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How to Use the New File History Feature in Windows 8

Jealous of your Mac OS X friends and their great Time Machine feature? Windows 8 has a new feature called File History that works much the same way, giving you an easy method to restore previous versions of your files.

If you’re a Windows 7 or Vista user, you’ve probably already read about how to use Previous Versions, and this is similar, but works a lot better. By default File History in Windows 8 takes snapshots of all files in your Libraries, Desktop, Contacts, and Favorites every hour (although this can be changed to more frequently or less frequently) and keeps the snapshots forever (this can also be changed).

Setting Up File History

To get started with File History it first needs to be enabled. To enable it, launch the control panel from the new Windows 8 start screen.

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When the new Metro style control panel opens, scroll all the way to the bottom and select the More settings option.

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This will launch the classic control panel we are all used to in “category“ view. To get to the File History settings, select the System and Security link.

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If you look near the bottom of the list you will see an option that says File History, click on the link. This will bring up the settings for the File History feature.

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You now will either need to plug in a USB Drive (this can be either a thumb drive or an external hard drive), or you can specify a network location. If you plug in a USB Drive the “turn on” button will immediately become available. However to cover all the methods we are going to opt to choose a network location. To do this, click on the “Change drive” link on the left hand side to bring up the dialog where you can select the “Add network location” button. When the window opens, you can select the PC on which you wish to save your File History.

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Once you’re done and you have clicked on the OK button, you will be taken back to the File History settings screen. Simply click the “turn on” button to activate File History.

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When you click on the “turn on” button a message will pop up asking you if you wish to recommend the location that you used for File History to other users in your HomeGroup as a place to save their File History. If you have a HomeGroup and want to have a central location where all users in the HomeGroup can store their File History you will probably want to say yes, otherwise it’s OK to choose no.

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Once you have selected the option which pertains to your setup, File History will now be set up and working. The one thing you may want to configure is the option that allows you to take snapshots more regularly than every hour and you might also want to configure how long copies are kept for. To do this hit the “Advanced settings” link on the left hand side.

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Once you have configured the settings to match your needs you are ready to go.

Restoring A Deleted File Or Folder

In this example I have 1 file in the Documents Library called “My Plans To Take Over The World”, and I am going to accidently delete the document and restore it using File History.

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I’ve now deleted the file permanently by doing a Shift-Delete as I don’t think I will be taking over the world anymore. I have also created two new files called “New File 1” and “New File 2”, making the library look like this:

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A few minutes later, my partner in crime phones me and tells me that he is free this week, and it looks like a good week to conquer the world. The problem is that I just deleted my plan. Luckily I had set up File History a while back and can recover the document.  So basically what we need to do is restore the file that we deleted but we don’t want to effect any files that we may have edited since then, such as “New File 1” and “New File 2” . To do that we to that we select the File History button on the ribbon.

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This will launch the File History browser, and give you all the different versions of the Documents Library.

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If I scroll back to Version 8 of 10 using the arrow that’s pointing back (left), you will see that my document called “My Plans To Take Over The World” is there. I can then select it to choose it for restore.

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Once we have selected the file that we want to restore, we can click on the Blue Orb (Center Button) to restore the document. File History will launch the folder that you are busy working with and show you that the file is now there.

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To Restore A Previous Version Of A File

In this example I only have 1 file in my Documents Library called “My Plans To Take Over The World”. The document looks like this.

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I now make changes to the document and save it. So it now looks like this.

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A few hours later I realize that I like the the original plan better, so to get the older version back I can click on that specific document and click the File History button.

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This will allow us to scroll through Versions of the document while viewing its contents.

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If we scroll one version back.  We can see that we can see the old version of the document.

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When you click on the Restore Orb, you will be asked what you want to do.

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That’s all there is to it.

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 09/22/11

Comments (5)

  1. Béranger

    Only an idiot would use File History. OK, a simpleton, not necessarily a complete moron.

    With the speed I change and manipulate (move, backup on external HDDs, watch a movie then delete it, etc.) files on my laptop, having this feature enabled would fill a 1,000 TB HDD in a single month!

    Once again, this features is for idiots, and the decision to have it DISABLED by default is the right thing to do.

  2. Powerkor

    I for one find this feature useful if you can specific to do this to only certain file types, which would make sense. Text based files I see as a big win. Only a simpleton would misconfigure it and use 1000 TB a month because they include media files, which shouldn’t need versioning anyway. I still think from the screenshots I’ve seen win 8 is ugly. But, it is an in between version, and we all know about MS’s track record with those.

  3. ilteriş mutlu

    of course, you will not set up for your movie folder..
    This function should be used for text based files.
    But if you are worrying about the space, try SVN. it is free and doesnt keep copy of the files, it keeps diff. and you will take the snapshot manually

  4. mihkel

    Isn’t this already in Windows 7? I mean a few times i have opened up a files properties and restored it to a previus date. Looks like they have just added new settings or changed the settings page for Win8.

  5. Minecraft java crash

    Hi………..

    Great information there is a huge difference between the features of Window 7 and 8 i will check this and after check then i will call you.

    Any how thanks for sharing this great information.

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