Use Windows Vista and the Previous Versions feature to restore deleted data

Microsoft’s Windows Vista has many ignored or little known features that really deserve more attention that they have received. For example, Vista Ultimate and the Business and Enterprise editions of Vista have the ability to access previous versions of files on the local drive. Windows Server 2003 could make previous versions of files available over the network to XP clients, but Vista makes previous versions of local files available to local users. Even if the user deletes a file or folder completely and empties the Recycle Bin it can still be recovered without resorting to a backup.

Previous Versions utilizes the Shadow Copy functionality built into Vista.  A shadow copy of the system drive is made each time a system state restore point is created on the computer. Automatic Restore Points are enabled by default on Vista on the system drive and can be enabled or disabled on any other drive on the PC. Vista uses a minimum of 300 MB of space on the disk for Restore Points and can use up to 15% on the drive. A Restore Point is created every day and when a program or driver is installed. Restore Points are a good way to repair a failed system and  Previous Versions of data files are created at the same time as the Restore Point.

While we are on the subject of Restore Points it is useful to note that a Vista installation that blue screens and refuses to boot can still be recovered using a Restore Point. Boot the computer from the Vista DVD and select “Repair your computer” at the Setup screen. You will enter the Windows Repair Environment (WinRE) which has many repair options. The System Restore tool allows you to select a restore point within the WinRE.

Windows XP would only allow you to select a restore point if you could boot the OS.

Anyway, back to Previous Versions. To recover a Previous Version of a file or folder you must right-click the item, select ”Restore previous versions” and then select the specific version of the file you want. If the file or folder was completely deleted select the parent folder or in the case of a top level folder the parent drive letter. In the Previous Versions window each version will be listed and the date modified. Buttons at the bottom of the window will allow you to open, copy or restore the file. Restore will overwrite the current version of the file with the older version. You can save the Previous Version to a different location or with a different name if you want to keep both versions of the file.

Try it. It is so easy you won’t know how you got along without this feature of Vista.

-Mark Menges

Related Course

Implementing, Configuring, and Troubleshooting Windows Vista


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