Vista's "Restore Previous Versions" feature is a lifesaver

Posted 31 March 2007  

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Last week a lot of my hard work was saved by Windows Vista and its updated System Restore capabilities.  There are a lot of features hiding in Vista that not everyone is aware of, and this is one of those that is a real lifesaver but hidden away with that right mouse click.

While cleaning up an enlistment to some code, I accidentally permanently deleted a very large tree that included some important code changes, representing a few hours of work over two days on refactoring.  “Oops.”  At this point, my first instinct was to run to one of those great undeleted tools such as HandyRecovery… Until Windows actually recovers and overwrites the data on the drive, your deleted data is really still sitting there waiting to be reused.

However, I then remember that Volume Shadow Copy Service (or some form of it) had been meshed together with System Restore, and should be running on the machine.  Thankfully it was, and it is really pretty easy to use—you can restore to a previous version, or simply save the previous version elsewhere.

Vista - sample Restore Previous Versions dialog

To use the tool, simply right-click on a file that you would like to examine previous versions of, and select 'Restore previous versions'.  If you've deleted an entire directory or directory tree like I have, right click on the parent directory and start from there. 

Everything was right where I’d remembered it, no data lost, and a big feeling of relief (and thanks to the Windows client guys).

Technical details: http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=286303 (Channel 9 video)
Marketing speak: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/features/details/shadowcopy.mspx 

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Jeff Wilcox is a Principal Software Engineer at Microsoft on the Azure team.

Jeff has been at Microsoft since 2005 and holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan. Jeff lives in downtown Seattle.

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