Microsoft Details Windows 8's New 'File History' Feature

Microsoft laid out the details of Windows 8's new "File History" backup-and-restore feature for use with personal files in a blog post on Tuesday.

Bhodan Raciborski, a Microsoft program manager, said in the post that File History will supersede the current backup-and-restore approach seen in the Windows 7 operating system. Details about the File History feature have been known since January, with one account identifying it as something that was originally called "History Vault." However, Raciborski outlined some new information, plus reasons why Microsoft took its new direction.

Microsoft is ditching the current Windows 7 backup-and-restore approach because consumers aren't using it. Less than 5 percent of PC users have turned on the Windows backup feature, according to Microsoft's stats. With Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping for a change. File History promises to make the backup-and-restore process easier for consumers, but it also helps IT departments. For instance, File History makes it easier for users to restore older versions of files themselves, without having to enlist IT help-desk support. IT pros still have control of corporate compliance policies, though, such as file retention, because they can turn off the File History feature through Group Policy settings.

It's Personal
File History doesn't backup system files. Instead, it only backs up personally created files. Unfavorable reader comments have already appeared on Microsoft's blog post indicating that File History is something less than Microsoft's volume shadow copy service, which goes missing in Windows 8. Moreover, readers have also indicated that they wanted to see a backup feature from Microsoft that's more like Apple's Time Machine, which backs up both system and user files to an external drive. However, Microsoft seems to have taken the more limited approach it did with File History mostly to get consumers onboard, according to Raciborski's description.

The File History feature has to be turned on by the user (it's off by default), but once it's on, it will automatically and silently track file changes every hour, allowing a user to go back and restore older versions of a file. It's designed to work with devices that get power interruptions or that get turned off frequently, according to the blog. Microsoft recommends connecting an external USB drive to a device to enable File History. Users get the option to enable File History through Windows 8's autorun feature, which starts up when a drive is plugged into a USB port.

One big limitation of File History is that it won't back up a device's files to a cloud-based storage service. However, it's possible to work the other way around and back up cloud-based files to a device. For instance, Raciborski indicated that Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud-based storage service can be synced to a device's file system, enabling File History protection on the files that are stored in the cloud.

Backup for Home Networks
File History can be enabled across a home network by using it with Windows 8's HomeGroup sharing feature. Once a HomeGroup is set up on the network, File History detects it and suggests creating a shared backup. Individual PC users can then be invited to share HomeGroup as their common backup space.

The File History feature also works with Windows 8's BitLocker and "storage spaces" features. BitLocker is a drive-encryption technology. Storage spaces is a Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 feature that allows pools of storage to be created using various drives, allowing the drives to be hot-swapped in and out without disruption.

The use of File History with HomeGroup and its ability to work with storage spaces and BitLocker seems to be another indication that home networking may live on with Windows 8. Microsoft recently announced that it was killing off its Windows Home Server product, as well as Windows Small Business Server. Many media outlets have speculated that Microsoft's replacement for Windows Home Server will be Windows 8 itself. See this We Got Served blog series for a rundown on how the Windows 8 client operating system could be used as a server OS for home networking.

However, while Windows 8 will have File History as a "point-in-time backup solution," it's not the same as a full system backup -- something that was enabled by Windows Home Server. Raciborski described File History as "a good compromise," but for those wanting more, he outlined setting up a disaster recovery process. It's done by setting up a Windows 8 Microsoft account and syncing the PC settings and turning on File History. Restoring a PC from that point onward still takes a few steps, including syncing the settings again and reconnecting the File History and then reinstalling apps.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.