What’s the most important part of a computer? Is it the CPU? The hard drive? Possibly the memory? Nope, it’s none of these. The most important part of any computer is its data. Yep, the information managed by a PC — photos, documents, e-mails, and other such things — is the only thing about it that may truly be irreplaceable. Yet, strangely, it may also be the least protected. Microsoft aims to change that by introducing File History to protect Windows 8 users.
Backup in Windows is nothing new — it’s been there for generations. The problem is that very few people use it. Even Microsoft admits less than 5% of consumers use Windows Backup. Although people have devices like surge protectors and UPSes to protect their equipment, they are leaving their most important asset — their data — exposed to loss and corruption.
With the new File History feature, Windows aims to reinvent backup, making data protection so easy that every user can easily safeguard their information. File History eliminates the complexity of backup and restore operations. Designed for the modern PC user, File History is automatic and transparent once enabled. Users create more information in more places than ever before. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones have only increased the importance of data protection. Designed with all this in mind, File History not only creates copies of files, but it also provides protection against unintended modifications to those files.
File History is a different sort of backup. Its goal is to protect data a user cares about and nothing else: user libraries, the desktop, their favorites, and contacts. That’s it. File History does not protect operating systems, application files, or system settings. If you want to add a nonprotected folder or file to the protected list, add it to a Library. For a full disaster protection strategy along with turning on File History implement a recovery drive and sync your settings to your Microsoft account. (Windows Backup is still there for those who prefer to go that route.)
File History requires only two things to operate: Windows 8 and an external storage location large enough to store everything. The external drive can be a USB device or a network share, but as of yet that does not include a cloud drive. What is seemingly odd is that while File History won’t back up to the cloud, it will protect files located in the cloud. Specifically, File History will protect user files located on a Microsoft SkyDrive that has been configured to sync to the Windows 8 file system.
How does File History work once enabled? Once an hour it scans the system for personal files that have changed. The system then replicates modified files immediately to the external storage location configured for File History. If the once-a-hour frequency doesn’t suit your style, it can be changed from every ten minutes to just once a day.
I mentioned File History protects against unwanted changes; it accomplishes this by keeping track of versions of every file. By default, the program keeps every version of every file. Modify a file 20 times and File History will keep 20 copies of that file along with information about the point in time each of them existed. This makes it quite easy to roll back unwanted changes, but it could eventually fill that external drive. If File History storage becomes a problem, two choices exist: expand the storage or tell File History to maintain only a specific number of versions for each file.
Additionally, Windows 8 File History offers users not interested in the complexities of full-system scheduled backups a simple means to protect their precious data. It’s easy to turn on, there’s nothing to maintain, and it follows the “set it and forget it” approach. Microsoft may have finally found a more inclusive way to offer protection beyond Windows Backup. For the sake of my mother’s recipes and my sister’s photos, I sure hope so.
In a future Petri article, I’ll walk you through enabling File History and restoring a file from it.