Windows Vista attempts to ensure that you don't accidentally delete your files or have them unintentionally altered without some form of backup. To that end, Vista's System Protection features, enabled by default, automatically back up previous versions of your files regularly. These backups are known as Shadow Copies, and they are automatically created on a daily basis for files which have been altered, as well as being created whenever you use the System Restore feature to create restore points, or when you use the automated Backup features of the Backup and Restore Center. To access the System Protection settings, go to Control Panel>System and click the System Protection link in the left pane, or go to Start>Search Box and type " systempropertiesprotection" (without quotes) and press Enter.
I recommend tha t all of these functions be enabled initially until you can get a better idea of the types of backup strategies you wish to use for your system. The use of these features primarily impacts on hard drive space, and does not have a major performance impact. Given it may help prevent the loss of important documents and/or get you out of trouble if your have system issues, I believe on balance this makes them worth keeping enabled. There is some scope to customize these features, and we look at the various specific features of System Protection below.
Read more: Top 10 Changes to security in Windows 7.System Restore.
System Restore is not a general backup and restore utility, and should not be mistaken as one. It does not back up or maintain any copies of your personal files, such as your emails, pictures, documents or music.
Instead it tries to track and save information specifically on system-level changes, such as Windows system files which are changed due to driver installations and alterations made to the Windows Registry by programs. It is thus most useful as a general system state backup and recovery tool.
Enabled by default, System Restore relies on 'Restore Points' which are a snapshot of your system state at a point in time. Restore points can be created manually by you, as well as being created automatically on a daily basis, and also just prior to major system events like the installation of drivers or Windows Update patches.
To open System Restore, go to System Protection and click the 'System Restore' button, or go to Start>Search Box and type "rstrui" (without quotes) and press Enter. On the main dialog box for the utility, you will be presented with an option to go to the System Protection screen if you want to manually create a restore point. I strongly recommend manually creating at least one restore point after you have installed Vista and prior to conducting any detailed tweaking. Go to System Protection and click the Create button, then give the restore point a suitable name and click Create.
To use a restore point to return your system state to the way it was when that point was created, follow these steps:
1. Open System Restore, and if any restore points exist, you will be able to click the Next button and view a list of the restore points, and the date they were created.
2. Highlight the restore point and click Next. You will be shown the drive(s) to which the restore point applies, and you can then click Next, and on the next screen confirm that you wish to use that restore point.
3. Your system will restart and your system files will revert to the way they were at the time of the restore point. You will be notified if the restore was successful.
4. If you find that using the restore point was no help at all, or made things even worse, you can undo the use of the restore point by opening System Restore again, clicking Next to view the list of restore points, and selecting the 'Undo: Restore Operation' item, click Next and follow the prompts. Note that this option is not available if you use System Restore in safe mode.
If you wish to turn off System Restore, go to the System Protection screen and untick all the available drive(s) you wish to disable this functionality for, then click Apply. Note however that this also removes all existing restore points and turns off the general System Protection functionality. This is not recommended unless you are genuinely a very advanced user who does not experience system issues very often and you also regularly create backups of important files.
System Restore uses up to 15% of hard drive space on each hard drive it is enabled for, and requires a minimum of 300MB of free space to work properly. Over time System Restore will delete older restore points automatically so as not to exceed its size limit.
Although System Restore does not restore copies of your personal files as part of a restore point, the System Protection feature ensures that Shadow Copies, also known as 'Previous Versions' are automatically created for most non-system files during the creation of restore points. As long as you keep System Protection enabled on a particular drive, then shadow copies will also be made of relevant files whenever they are altered. While shadow copies are not a substitute for taking proper backups of your important files, this is one of the added safety features in Vista to help prevent accidental deletion or alteration of important files,which is why it is again recommended that you do not disable System Protection on your main Vista drive.
Just to be clear: the main difference between System Restore and Previous Versions is that System Restore is used for backing up and restoring system-related files, while Previous Versions is for backing up and restoring personal and other non-system files. Previous Versions of Windows system files (e.g. those under the \Windows directories) are not kept.
To view and/or restore the existing Previous Versions of any file, do the following:
1. Open Windows Explorer and browse to the selected file.
2. Right-click on the file and select 'Restore previous versions', or alternatively right-click on the file, select Properties and click on the 'Previous Versions' tab - both have the same effect.
3. Under the Previous Versions tab you will see all available previous versions listed in order of the date upon which the file was last modified, not the date it was saved. Note the Location field - if the file has been saved as part of a Shadow Copy on your drive, it will be listed as such; if it was backed up using the Backup and Restore Center, it will be listed as a Backup.
4. To restore a previous version, highlight the version you wish to restore and click the Restore button. Shadow copies are stored on your main Vista drive and will be restored immediately, whereas Backup copies will be stored on another medium such as CDs/DVDs or another hard drive and require you to have that particular medium connected or inserted in the drive before the restore can be completed.
5. If restoration is possible you will be asked to confirm the task, and if you agree, the file will be overwritten with the earlier version.
Again, while this is a very useful function, it is not a substitute for taking proper backups regularly of your irreplaceable personal files. Depending on the amount of drive space you have available and the number of files on your system, over time you will lose older previous versions.
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