How to snapshot Windows 7 and resurrect SteadyState -- for free

If you mourned the discontinuation of SteadyState, one IT master offers a new solution for most Windows 7 users

Microsoft's SteadyState offered admins the ability to revert systems to a previously stored state every time it rebooted. SteadyState worked with Windows Disk Protection (WDP) to ensure any changes made to the Windows 7 OS would be redirected to an alternate, temporary cache. It was a (free) lifesaver for schools, libraries, and kiosk machine admins who needed to refresh the environment daily or even hourly with each new period. It was also great for Web cafés and such. But it was discontinued in December 2010 and fell out of support on July 1, 2011.

Returning a system to square one or to a selected frozen state with installed applications and such is a great way to eliminate worry about viruses, spyware, and other malware issues. It also comes in handy for eliminating applications installed without permission or cleaning out files that were downloaded or added to the system via USB stick.

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There are alternatives from third parties, of course, but it's hard for schools, libraries, and others in these tough times to buy a tool to replace what used to be free. Alternatives include Deep Freeze, Time Freeze, and Returnil, each of which costs about $40 per system.

In light of these developments, Mark Minasi, a noted technical speaker and journalist, has gone through the painstaking process of putting together the files you need -- for free -- to create a new boot option on your systems, called Roll Back Windows, when booting. After you select the option during a reboot, you can walk away for a few minutes and return to the system you originally saved as a snapshot. You can roll back all changes that have taken place on the system since the last snapshot was applied. It's a generous gift indeed for us IT admins who do this daily.

The zip file Minasi provides on his SteadierState website includes all the tools and an 88-slide PowerPoint presentation that fully explains the process and how the rollback works. All scripts are included. In a nutshell, Roll Back Windows boots an alternate version of Windows called WinPE, then reboots using a differencing parent virtual hard disks (VHDs) and differencing snapshot VHD to do the rollback. All this works because Windows 7 R2 introduced the ability to boot from VHDs; in fact, your entire OS is on a bootable VHD.

The only caveat is that Microsoft blocks Windows 7 Professional from working with bootable VHDs, but Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows Server 2008 R2 have no compatibility problems. You can't use it with Windows 7 Pro-based PCs.

It's always great when you can find something like this to help you save money in difficult budgetary times. Thanks, Mark!

This article, "How to snapshot Windows 7 and resurrect SteadyState -- for free," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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