Last week we focused on improvements to Windows Live Messenger 9.0 and the next version of Windows Media Player 12. This week we take a look at the improved capabilities in two important utilities that come with Windows 7, Update and Backup. The changes are not particularly overwhelming, but there are some nice additions and rearrangements that make the user experience even more welcoming. Previously I looked at Windows Vista Ultimate’s Complete PC Backup feature in a tutorial here. Not much has changed in Windows 7 with the exception of support for Network backups which I will take a look at in this preview article. Lets start off with Windows Backup and Restore Center.
Backup and Restore explorer in Windows 7
Requirements for Backup, (click image to enlarge)
In Windows Vista you will know it as Back and Restore Center, in Windows 7 you will find Backup and Restore in Control Panel under System and Security.To start a Backup, it must be configured first. To start the process, you must first click the ‘Setup Backup..’ button which will initialize a wizard that will display your available volumes (storage) for backup. The following volumes detected cannot be used for backup because one is a partition that is on the same physical disk as Windows 7 and for Complete PC Backup, there is just not enough space anyway. You wouldn’t want your backup which is a part of the same physical volume to fail also if the system volume also went out the door. Doing backups on external storage also requires that it be using the NT file system. So my thumb drive would definitely not meet that requirement. Reasons include security and permission attributes which FAT/FAT32 lack. Also, NT file system on thumb drives are just not stable enough based on my personal experiences.
I have decided to try one of the new options available in Backup for Windows 7, ‘Network Locations’. Currently I have a test server setup with Windows Server 2008 R2 and I created a Mapped Network drive, so we will use that as the location of our backup. Once I click the ‘Add Network Location’ button the Windows Backup wizard begins and I am presented with a dialog detailing information about selecting the networking location. In the ‘Network Share’ field, I type in the path or browse to it. Next, you will need to authenticate yourself if necessary and click OK. After that, you will now see the Network Share displayed in the main Windows Backup wizard. We click Next which presents us with two options – ‘What do you want to back up?’
Network path to where your Backup will be stored.
Because I do not have enough disk space on my network share, I will carefully choose what I want to backup. Lets take a look though at the two available choices:
– Let Windows choose (recommended)
Windows will automatically select user files (such as pictures, music, videos, and documents). A system image (which includes system files, such as drivers and registry settings, Windows, and all of your programs) will also created, These items will be backed up on a regular schedule.
This is probably the best method of backing up even in Vista today because it guarantees complete safety and redundancy in case of recovery. Your systems current state is backed up and can be easily restored without the needing to reinstall the operating system from scratch and your applications. There is also no need to re-apply your personal settings.
– Let me choose
You can select folders, file types, and whether to include a system image in the backup.
I wouldn’t describe this option for advanced users, but there is more flexbility about what gets backed up, you must also factor in available storage to do backup of necessary files and settings. These include, folders, filetypes, and whether to includes a system image in the backup. You get to choose what to keep, its as simple as that and thats the option I have chosen.
– Selecting what you want:
I have decided against backing up everything and decided instead just to backup everything that’s a part of my Library or User folder (Vista users). If you have any data in your Public folder, you might want to add that to your folder options.
User files is divided into two categories:
Include common user file types – Common user file types stored on this computer (such as pictures, documents, music, videos, etc.) will be backed up. Some of the other file types include, E-mail messages and contact lists that stored on the computer, Compressed files which include archive file formats such as zip, rar, cab, and Additional files. Windows Backup will of course have the common sense to exclude program and temporary files.
Choose specific drives or folders to include or exclude – I have personally chosen this option because of the flexibility it provides. I only want personal files to be backed up.
System files – A system image will be created which includes system files, such as drivers and registry settings, Windows and all your programs. I just don’t have the disk space for this, so I will uncheck this option also.
The next part of the wizard presents you with the option of choosing the folders your want to include or exclude in your backup. You might say, didn’t we just do that in the previous wizard. Yes, you did, but as you can see in my selection, I have chosen my user folder ‘Andre Da Costa’. Within this folder are sub folders, not just other libraries such as Pictures, Music, Videos etc., but personal folders which I have created. I have the option of excluding one or more of my own folders or libraries from the backup process itself but I do not plan on doing so. Once I have done that, I simply click OK, then ‘Next’, which presents a ‘Reviews’ page confirming our selection such as Location, Selection of file or system settings, User Data and a time to schedule Backups. Click Finish to begin the process.
