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Using the Backup and Restore Center (part 4) - Using Previous Versions of Files

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Using Previous Versions of Files

Generally, the process of creating backups is useful for ensuring that your data remains protected. It provides an easy way to restore large numbers of files in the case of a large amount of data loss. What about simpler situations? For example, suppose you’ve made some changes to a Microsoft Word document on your computer, and you want to undo those changes. In this case, it can be a time-consuming process to access the Backup and Restore Center, find the relevant backup set, and then choose the files you want to restore. Fortunately, there’s a much better way.

Using Windows Explorer, you can right-click any file or folder on your computer and click the Previous Versions tab of the item’s Properties dialog box (see Figure 17). You can also right-click a file or folder item and select Restore Previous Version. The list might include numerous previous versions of the file. The total number of versions depends on various settings, including how often you modified the file. In this section, you’ll learn about how the Previous Versions feature works.

Figure 17. Viewing the Previous Versions tab for a file


Sources of Previous Versions

There are two main methods by which Windows Vista stores previous versions of files on the computer. The first is based on backups that you create using the Backup and Restore Center. For example, if you configure a backup job that runs nightly on your computer, a previous version of the file is available based on the time of that backup. New versions of the files apply only if the contents of the file have changed. In this example, if you modify the file daily (and perform backups every night), you should see a previous version for each of the backups. Alternatively, if you don’t modify the file, the backup process does not create another copy of it, and a previous version will not be available for that time period.

The second source of previous versions of a file or folder is through the System Restore feature. Whenever a new restore point is created on the computer, changes to data files are also recorded. Although you do not directly configure the dates and times of the creation of restore points, you can create one manually from the Start menu by right-clicking Computer, selecting Properties, and then clicking the System Protection tab (see Figure 18). The Create button enables you to generate a new restore point. By default, Windows Vista automatically creates new restore points daily. Restore points are also created when system changes (such as the installation of new software or device drivers) are performed. 

Figure 18. Viewing System Protection configuration information


Over time, as backups and restore points are deleted to save disk space, previous version information might also be removed. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep multiple previous versions of backups for historical reasons. Overall, the Previous Versions feature and System Restore are not replacements for standard backup procedures.

Restoring Previous Versions of Files and Folders

The primary benefit of using the Previous Versions feature is that it enables you to access earlier versions of data easily simply by using standard file properties. From the Previous Versions tab of a file or folder, you can sort the list of versions based on name, modification date, or location of the file. You have three main options for choosing how to work with earlier copies of the files.

The first is to click Open on the Previous Versions tab of the file or folder’s Properties dialog box. This opens an earlier version of the file or folder and enables you to view it as it existed at a previous point in time. For example, if you open a version of a Microsoft PowerPoint document that was created the previous week, you’ll see only the slides and content that were in the file at that time. Similarly, when you open a previous version of a folder, you’ll see all of the files that existed within that folder at the time the previous version was created.

The second option is to click Copy to copy a previous version of a file or folder to another location. When you click this button, you are prompted to provide the destination file system location for the item. The older version of the file or folder is then copied to that location (see Figure 19). The copy feature is useful when you want to compare an older copy of a file with a newer one or if you’re not sure which version you want to restore.

Figure 19. Using the Copy command to restore a file to a different location


In some cases, you want to replace the current version of the file with an earlier version. You can do that by clicking Restore on the Previous Versions tab of the file or folder’s Properties dialog box. A dialog box prompts you for confirmation of this operation (see Figure 20). It is important to note that when you choose to restore a file or folder, you are no longer able to change it to a later version. Therefore, if you are unsure of whether you want to roll back permanently to a previous version of the item, it’s best to copy it to another location and then overwrite it later.

Figure 20. Restoring to a previous version of a file


Restoring Deleted or Renamed Files

So far, the focus has been on ways in which you can restore to previous versions of files or folders. The process involves clicking the appropriate file and accessing the Previous Versions tab of its Properties dialog box. What about files that have been deleted or renamed? In those cases, the original file is no longer present, so you cannot select it and display its properties to access the Previous Versions tab.

Fortunately, there’s a way to restore these files as well. You need to know the location of the item that you are trying to recover. To restore the file or folder, access its parent folder, and then choose to open a previous version. You should then be able to see the file or folder you want to restore. After you have located the item, you can again copy it back to its earlier location. The Previous Versions feature in Windows Vista makes the process of restoring files and folders quick and easy.

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