Microsoft details Windows 8 backup system, hoping people will use it this time

Microsoft details Windows 8 backup system, hoping people will use it this time

Summary: The company has explained the rationale behind the new File History feature, although its background nature may make it unsuitable for many enterprise customers

TOPICS: Windows

Less than five percent of consumer PCs use Windows Backup, Microsoft has said, explaining why it has introduced a system of continuous backup in Windows 8.

The new system, File History, backs up content stored in the Libraries, Desktop, Favourites and Contacts folders to a chosen external storage device, by default every hour. In a blog post on Tuesday, Microsoft programme manager Bohdan Raciborski said the new approach was necessary as the old one had failed, leading many people to lose valuable data.

Microsoft's File History
Microsoft's new backup system, File History, backs up content stored in the Libraries, Desktop, Favourites and Contacts folders to a chosen external storage device, by default every hour. Image credit: Microsoft
"Regretfully, backup is not a very popular application. Our telemetry shows that less than five percent of consumer PCs use Windows Backup and even adding up all the third party tools in use, it is clear nowhere near half of consumer PCs are backed up. This leaves users' personal data and digital memories quite vulnerable as any accident can lead to data loss," Raciborski wrote.

The solution, Raciborski added, was to make data protection easier and so automatic it barely requires user interaction. File History will hopefully provide "a very simple, engaging restore experience that makes finding, previewing and restoring versions of personal files much easier", he added.

Bad for business?

However, it seems the background nature of File History's activities could make it unsuitable for many businesses. "Enterprise customers should be aware that File History may not comply with their company security, access, and retention policies," Raciborski wrote. "For that reason, we offer a group policy setting that allows enterprise administrators to disable the feature for an entire organisation."

Crucially, the File History system does not offer full system backup — however, people will still be able to use the old Windows Backup to do this, if they so wish.

"Instead of protecting the entire system (operating system, applications, settings and user files) File History focuses only on user personal files. That's what is most precious and hardest to recreate in case of an accident," Raciborski said.

No cloud backup

File History will also only back up data to physical media, and not to the cloud — not even Microsoft's own SkyDrive service. According to Raciborski, "while the cloud is great for storing files you'd like to access on-the-go, or for sharing files with others, backing up terabytes of data to the cloud requires a specialised service".

"Many cloud services today support local synchronisation, where the data in the cloud is mirrored in your local file system. Sync solutions by their very nature copy changes immediately to all locations, which means accidental deletes or inadvertent changes or corruption to files will be synchronised as well. The best way to address this problem is to couple your sync service with a point-in-time backup solution like File History," he wrote.

Raciborski also noted that Microsoft had optimised the new system for laptops that are constantly changing power state or connecting to and disconnecting from networks.

Topic: Windows

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • One more reason why I'll get Windows 8

    I was one of the 95% not backing up until only recently when I learned backup can be done on my USB. Still, that Windows 8 makes it default makes it one less thing I'll have to remember on upgrade.
    D.J. 43
  • Careful, more positive

    "File History will also only back up data to physical media, and not to the cloud — not even Microsoft's own SkyDrive service."
    I misunderstood this on first reading, so suggest the following expansion.

    1. Skydrive has two functions: to synchronise files across devices and to backup those files in the cloud. If a user lost all his devices his data would still be safe in the cloud.

    2. When File History is enabled in Windows 8 the Skydrive folder is also included in the protection provided by the nominated backup location. So if only one device has File History enabled, all devices effectively have Skydrive History actively protecting data.

    3. Resilience can be improved further by:

    a. Enabling File History on two devices, effectively providing ...

    b. ... RAID 1 protection for Skydrive data, which could be implemented the old fashioned way, or ...

    c. ... using the new Storage Spaces facility to provide the equivalent of RAID 1 data duplication.

    d. File History provides [i]continuous[/i] protection: saving changes every hour.

    Long have I argued with ZDNET pundits that Vista and not the abominable Windows Home Server should have provided these data protection mechanisms for the typical consumer. Now under competitive threat from various directions MSFT have chosen to do the right thing.

    While the majority lament the passing of the Start orb and the clumsiness of Shutdown - here is a real killer feature in Windows 8. Nothing would be more fatal to an unsophisticated user than losing years worth of work ... and surely a 20+ year old operating system should prevent such a catastrophe!
    • Without forgetting Storage Spaces

      This is Windows 8 equivalent (and less buggy I'm told) implementation of Drive Extender which was found on Windows Home Server and was sorely missed for its latest version.

      That combined with File History (and Skydrive for those who wishes), will make Windows much more secure than before.

      Yes I was missing the Start Orb until I installed Classic Shell which adds back a start menu and lets you boot to desktop directly. So with that I think I'm ready for the Windows 8 upgrade (I'm able to avoid Metro, yeah!)
  • Cloud

    I've forgot all about backing up for a very long time!...

    Personal: I have all my files on SkyDrive using both the Win7 and Win8 app, and Office's built-in integration to create and access content, plus from any web browser. Then I have my emails on Hotmail, synched with Outlook.

