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Windows has always had some type of backup, but those backups haven’t always been easy or reliable, so Carbonite, Mozy, and other backup services have proliferated. With the release of Windows 10, however, Microsoft has finally given us a truly useful backup.

In Windows 10, Microsoft added new backup options, but kept several older ones as well. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t put all the backup options in one place, making it a little difficult for determine exactly what you need and where to go to find it.

Windows File History

The easiest way to back up your files and to keep them backed up is to use the new Windows File History function. Go to the Settings menu and choose Update & Security. Then choose Backup.

If you have not yet turned on the File History, you will be able to add a drive to use for your backup at this screen. You can select an externally connected drive, such as a USB drive, or you can save to a drive on a network. Since you can use external drives, it is best to attach the backup drive before you turn on the File History.

If you have already turned File History on, this screen will enable you to turn it on and off. This is valuable for people who may remove the drive occasionally.

file history

On the backup screen, click on “More options” to see the History Overview. If you don’t yet have File History turned on you will be able to use this page to set the place for the backup. If you already have it turned on you will see the size of the backup and the total space on the storage drive, as shown in the screen shot below.

file history

In this area, you can easily set how often to back up your files, how long to keep your backup files, and which folders to backup. By default, File History backs up copies of files that are in the Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. You can, however, add other folders. This is handy for people who create folders outside of the Document and other default folders. You can also delete folders from your backup. This is great if you have a ton of videos, but you don’t have room on your backup drive for them.

How File History Works

You will notice that only folders can be backup up using the File History. That is by choice. File History does not back up your program files or apps. It only backs up files that change often.

File History takes snapshots of versions of your files and stores them on your backup drive. Backups of changed files are made at the interval of your choosing. This creates a library of past versions that are recoverable. This can be extremely valuable.

I recently accidentally deleted an important paragraph from a document that I was working on. When I realized my mistake, I recovered the missing paragraph from one of the versions that was saved in my File History.

File History Through Control Panel

You can get a bit confused with the File History because there are several way to get to it and it looks different depending on how you access it. Below is a screenshot of how the File History looks if you access it through the Control Panel. You will note that it looks different than the File History in the Settings menu

file history

This screen will give you a list of folders being backed up, the location of the backup. The date and time of the last backup is also listed. There are also many of the options that we saw in the Settings version of the File History. This is the same file history and gives you the same options. Hopefully, at some point in time, Microsoft will combine the File History in the Settings and the one in the Control Panel.

Looking at the File History in the Control Panel adds one additional option. At the bottom of the page you have the option to do a system image backup. This will make an image of your entire hard drive. This includes you operating system, installed programs, and settings as well as files and folders.

The system image option is not always advisable. First it creates a really large backup. Second, if you have a problem with your operating system or any infections in your computer, it will simply copy your problems. Instead use the Windows 10  “Reset your PC” to get your operating system back to its initial state. Then you can restore individual files and reinstall programs by hand.

Restore your files

No matter how you started the backup, restoring files is easy. Type “Restore Files” in the search box on the task bar. Select “Restore your files with File History.” You will then see all your backed up folders. You can restore them all or just the ones you need. If you drill down to a document that has several different versions, use the arrows at the bottom of the page to scroll through the various versions. You can then restore that entire version to its original location. You can also simply cut and paste the information that you need from that version.

file history

If you are using Windows 10, you will want to set up the Windows File History. All you have to purchase is an external hard drive. File History is like an inexpensive insurance policy that you don’t want to be without.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up’s Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.