Building my Windows 7 'Time Machine'

Will Windows 7 allow me to realize my vision of an Apple Time Machine equivalent?

A couple of weeks ago, while lamenting Microsoft's poorly articulated Previous Versions story, I alluded to an earlier post in which I detailed my attempts to reproduce Mac OS X's Time Machine feature under Windows Vista.

At the time (mid-/late October 2007) I found myself stymied by a lack of configurability in Vista's File Backup utility. Specifically, there was no way to directly specify which files or folders to back up -- only highly generalized categories like Documents or Music. Worse still, Vista File Backup made a habit of skipping files it considered to be part of the operating system, including the myriad .aspx files I had created as part of my Web development projects.

My solution was to Zip these files prior to backup. But this added manual step ultimately derailed my attempts to create an hourly backup scheme to maximize my disaster-recovery capability. In the end, I had to shelve the whole business and go back to my tried-and-true manual file copy technique -- a real PITA of a solution, to be sure, but also one that has never let me down.

Fast-forward a bit, and I find myself exploring the Windows 7 pre-beta. And one of the first things I checked out was the File Backup mechanism. After thoroughly botching this feature in Windows Vista, would Microsoft finally get it right with Windows 7?

I'm pleased to report that, yes, Microsoft got the message. Based on my experience with Build 6956, it looks like the company has not only fixed the problem -- specifically, by allowing you to manually define files/folders that should always be backed-up -- it's rolled the changes into a much improved Backup Center that also allows you to save backup data to a network volume (among other enhancements).

Now, with the impending release of the Windows 7 Beta (it's supposedly already in the hands of core testers), I can look forward to actually implementing my Windows "Time Machine" vision of a year ago. Using a combination of the new, improved File Backup and the Scheduled Tasks folder, I'll be able to configure an hourly incremental backup task that saves my data to an external disk, so I can simply unplug and go with confidence that, in the event of a system-wide disaster -- unit theft, flash flood, angry pet cat relieving himself on the keyboard -- I'm covered right. Better still, restoration of a previous version of any backed-up file or folder will be just a right-click away.

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