Microsoft

Just like Me: XP's System Restore function

Want to go back in time? By using Windows XP's System Restore function, you can. Taking a page from Windows Me, Microsoft has given this feature a facelift. Jim Wells shows you how it works in this Daily Feature.

In an earlier Daily Feature, I examined a virus infection problem with the Windows Me System Restore function. In a nutshell, if your Me system were to become infected with a virus in the area that contains the Restore folders, your virus protection program would be rendered useless, as Me prevents programs from using those files in any way. XP has yet to officially debut, and I don’t know as of this writing whether its System Restore function will fall prey to the same issue. Nonetheless, in this Daily Feature, I will examine how to configure and use XP's System Restore function, making a few comparisons to Windows Me along the way.

It has been my experience so far that XP is a stable operating system. My test version has yet to fail me, even after several attempts to make it crash. However, no OS is invincible, so Redmond has decided to bring out the last safeguard against a total meltdown, the System Restore function. Last seen in the Windows Me release, System Restore has been both praised and vilified by the IT community. Praised, I'm sure, for saving valuable data that could have been lost due to system failure. Vilified for taking up valuable systems resources and denying access to virus protection programs. At any rate, XP comes loaded with the feature, so let's take a look at how it works.

Getting there
Access the System Restore function by selecting Start | More Programs | Accessories | System Tools. There, you’ll see an ever-expanding list of applications designed to make Windows XP a kinder, gentler OS. After selecting the System Restore icon, you’ll see the Welcome screen in Figure A.

Figure A
Note that any restore point changes are reversible.


Before you begin creating restore points, you should check out the System Restore Settings. (A link is included in the Welcome screen.) On the System Properties dialog box’s System Restore tab (Figure B), you can adjust the settings that have performance implications for your machine. Most notably, the Disk Space Usage slider bar can be adjusted down from the default maximum of 12 percent (a similar percentage to Windows Me).

Figure B
On my 20-GB hard drive, the amount of space reserved for System Restore is 2.3 GB.


You can do the math; as your hard drive size increases, the default System Restore requirement will increase, as well. Thus, if you back up your system regularly, you can feel confident in lowering the disk space usage slider bar to regain some of your hard drive space. Keep in mind that the lower the percentage, the fewer restore points you will have available. Which brings us to one of the problems people found when using System Restore with Me. If you want to use more drive space and lower the System Restore disk space usage, at what point does it make sense to not use the function at all? There is no message that pops up to inform you when your setting is too low to have any benefit. Fortunately, XP includes a check box that allows you to turn off System Restore in case you decide this function is not worth the drive space.

Restore point creation
While System Restore will make restore points for you automatically at scheduled times or when certain programs are installed, you might find it useful to create your own. For instance, let’s assume you’re planning a system upgrade and you want to be sure you can get back to where you started should something go wrong. To do so, click Next at the System Restore Welcome screen; you’ll be presented with the screen shown in Figure C.

Figure C
Be careful when naming your restore points. If they all sound alike, it could get confusing down the road.


After you type in a unique name for your restore point and click on the Create button, XP will present a confirmation screen indicating the date and time your restore point was created (Figure D).

Figure D
Clicking the Home button sends you back to the Welcome screen.


Going back in time
Now that you have your manually created restore point available, let’s pretend your latest upgrade did not go as planned. To go back to your original setup, simply click on the Welcome screen's Restore My Computer To An Earlier Time radio button and click Next. Your screen will show the Select A Restore Point calendar display that lists all restore points available (Figure E). Simply highlight a day that has a restore point. If there is more than one for that particular day, select which one you want in the second box.

Figure E
Days with restore points available are denoted in bold.


Click Next when you are ready to begin the restore process. You will be presented with a confirmation screen assuring you that the process is reversible, in case the desired results are not achieved (Figure F). System Restore will shut your computer down and reboot, so it is a good idea to close any open programs at this point. Click Next and let XP do the rest.

Figure F
Double-check the selected restore point in the upper left hand corner of the screen before clicking Next.


After the system reboots, you will receive another confirmation screen indicating a successful restore (Figure G). Click OK, and you are back in business.

Figure G


Now, when you return to the System Restore Welcome screen, you will have an additional option available to undo the last restoration. Use this option if your selected restore point did not complete correctly or you need to select an earlier restore date than originally anticipated.

Conclusion
The System Restore function was introduced with Microsoft's Windows Me as a simple way to start over when something has gone wrong with a system. XP's System Restore version does not stray too far from the original. Though it will still be maligned for its intense system resource requirements, it has proved itself on a number of occasions to come in handy. Dirt simple to use, I feel it could be an invaluable tool for a user not proficient in other, more complicated, system backup techniques.

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