Using File History in Windows 8 for data recovery

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Image credits: Microsoft

There have been plenty of complaints aimed at the modern interface in Windows 8. But there have also been several enhancements to desktop features and the OS as a whole that are overlooked. Microsoft is changing the way you back up data by integrating its cloud based storage and sharing service SkyDrive. And in the event of a major system crash, the company has introduced two new features — PC Reset and PC Refresh. Both allow for a fast and easy restoration of your computer with minimal data loss.

Another great new feature in Windows 8 and soon to be released 8.1 is File History. So what is the File History feature? Well, according to the Official Building Windows 8 Blog:

“File History is a backup application that continuously protects your personal files stored in Libraries, Desktop, Favorites and Contacts folders. It periodically (by default every hour) scans the file system for changes and copies changed files to another location. Every time any of your personal files has changed, its copy will be stored on a dedicated, external storage device selected by you. Over time, File History builds a complete history of changes made to any personal file.

“It’s a feature introduced in Windows 8 that offers a new way to protect files for consumers. It supersedes the existing Windows Backup and Restore features of Windows 7.”

How to Enable File History

The File History feature is not enabled by default, which might seem counterintuitive. But when you set it up, you’ll understand why. To turn it on, use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + W to bring up the Settings search box and type file history. Then under the Results select the File History icon.

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This is a screenshot of my computer running the Windows 8.1 Public Preview. In Windows 8, the steps are the same, but the layout is just a bit different.

Configure Windows 8 File History

The File History feature will open on the desktop and search for compatible drives connected to your system. You can use an extra internal, external or network drive for File History.

Typically it will pick the connected drive with the most amount of free space. But no worries, you can specify the drive you want to use. If you want to use another connected or network drive, click the Select Drive link in the left column. Then you can choose the drive you want. For instance, on this computer I selected a network location on a Windows Home Server.

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After you’ve selected the drive you want to use to back up and store your File History, simply turn it on.

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The backup will kick off. By default, File History backs up Libraries, desktop items, favorites, contacts and your local SkyDrive folder, if you have SkyDrive desktop installed in Windows 8. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, has SkyDrive built into the entire OS by default.

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In Advanced Settings you can also control how often copies of your files are saved, the size of the offline cache and the length of time for which versions are saved.

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If you’re mainly using File History to keep copies of you spreadsheets and other Office documents backed up, you can exclude folders to save space. For example, you probably don’t need a complete copy of your music or video collection.

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Recover Data from File History

If the unthinkable happens and you lose an important document or file, or need to recover an earlier version of, say, a large spreadsheet before major changes were made to it, it’s easy to recover. Navigate to the location of the file you’re looking for in Windows File Explorer, and from the Ribbon, click the History icon.

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Now you can recover the file you need. The most recent backup of the files will appear, but you can navigate back in time to earlier dates. That allows you to recover files that were modified on a certain date. Highlight the file you need and click the green Restore button. This will place the file in its original location. 

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If you have tons of files, you’re going to have a hard time telling the correct one you need by looking at dates and file names. So if you need to look at the actual document, File History allows you to preview it, which makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

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Data recovery is quick and painless with Windows 8 File History – just make sure to set it up before disaster strikes.

Brian Burgess
Brian Burgess resides in Minnesota. A technology enthusiast his entire life, he worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. In addition to contributing to Tech Page One, he’s the Editor in Chief at groovyPost.com, a contributor to Gizmag, and has written for other notable tech sites Byte, InformationWeek, and How-To Geek.
Brian Burgess
Tags: Software
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