Monday, October 15, 2012

Windows 8 - Incremental Backup with File History

Backing up data is not an option anymore and every single computer user must do it in one way or another. Although most consumers rely on third-party software solutions designed to take care of the backup process, operating systems have evolved a lot lately and come with some very interesting options in this regard.

Many people don’t know that Windows 7 already integrates a pretty advanced backup solution called “Previous Versions.” As a result, only a few actually used it, despite the fact that it’s able to provide some very helpful utilities.

Third-party backup tools have been around for a while, but with the release of Windows 8, more computer users are expected to simply stick to the built-in goodies. “Why should we do that?” you may ask. The answer is as simply as it could be.

Microsoft has spent a lot of time trying to develop these features, so some of the built-in Windows 8 utilities come with options that were until now available in third-party apps exclusively.

File History is one of the most helpful Windows 8 updates and is a much more advanced version of the aforementioned “Previous Versions.” It’s an integrated backup solution that’s very likely to attract more users than its predecessor, not only because it’s heavily advertised by Microsoft, but also thanks to the fact that it’s a lot better.

It’s the new generation “Previous Versions”

File History relies on an evolved idea first launched by “Previous Versions.” As you may find out just by simply reading its name, File History is supposed to keep track of your… uhm… file history, so whenever some of the locally-stored items are modified, the change is logged.

 File History creates backups of libraries, desktop, contacts and favorites, but before turning it on, make sure it's correctly configured.

The application, however, not only that logs all modifications, but also gives users the chance to go back to an older version of the updated file. A time machine, if you wish, that works in a similar fashion as the “Time Machine” already available on Mac OS X workstations.

Basically, File History tracks the files in your libraries, including documents, music, pictures and videos. The only condition is obviously to place your documents in “Documents,” music in “Music,” pictures in “Pictures” and so on. This is how Microsoft tries to take advantage of the libraries in a pretty innovative way.

There’s a catch however and this may actually be bad news for some users. Keeping old versions of multiple large files could use most of your storage space, so backing up video files for example may not be the best idea.

All features however are highly configurable, so you’re strongly recommended to have a look in the settings screen as well.

Configuration takes less than a minute

Launching File History is as easy as opening the “Start Screen” and typing “File History.” The “Start Screen” gets you to a Control Panel section that allows you to set up all File History parameters, including destination drives and exclusions.

By default, File History is turned off because it could use unnecessary space without the user knowing about it, but before turning it on make sure it’s properly configured.

 The "Advanced Settings" screen requires a bit more attention because it comes with a wider range of options concerning the way the feature works.

First, you need to pick the backup destination. You can save the backups to a network drive or to a USB external device, it’s your choice. File History works continuously and whenever a modification is made to a tracked file, another backup is automatically created. This means that storage space is a priority.

Since File History can create backups of libraries, desktop, contacts and favorites, you’re also recommended to create a list with excluded folders. A dedicated screen is available in this regard and it doesn’t require anything else than basic computer knowledge. Simply input the path to the target folders and you’re done.

The “Advanced Settings” screen is the one that needs a bit more attention. This one lets you adjust the time interval for saving copies of files, but also the size of offline cache. You’re also allowed to choose the maximum number of days to keep the saved versions, but also to recommend the backup drive to other members of the homegroup.

Restoring files is piece of cake

There are two very simple ways to get back to an older version of a specific file.

First of all, you can restore files from the same configuration screen we told you about a bit earlier.

There’s a “Restore personal files” link in the left panel of the screen that enables you to browse the available backups and restore the one you want. Previews are also available, so everything is easy as pie.

 Older file versions can be restored straight from File Explorer using the "History" button placed in the Ribbon.

It’s also very important to know that File History is fully integrated into File Explorer, which is the new version of the old-fashioned but utterly cool Windows Explorer.

Whenever you wish to restore a file to an older version, simply browse to its location, select it and hit the “History” option in the Ribbon. Windows 8 should open the same file restore screen that allows you to see all saved versions and choose the one you need.

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