How the Magic of Windows Vista saved 38G of my data

I always love it when the operating system I run finds new ways to absolutely delight me.

Yesterday, due to a stupid pilot error, I accidentally deleted all the music and pictures from my machine at work (8G of pictures and 30G of music).  This wasn't actually the end of the world, since all the data's backed up at home (thrice, see yesterday's post about single points of failure).  But my data's gone from my machine at work, which means I didn't get to annoy my neighbors by playing Avenue Q at full volume.

Well, I was poking around, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with my machine, and I noticed the "Restore Previous Versions" tab when I navigated to the users\larryo directory.

Just for grins, I clicked on it and guess what showed up?  Yup, the previous version of my music and photos directory!

Wow, that's cool - so I selected the appropriate version of the folder and selected "Restore", it asked me if I wanted to restore the pictures, and like Magic, the system restored my files from my volume shadow store.

Of course, the magic that made all this work is the Volume Shadow Copy Service which has been in Windows since XP.  In Vista, the VSS guys enabled it for most user data (by default only the system drive is managed).  This Technet article has some information about how to enable it and demo it.

Ultimately, I don't care - my data's back and all is well and I didn't need to bring in one of my backup drives.  And Vista's a bit more magic to me.


I love it when that happens.

Comments (14)

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s a darn shame that feature isn’t in the Home versions – my home data is damn important to me too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s undelete on steroids! 🙂

    Seriously though, although it’s a very cool feature, doesn’t that make it more difficult to free up disk space?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007 3:06 PM by Kevin Dente

    > It’s a darn shame that feature isn’t in the Home versions – my

    > home data is damn important to me too.

    But that was his work data not his home data ^_^  He had off-site backups because his work data already has backups.  Home users need to use the same technique that Windows 95 taught us, make 3 backups of unimportant stuff and 6 backups of important stuff.

    As for magical recovery of data without making copies from backups, maybe we should see if Vista could magically recover the MBR that it scribbled on while BSODing.  Um wait, we already know the answer.  A gnu tool could guess where the partitions were but the Vista DVD’s automatic recovery tool couldn’t restore the Vista installation to bootability (one of many "won’t fixes").

  4. Anonymous says:

    "Guessing" is a scary thing for automatic recovery software, and even when it gueses, it sometimes gets it wrong and gets people whining that it should guess better.

    Still, it’s nice to see "undelete" making a reappearance.  😉

    And not having done any research I would assume that older copies are progressively dropped as disk space becomes necessary. Thus the length of your history would be dictated by size of data and available space and managed automatically.

    And hopefully one day the dialog "your 83 gigabytes of data are 3 kilobytes over the recycle bin limit, do you want to delete without possibility of recovery" will join the dodo.

    Still, a real backup process is still a good idea, if only because no amount of software magic (even if revolutionary and brilliant) can do anything about the weirdo with a chainsaw attacking your hard drive, or other physical damage to the drive.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sven: From my observation with Win2003 Volume Shadow Copy, the space be used will shrink automatically if you’re running out of space. So it DOES take your space, but it doesn’t really matter. 🙂

    Larry: 38GB of data! I just wonder what is the default size of the shadow storage assigned. :O Or is it a flowing one? (i.e.: the system will just attempt to store as much versions of files as possible in the free space?)

  6. Anonymous says:

    To my understanding, VSS stores its snapshots on "free" locations on the disk, and that space is not counted as "used". So there’s no percievable loss of storage space*. OTOH, you can’t rely on this as long-term backup, since snapshots can go away as soon as the FS needs the space. It’s not a managed backup system – it’s a "maybe-it’ll-save-my-ass" system, as Larry has shown.

    * I imagine HD images of virtual machines would still have to store this info, so you’d see a size increase in there.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow. I mean somebody actually uses the major performance hog.. I was about uninstalling Vista deeming it as super-slow before finding how to disable previous versions. Every single build of a program takes an eternity. Every file operation becomes super slow. And disk space flies away with Vista using this feature. Quite costly for anything except a very low usage scenario.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I propose we create a game. We will call it "Six degrees of Norman". The aim of the game is to take any MS blog post, and, using 6 links or less, find a way in which the post is somehow related to Norman losing data. Bonus points if Norman’s data loss happened on Windows 95 with a SCSI floppy disk drive attached to a laptop. Extra bonus points if he had to pay 4200 yen to bring it to someone’s attention. Even more points if it involves a confusion over the size of a ‘character’ (we do not specify what we mean by a ‘character’ to keep the game more interesting). And of course, maximum points if Norman paid 4200 yen to report losing data on a scsi floppy drive attached to a laptop running Win95, as a result of confusion over the size of a ‘character’ – especially if it’s a "wont-fix"!

    While the game probably won’t stop Norman constantly moaning about his various experiences with Microsoft, it may mean that at the very least, there will finally be something useful that his whining posts can contribute.

    (Norman doesnt qualify to play the game and win points because he has the unfair advantage of being able to take any blog post and turn it into his personal MS bug database. Not all of us are that skilled.)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Have you ever accidentally deleted a file? Or overwritten a file accidentally and wanted the old version

  10. Anonymous says:

    @Not Norman Diamond: priceless 😀

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thanks to several commenters, now I understand why companies that made working software couldn’t survive in the market.  It’s not only due to being crushed by the lower operating costs of companies that make non-working software, it’s also because customers really prefer non-working software.  No 6 degrees needed, 1 was enough.  Thank you.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think I have to retract my previous comment.  I think I was wrong.  I no longer think I learned something from customers.  If "Not Norman Diamond" and asdf were customers, they wouldn’t have to hide their faces in shame.  I think maybe I might have learned something from Microsoft employees, though I’m not sure if I learned anything new.

  13. Anonymous says:

    What do you do, with a BA in english…..

  14. Anonymous says:

    I find it hard to believe any person could claim to have found a bug related to every MSDN blog post he or she reads.  I also think it’s arrogant to believe "everyone" has to pay MSFT to report bugs.

    Over the fourteen years I’ve written software for MSFT platforms, I’ve never had to pay when I’ve stumbled on a bug (a code bug or documentation bug).  The MSDN incident was always promptly refunded or not charged (the old "free" incidents).

    In modern Internet times, I haven’t called once for support.  The answers lurk on the library, the numerous blogs and other sources.

    In the end, having such a contrasting experience, it makes it seem like the stories are just made up.

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