Windows 8 includes a useful File History feature, which can back up your data files according to the schedule and duration you select. This saves files from your user profile folder and sub-folders to your preferred external drive; libraries, desktop, contacts, favourites and other files and folders. Most importantly it holds multiple versions over time so that you can perform selective data restores to a version in time. It works like Windows Restore Point, allowing you to save the User Profile folders to external storage devices, for easy restoration at any time.
This is the Windows answer to the Apple Mac Time Machine feature. About time too. Windows 7 and Vista had Previous Versions, a blunt tool that worked poorly…
To set up File History, go to the desktop Control Panel, select System and Security, then (misleadingly) Backup your Data.
This opens into the File History application. There’s a few selections to make:
- Select Exclude Folders to choose which files and folders to save in the following dialog
- Select Advanced Settings to choose the backup frequency, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes, 3, 6, 12 hours or daily, and the length of time data is saved – the default is forever, else it’s 1, 3, 6, 9 months or 1, 2 years, or until space is needed, in which case it drops off the oldest generations.
- Select Change Drive to choose the backup destination,
Finally select the Turn On button to enable the feature with your settings. It will immediately first-run a backup which becomes your baseline.
From this point, you can check on the history for any file in Explorer by highlighting it, choosing the Home tab and selecting History to view its properties.
- File History assumes you have ALL your data to backup stored in your Windows 8 profile folder. You can exclude sub-folders, there is currently no way to include folders from anywhere else. However, Windows Libraries aggregated folders count among your profile folder.
- Check your space requirements as this does NO file compression AND it keeps multiple generations of data according to the settings you choose.
* Be aware of multiple programs writing data to the device and indeed, multiple users running File History to the same device. This will chew up space at a rapid rate.
* You can recommend a selected shared backup location to everyone in your Homegroup for them to use for File History. This will also chew up space at a fast rate.
- The first preference is to back up to USB flash drives (not recommended for the reasons above) and external USB hard drives. You can add network drives as a backup destination if you can get File History to accept your selected network folder. Windows 8 itself seems to prefer heterogeneous Windows networks over cross platform network shares, so unless you understand networking, keep it simple.
- If your selected backup drive is not available, it can’t back-up; your will get notifications to plug in the specified device.
- If you add or change a backup device, File History will move your data to new target location when specified from Change drive window. For example, changing backup location from an external USB storage device to Network drive will prompt a dialog asking for confirmation to start moving your data to specified network location. Whilst this is convenient, it may prevent you from manually moving data between old and new backup locations.
- File History replicates the folder structure of the files you choose to backup at the target location. Whilst you can find files at the backup location by navigating the same path, File History prefixes the file names with its own version-tracking data in order to manage backup and restore for you.
- File History automatically detects the plugged-in external storage devices and you can add devices by plugging in and refreshing the File History window. You can choose any remote location from Change drive window.
This is quite a blunt instrument for mass-market, no-brain backup as a background task. File History is effectively an unattended backup that Windows 8 runs for you. This is not, as has been claimed, the reason to ditch all third-party file backup applications with more complex settings, however unlike many third-party file backup utilities, it keeps track of file versions to easily identify and restore the file version you want to its original location.
Silent and unobtrusive, it doesn’t disrupt your productivity unless there’s a problem. As an incremental backup, this is an excellent safety net for many non-technical users, although anyone editing a lot of photos or video might run out of storage space very quickly without perhaps realising how its being used.
Looking at the frequency options, it’s a safety-net for quite paranoid users, the longest interval being daily. At 15 minutes you may use up space at an alarming rate.
File history breaks down gracefully but to a stand-still when the storage location is unavailable or runs out of space.
File History – Restore Backups will be covered in a later post. AJS