A new file backup feature in Windows 8 that Microsoft trumpeted this week will help users protect their data but it is incomplete and far from unique, according to analysts.
The feature, called File History, is innovative because it makes backup and restore much simpler for users to set up, use and maintain, and because it stores multiple versions of each file, creating a history of its changes, according to Microsoft.
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While usage of backup and restore utilities has been very low historically among Windows users, Microsoft expects it to be significantly higher in Windows 8, thanks to the enhancements in File History.
IDC analyst Al Gillen said the functionality in File History isn't ground-breaking, because there are many standalone utilities available that do similar things, including some that are inexpensive and even free.
The File History advantage is that it is already part of the OS. "The use of the feature is likely to be gated directly by how easy it is to find and use," Gillen said via email.
Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, is skeptical about how simple end users will find File History to be, especially because he found Microsoft's explanation of how the feature can and can't interact with the company's SkyDrive cloud storage service to be confusing.
In its blog post detailing File History, Microsoft states that the feature doesn't work with cloud storage services -- it is designed to place file copies on external drives or on network locations. However, Microsoft outlines a roundabout way of synchronizing local SkyDrive folders with File History.
"They mention SkyDrive, but say it's not part of this. Hopefully it will be integrated in some way -- otherwise this could be a confusing and incomplete solution," Silver said via e-mail.
For David Johnson, a Forrester Research analyst, File History is a step in the right direction but it should do cloud storage backups.
"The key to success though will be making it obvious that the feature is there without annoying the user," he said via e-mail.
It's good that Microsoft is addressing what has become a critical issue for end users, analysts said.
"Having the ability to do regular backups is increasingly important," Gillen said.
However, it would have been better if the company had tackled the problem earlier. "It's about time," Silver said. "The loss of data and files due to hard drive failure, accidental deletion and other anomalies have been common on personal computers for years. Why has it taken so long to solve the problem once and for all?"
According to Microsoft, the process of setting up File History is simple. Users only need to turn on the feature and select the external drive or network location where the files will be stored. Once users do this, File History will run unassisted and transparently, activating itself every hour by default to back up files.
Users have the option of modifying File History's default settings to adjust elements like the frequency of backups, how long file copies are kept and whether certain folders should be excluded from the process.