Windows 8 File History
If you've used the Time Machine feature on a Mac (or had to listen to a Mac owner brag about it), and wished there was something similar for Windows, here's good news. File History is a cool feature in Windows 8, that can save your bacon by automatically making multiple backup copies of your important files. You should know how it works, even if you haven't moved to Windows 8. Here's the scoop...
What is File History?
I still have not completely warmed up to Windows 8, although I've found that it can be tweaked so that the most annoying features are pretty much invisible. (See Switching to Windows 8 Made Easier.)
But there is at least one part of that I like very much. I’m talking about File History, an elegant replacement for the old Backup and Restore functions of earlier Windows editions. File History could be the greatest advancement in data security that Microsoft has ever developed.
Why? Because it takes the pain out of making backups regularly, and makes restoring data from backups natural and easy. Significant numbers of people will actually back up their data if File History becomes widely available, and that means a dramatic drop in catastrophes.
File History does not require understanding of technical details like disk images, incremental and differential backups, or painstaking plotting and scheduling of backup plans. It’s literally “set it and forget it” until you need to restore a file. Here is how to set up File History:
- Step 1: Plug an AutoPlay-compatible external drive into your computer.
- Step 2: On the AutoPlay notification that pops up, tap or click “Configure this drive for backup.”
That’s it. You’re done. No, really! From now on, File History will silently scan your folders, desktop, favorites, and contacts for any files that have changed or been created since the last scan (the default interval is one hour) and copy them to the external drive. It will keep as many earlier versions of a file as the external storage device permits.
If you want File History to use a networked folder or a USB drive instead of an external hard drive, do this:
- Open the File History control panel. (Use the Search icon to get there.)
- Click "Select Drive"
- Tap or click “Turn on”.
Many (but not all) applications store user-created files in the Windows 8 folders called Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop. Data that resides within these folder (and their sub folders) will be backed up, but data from other places won't, unless you configure File History to include them. You can do so by adding sub-folders to existing folders that are already being backed up. And if needed, you can exclude folders from the backup.
Microsoft's website notes that "File History doesn't back up files you have on SkyDrive, even if you have synched copies stored on your PC in folders that File History backs up." But the Windows 8.1 Update 1 that's supposed to roll out in April 2014 fixes that problem.
You can browse through the various versions much as you would browse your libraries using Windows Explorer. You can preview a file and, if it’s the version you want, restore it to its place on your main drive with a click.
How Does it Work?
When I was a new-hire at IBM in 1984, I attended a presentation by one of the company's top sales reps. He said "People always ask me 'How do computers work?' and I tell them 'Just great!'" It's the same with File History. But if you must know, here are a few secret tech details that I extracted from a Microsoft employee who wishes to remain anonymous:
File History uses fewer system resources than previous backup technologies. Instead of opening directories and directly scanning files for changes, File History just reads the NTFS change journal, a running record of every file change kept by the NTFS file system used by Windows. From the journal, File History compiles a list of files that need to be copied without checking the files themselves.
File History adjusts its own performance to accommodate many ever-changing conditions: power source, foreground activity, network availability, and more. When you close a laptop’s lid and the device goes to sleep, File History suspends operation and resumes when the device wakes up, automatically and exactly where it left off.
One thing that File History doesn't do is make a full system backup, or system image. I do recommend making a system image on an external hard drive every week, every month, or on a schedule that suits your needs. On lower left part of the File History window, you can find a link for System Image Backup. If you already have backup software that you like, such as the free Macrium Reflect, you can use it to make your image backups, and schedule them to run automatically.
File History offers simplicity and peace of mind. It’s so easy to set up that there’s no excuse for not doing so. Once set up, it constantly and unobtrusively protects all of your critical data. It’s almost sufficient reason, all by itself, to switch to Windows 8.
Are you using Windows 8's File History feature? If so. tell me about your experience with it. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Apr 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Windows 8 File History (Posted: 7 Apr 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved