Windows 7 included a decent
but well-hidden feature called Previous Versions that allowed you to
recover an older version of a document or other data file, perhaps
because you made an editing error and then inadvertently saved over the
correct version. Previous Versions was a first stab at creating a front
end for a service called Volume Shadow Copy that debuted in Windows
Server 2003. And it was fine if you knew it was there. But most users
didn’t. That’s because you had to right-click on the document, choose
Properties, navigate to the Previous Versions tab, and hope that the
appropriate previous version of the file was there.
In Windows 8, Previous Versions has been replaced
by a vastly superior feature called File History. This feature works
much like Previous Versions did, and utilizes updated versions of the
same back-end technologies. But there are three major differences
between Previous Versions and File History. First, File History isn’t
enabled by default, so you’ll need to turn it on. Second, File History
uses a lot less disk space to perform its backups, thanks to new
compression technologies in Windows 8 and its ability to cache backups
on your system disk. And third, File History is about a million times
easier to use than Previous Versions. OK, we exaggerate. Maybe it’s
just a thousand times easier.
What File History Backs Up
Not impressed? Well, if you create your
own libraries, file versions in those locations will be backed up too,
and automatically. Come on, that’s downright impressive.
By default, File History automatically
backs up everything in your libraries, on your desktop, in your
Favorites, and in Contacts. That’s a lot more stuff than it perhaps
sounds like; remember that your libraries consist of eight locations by
default: My Documents, Public Documents, My Music, Public Music, My
Pictures, Public Pictures, My Videos, and Public Videos.
You can also configure File History to
automatically back up other locations of your choice or, to not back up
certain locations too. If you have a home network with a home server, a
network attached storage (NAS) device, or a PC with lots of storage,
you can even configure File History to work across the network, and
then automatically recommend that location to others on the homegroup,
creating a central location for all file backups.
CROSSREF Chapter 13 discusses homegroups, which is a networking feature that makes home-based sharing easier than ever.
To better understand File History, let’s see it in action.
Enabling and Configuring File History
File History, like Storage Spaces, is
implemented as a classic control panel. So the fastest way to access
its configuration interface is to use Start Search. Or, display Control
Panel via the new power user menu (mouse into the lower-left corner of
the screen, right-click, and select Control Panel) and then search for
File History using the preselected search box.
The File History control panel is shown in Figure 1. As you can see, it’s disabled by default.
File History actually caches a subset of
your file backups to your system disk. So this feature will often work
just fine even when you’re away from home with a portable computer.
On a single disk PC or device, like your typical portable computer, File History will recommend using a network location.
Figure 1: File History is disabled by default and will recommend a network location on a single disk system.
Alternatively, you can use any other disk,
including a removable, USB-based hard drive. If you have such a disk
attached to the PC, File History will resemble Figure 2, where the other disk is preselected.
Figure 2: You can use secondary disks for File History as well.
To enable File History, simply click the Turn on
button. However, some configuration options are available and should be
- Change drive:
If you’re not happy with the drive that File History selected, click
this link to select a new one. The resulting page will help you select
a new disk, if one is available, or a network location.
- Exclude folders: If
you would like to exclude certain folder locations from being backed
up, you can do so here. Remember that everything in your libraries,
desktop, Favorites, and Contacts is backed up, so be sure to pick a
folder inside one of those locations, since other locations are already
You can also manually run a File History backup at any time by revisiting the control panel and selecting Run now.
- Advanced settings: This important interface, shown in Figure 3,
provides some fine-grained control over key File History functionality.
You can change how often files are backed up, the size of the offline
cache (which is the size of the File History backups replicated on your
system disk), and the length of time to save backups. You can also use
this interface to clean up (that is, delete) older backups and
advertise your backup location to others on the homegroup.
Figure 3. Be sure to spend some time examining these options.
Once you’ve configured File History to
your liking, click Save changes to return to the main File History
screen and then click Turn on. File History will indicate that it is
saving copies of your files for the first time, but you are free to
close the window, get back to work, and do other things. You can pretty
much forget about File History until you need it.