: the current, live, modifiable view that regular applications see and use, and the frozen snapshots that backup software can safely copy.

File History and Previous Versions use very different technology to achieve a very similar goal. The biggest single difference between the systems is where they store the information. For Shadow Copies, the old snapshot blocks are almost always stored on the same volume as the current, up-to-date file. Technically, it is possible to store them on different volumes, but in practice, this is rarely done (and, in any case, was only ever possible on server versions of Windows).

File History only tracks files in certain locations; Libraries, the Desktop, and a couple of other places. Shadow Copies, in contrast, track almost the entire disk. This means that if you keep your files in an unusual location then File History won’t protect them. While files in the protected locations can be excluded (to, for example, avoid burning lots of space on podcasts or other readily re-downloaded data), there’s no provision to include extra locations.

File History can store more snapshots, and can make them more frequently, than Shadow Copies. The frequency at which it copies your files can be varied, from once every ten minutes, to once a day, with numerous intervals in between. It can also keep historic versions “forever,” or at least, until the volume used to store them is full. In comparison, you can only create 512 concurrent snapshots of a single volume.


Related posts:

  1. Infographic History of Computer Languages
  2. 10 tips to keep your computer well organized
  3. Windows 8 computers to go on sale in October
  4. Everything you need to know about Windows 8
  5. iDuplicate File Finder


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