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Windows 8.1 and the File History

Applies to: Windows 8.1, Windows 8

File History in Windows 8.1 is a new feature that protects users files store in Libraries, Favorites, Contacts, and Desktop folders. By default, when enabled, File History scans for changes and copies those changed files to a separate location (usually an external storage device or network location).

Setting up and using File History is simple and is available to standard users, not just administrators. That’s right; no longer does it take a call to the helpdesk for users to restore files that they have accidentally modified. To enable file history, from Control Panel > System and Security select File History. File History by default is turned off. To turn it on simply click the Turn On button.

To change the drive where File History data is stored, simply click the Select Drive link on the left side of the File History window. You can choose either a local attached drive, or a network share, by clicking Add Network Location. If there are folders or libraries that you do not want included in your File History, excluding them can be completed by clicking the Exclude Folders link and adding any folder or libraries that you do not want.

By default modified files are saved every hour, stored forever, and the cache takes up 5% of the disk space of the configured drive. These options can be modifies by clicking the Advanced Settings link in the File History Window. There is also an option to share File History options with other users in a homegroup.

Restoring a file protected by File History is very simple. Using Windows Explorer, you simply browse to a specific location and click or tap on the History button in the explorer ribbon. You then have the option to see all versions of the selected file. After you navigate to the version of the file you’d like to restore, simply click the Restore button. The selected version of the file will be restored to the original location.

It’s important to note that in some environments, File History may conflict with internal policies related to data retention and storage. In situations like these we offer a Group Policy to disable File History use. To enable this policy use the Group Policy Management Editor and navigate to Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\File History there you can enable the policy Turn off File History. This prevents users from turning on and using File History.

File History offers users a simple way to protect their data and personal files without having the complexity of setting up and using backup. It’s an automatic background process that doesn’t require any user interaction. The restore process is also much simpler offering a rich experience for previewing and restoring previous versions of files.

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About the author

Joey Snow is a Senior Technical Evangelist for the worldwide Developer and Platform Evangelism team at Microsoft focusing on engaging IT professionals around Windows Server, IIS, and Windows Azure to name a few. He shares his knowledge and expertise online via TechNet Edge and his blog, and is a frequent speaker at various Microsoft and industry-sponsored events.