Microsoft Monday

Apple touts their Time Machine feature in OS X as a breakthrough automatic backup system, but they’re not the only ones that offer such a thing.  Believe it or not, Windows Vista has a feature that is much like Time Machine, except I’d like to think that it’s better. I’ll explain…

–Apple’s Time Machine Defined–

Since we are going to be explaining how Vista can do exactly what Time Machine can, I thought we should start by explaining what Time Machine is for those of you who are unfamiliar.  Apple defines it as:

Time Machine is the breakthrough automatic backup that’s built right into Mac OS X. It keeps an up-to-date copy of everything on your Mac — digital photos, music, movies, TV shows, and documents. Now, if you ever have the need, you can easily go back in time to recover anything.

The big downside here is that you have to have an external drive connected to your Mac to be able to use this feature.  Once you have the external drive connected, it will do it automatically for you.

Vista’s Previous Versions Feature

We’ve mentioned little known features in Vista before before, and there are several. One of them is “Previous Versions” which essentially does what Time Machine does on a Mac except you don’t need an external hard drive connected. That’s what makes it great! The only thing it’s missing is a snazzy interface.  It’s a bare-bones feature, and creating a easy-on-the-eyes interface clearly wasn’t a top priority for Microsoft like it was for Apple. Additionally, keep in mind that this feature is available only in Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise versions of Vista.

Previous Versions are accessed by right clicking on any document or folder (yes, even whole folders are backed-up) and then clicking on “Restore Previous Versions.”  Previous versions come from shadow copies, which are saved automatically to your hard drive. If you need a refresher on what a shadow copy is, reference this article.

A list of archived copies will be displayed in the “Previous Versions” tab, and they’re all sorted by date. Remember, these were all done automatically — without the need of an external drive. Retrieving the archived copies is simple, and you have a few different options for doing so. They include:

  • Copy – copy the entire folder and paste it on your desktop or wherever else you’d like to
  • Browse – Open the folder to see what’s in it
  • Restore – This will replace any existing copy that you have on your computer.

This feature is perfect for any files or folders you may have accidentally deleted or changed. Below you’ll see a screenshot of the “Previous Versions” tab for a folder on my computer containing music from the B-52’s:

previous versions

Backup and Restore Center

While the Previous Versions feature is great, there are other options included with Vista that will help you keep backup files and restore them if necessary.  To access the Backup and Restore Center, click on the start menu and type “Backup and Restore Center” into the search box and hit enter.

Depending on the version of Vista that you have, you can do various things in the Backup and Restore Center.  One of the nicest features is the option to “Back up files.” Like Time Machine, this does require an external drive of some sort whether it be a hard drive, USB drive, or an optical drive. Clicking on it will pull up a box where you can choose which files types you want to backup.  The screenshot below shows you what this looks like:

Backup File Types

Once you select the types of files you want backed-up, you can decide how often you want a backup created as shown below:

Backup Schedule

For those of you running Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions, you can do the following:

  • Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore – this is a comprehensive, image-based backup tool that will “help you out of a tight spot if you need to recover your entire system.” It can be accessed from inside Windows Vista- or even from the Windows Vista installation CD should your computer have issues with starting up normally

Wrapping it up

To me, the Previous Versions Feature is something that Microsoft should have offered with Vista Home Premium.  Because they don’t offer it with Home Premium, they should at least talk it up as an incentive for buying Ultimate because it’s a great feature to have.  What I like about it best is that you do not need an external hard drive connected (like Apple’s Time Machine) to make use of it.