I noticed a couple things, the Backup and Restore Explorer, displays progress information during the backup process in addition to the location it is being backed up to. During the backup process I connected to the Internet and noticed the Network share I created on the Server had changed to disconnected, but the backup was still in progress. When I checked the Computer Explorer, the Mapped Network drive was still showing as connected. The backup itself completed successfully, but there seems to be some issues there where Network and Sharing Center is concerned.
Backing up Files, progress and status in the Backup and Restore explorer
I noticed that my network shared turned to disconnected when I connected to the Internet, but the drive was still connected in Computer explorer and the backup process completed successfully.
Backup represented by machine name on Network share in explorer.
Checking the Backup location, I can see my backup which is represented by my machine name ‘WIN7-DELL8300’. Restoring your data is very easy, under Restore in Backup and Restore explorer, click the ‘Restore files saved on another location’ link which will present the Restore Files dialog. As you can see, my backup is not automatically displayed, so I will have to browse my Network share for it. Once you have located your Backup location, simply select it and click OK and you will now see it displayed in the table with information such as Backup Period, Computer and Backup location. Users have the choice just as in Vista to select which files and folders get restored, its handy just in case you have an updated version of a file that you would prefer to keep instead of restoring the older version. Next, you can choose to restore your files and folders in their default locations or a separate location. Simply click Restore and the restoring of your files will begin. You might encounter some conflicts with certain files, I recommend not copying a file that has not been updated since the last backup.
Doing your restoration.
Click image to enlarge
Creating a Recovery disk, optical drives required. Microsoft, please support thumb drives.
Vista introduced huge improvements to how users kept their personal data secure. Windows 7 improves on that experience by providing additional offsite backup options will surely make you feel more confident. I like the improvements to the Backup Explorer itself and the progress and status information. There are indeed some glitches to be worked out, but over all, at this stage of development its very solid. In addition to file and folder backups, Complete PC Backups (system image) can also be stored on a network share, I believe features such as WAKE on LAN must be enabled to ensure network connectivity is available when you boot into System Recovery and source the location of your System Image. Other convenient additions I admire is the ability to create a stand alone system recovery disc for booting into the recovery environment if you don’t have your Windows 7 OS disc. I wish the feature itself supported expanded options such as using your thumb drive as an option for creating the recovery environment since my computer supports booting from one. You can do this now using the free X-Image and WAIK tools, but its rather lengthy process and requires downloading large amounts of data to create a simple WinPE bootable thumb drive. My Computer currently on which Windows 7 is being tested is having issues with the optical drives right now.
Windows Update in Windows 7, (click to enlarge)
Updating your computer and Windows is an important ritual for everyone, especially in a connected world. Windows Update first made its debut in Windows with the release of Windows 98 and has been included in every version of Windows since. Windows Update has been a handy resource for getting the latest updates for the operating system, your PC and devices, it has taken on new capabilities such as support for Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software programs. With the release of Vista, Microsoft removed Windows Update from the web browser to its own dedicated Explorer shell built into the OS which provides a centralized location to manage, download and review your update history offline. It features tight integration with Programs and Features giving you the option of easily removing installed updates.
New options available in Windows 7
In Windows 7, there are some slight changes, mostly visual, the main Windows Update page, displays a large yellow banner with information such as the amount of available updates and the total size of updates which is new. You can immediately review and download the most important updates or select only optional updates to install from the main page. You have the option also in Change Settings to Allow standard users to install updates which is something I am glad to see. Windows 7 Ultimate users will notice that there is something missing in this area – Windows Ultimate Extras. Microsoft has confirmed that Ultimate Extras will not be returning in this release. There is no word of whether they will be a core part of the OS new theming capabilities or optional downloads from Microsoft or third parties.
More flexibility in Windows 7, standard users can also install updates.
A improvements to selecting updates has been added, Windows Update now categories important versus optional updates. Important updates can be defined as critical whether it be an update that protects your computer from a vulnerability, adds stability or functionality while Optional Updates provide features that are not critical. On the left, you will find a quick details pane which provides information about the update such as associated application or component in addition to links with more information. These changes are not significant, but they do make the maintenance of your computer less of a chore while adding flexibility to an already solid set of experiences.