    Work: files stored in SharePoint Online (Office 365). I can access content through the browser, Windows Explorer, and SharePoint Workspace. Email are stored in Exchange Online and again I use Outlook on my machine or Outlook Web App.
  • Most People Do not Back up

    No matter the operating system and no matter how easy the tools are. The Backup system built into Windows was much improved with Vista and made it simple to back up your data by simply purchasing a USB or secondary hard drive. Despite this not many people do it. I have set it up personally for many family members and close friends and it is something I recommend on every computer I service yet I still get people that come to me with a crashed hard drive and expect miracles to get their years of pictures, documents, music and other data off a drive that is mechanically toast.

    If I build a computer for someone I usually factor in either an external drive or a secondary internal drive and set up the backup for them. It has been a life saver on some occasions as I have been able to easily restore a person's PC almost to the point right where they left it before the Hard Drive failure.
    • Online backup

      is exploding in popularity. Its stupid simple and so much better in terms of disaster recovery. We use Crash plan for Mac's and PC's. Sure it costs more, but its stupid simple and your whole house could burn to the ground and you could access your files from any computer/tablet connected to the Internet.
  • Really? The first paragraph?

    "...Favourites and Contacts folders". What the heck is a favourites?
    • Internet Explorer's favourites folder.

      Internet Explorer's favourites folder.
    • Favourites

      It's the British spelling of favorite.Programme didn't seem a bit off?
  • I use System Imaging

    Its one of the best way I have found to backup my Windows 7 installs. The problem I have with standard backup in Windows 7 and even Vista, when restoring it, it does an awful job. It either has problems restoring to default locations or cannot find some of the files it had backed up. Maybe File History will serve as a better solution.
  • Microsoft details Windows 8 backup system

    and NO ONE cares.
    • I do...

      ... and a few of the other people that commented above. Your "NO ONE" is wrong, this your comment is no longer valid.

      Thanks for playing.
    • I care

      milo ducillo
  • New computer backup system.

    There is no satisfactory explanation for why one should not have a backup. Most full backup programs allow for retrieval of files and folders also. Past experience with Microsoft's backup has been dreadful, so advice to the wise: find a good third party full system, and sleep better every night.
  • Tragic

    It is sad that their data shows that the avg end user does not make a backup of the data. You would think that with all the harrassing messages from ios and windows, they would at least make a back up. 5% is really terrible. What's sad is that almost every install, upgrade, or hardware/software modification comes with the warning to back up data.
    The most interesting issue which should be studied is why people would risk losing all their data when the cost of doing the backup is marginal and has been simplified extensively.
  • I doubt it'll change the landscape of who backs up much

    File History looks very good but I doubt it'll change the landscape of who backs up much, why? Because it's still hidden away in Control Panel (not even Windows 8's PC Settings).

    It needs to be presented during initial setup to be worthwhile.

    It's obvious this isn't intended for enterprise use, what internal Windows app has ever been intended for business use? They're all designed around home users with extra software needed for businesses.
  • Translation: Windows 8 will copy Time Machine

    because shadow volume copy was a usability nightmare.
    • You are confused

      You are mixing apples and oranges. This features does not replace shadow volume copy. In fact it almost certainly makes heavy use of it to backup files that are in active use.

      The file history functionality has actually been around since XP. Time Machine came later. But this is typical Microsoft: build functionality into Windows for third parties to exploit. Which makes for a good ISV ecosystems except when they fail to take advantage of new features. As in the hardware realm, Microsoft has learned the hard way they cannot rely on third parties to do the right thing.
  • Microsoft details Windows 8 backup system

    Microsoft Backup is as useless as tits on a boar hog. It has been this way for years, since back in the days of Windows 95. Frankly, I would not TRUST storing my things in the CLOUD no matter how good they talk it up because it is NOT AS SECURE as they tell you it is. Look at the WEEKLY PATCHING that goes on just with your desktop pc and os.

    Microsoft missed the boat years ago when they could have acquired one of many good backup systems out there, but no, they decided to develop their own in house and include it with Windows, but it has always been the CHEAP version, never having any considerable features and options with it.

    If I were Bill Gates or Balmer, I would have spent the money to acquire Acronis or one of the other backup solutions and merged it into Windows like they did with Foxbase into Access.

    Bottom Line .... MICROSOFT ... quit trying to RE-INVENT the WHEEL ... If it ain't broken, don't fix it ... and do more research into the END USER base to know what WE THINK rather than relying on your PROGRAMMERS and MANAGEMENT to come up with what WE want. Its old hat and frankly, not very INNOVATIVE !
    • Not a choice for them

      Try to keep in mind this is the same Microsoft that was threatened with more DoJ pressure any time they added a feature perceived as stepping on the toes of third party software companies. This is why there is so much untapped functionality in Windows. For example, Stardock makes software allows for an amazing level of cutomization of the Windows interface but according to the head guy there, most of it is just providing an interface to functions introduced with XP but unexploited by MS itself.

      So Microsof is forced to tell their coders they need to create an applet to do X but don't make it as good as you'd like to make because we'll get hassled over it. Nobody else in the software business has to live this way and it sure isn't helping consumers, so who is the DoJ really serving in this situation?