Preventing those evil backup copies

In the last post I noted the kerfuffle over Vista Home Basic and Home Premium keeping backup copies of deleted data files. In Business and Ultimate editions, these backups are accessible via the Previous Versions feature. In the two Home editions, the Previous Versions feature is turned off.

So, you don’t want Windows to waste CPU cycles and disk space backing up copies that you can’t get to? Fine. Move your data files to a separate volume (instructions here). You can use a different partition on the same drive or a separate drive – the key is that it have a different drive letter than the volume that holds your Windows and Program Files folders.

By default, Vista enables Shadow Copies (the feature that snaps those backup copies) only on the boot drive. It’s disabled on other drives. (Look below for the way I have my drives partitioned, with the E: drive for all data files and F: for backup images.) So, with data out of System Restore’s way, you have no worries that you’re going to waste space, squander CPU cycles, or compromise your privacy.


The side benefit is you have a cleaner, neater backup solution as well. Do an image-based backup of the C: drive, which you can restore as needed to recover from driver or application problems, and back up your data files in any way that makes sense to you.

18 thoughts on “Preventing those evil backup copies

  1. Evil backup copies? Come on. If you don’t want it you don’t want it. 15% of HD space and CPU cycles are important if it’s being taken up by something you don’t want. To some people it may be unnecessary bloat.

  2. Zaine, if you copy the files, then the system file locations don’t get updated and you wind up with two sets of data file locations.

    Diego, the 15% of disk space used is a maximum, and only if that space is not needed. If you need it, it’s freed up immediately. And where did you get the idea this takes 15% of CPU cycles? It doesn’t.

  3. Diego, the 15% of disk space used is a maximum,

    On my 160GB drive, it only took about a week from the time I took a Vista notebook out of the box before I had reached the maximum. So, assume SR/PV is actually taking 15% of the drive when it is turned on.

    and only if that space is not needed.

    Are you sure? During my research I got the impression that the space was truly reserved and isn’t given back when space gets low. One benefit of a hard reservation would be that they could set aside a part of the drive and eliminate the horrible fragmentation that occurs with XP SR, but I haven’t determined if they actually do that in Vista.

    There is some good news though. Sometime recently, Microsoft posted docs on a VSS registry key that lets you skip files:

    It might be rather tricky for a user to apply this, since as far as I can tell this affects both System Restore and Previous Versions. Excluding large tracts of files might cause SR to become useless.

    My primary concern still stands though. Vista is backing up user data and not providing a way for users to access it without paying the upgrade ransom.

  4. Dave,

    “Vista is backing up user data and not providing a way for users to access it without paying the upgrade ransom. ”

    That’s one way of looking at it. I think there’s another, equally valid interpretation: Microsoft has a single implementation of the Volume Shadow Service that works identically in all editions. It provides a different user interface for accessing and controlling the collection and retrieval of that data, depending on the Vista version you have.

    IMO, that is the correct technical decision to make, but it’s based on an incorrect marketing decision, which is to arbitrarily deny access to features based on the product SKU. I’ve argued for years that security – and backup is the most fundamental of all security issues – should not be tied to marketing concerns.

  5. I agree (and said in my article) that it makes technical sense to use VSS for both things, and also agree that hiding the user interface for Home users is a bad idea. There’s no interpretation though, just a statement of fact: Vista Home users must upgrade to Ultimate if they want to access Vista’s backups of their own data.

    Microsoft certainly didn’t put their best foot forward with this feature. In XP, you could control System Restore size in a GUI dialog; in Vista you must use a command line tool. To exclude particular files from the backup you must add them to a registry key; again there is no GUI unless you count RegEdit as a GUI. The most expedient way to exclude large swaths of files is to reformat/repartition the drive as you suggested. Poor Abby just wants her files.

    BTW, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a drive letter assigned to the volume to manage its SR/PV space. At least it wasn’t in XP; I will be surprised if they removed it in Vista. For example on your system you could create a C:\Music+TV folder then go into Disk Manager and tell it to mount the drive you currently have as E: on that folder. This is extremely handy if you are going the other way–migrating data off the C drive to another volume–since any programs that depend on the original path will continue to work without changes.

  6. Doing so now! I’ll have a post on my own blog about how it all goes.

    Dave: I agree — I think sometimes Microsoft cuts out the interface to a feature out of the misguided sense that they don’t want to “confuse” the user. All this seems to do is alienate the expert users who enjoy having that kind of feature handy, wherever it may be. Also, where in the Registry do I go to exclude files (or even whole directories) from the backup process? I’d definitely like to hear more about that.

  7. Ergh, sorry. Dave was talking about excluding shadow copies, not files handled by the backup program. I read too fast.

  8. And double drat. Installing the Shadow Copy Client in Vista Home Basic doesn’t seem to have done anything at all — still no Shadow Copy GUI in Explorer.

    I’m still convinced there must be a way to get at the shadow copy repository through a third-party tool or even a script. The APIs are presumably all there…

  9. Serdar, the link I gave above describes the FilesNotToSnapshot registry key, which can exclude particular files. However, it has warning that “excluding files may slow down shadow copy creation.”

    That page is inside the developer documentation for the VSS APIs; you can see the other docs by navigating the tree on the left. Usually I am happy with the level of Microsoft developer docs, but this whole section seems pretty bad. I could not follow the docs well enough to figure out how to use these APIs to restore a single file similar to Previous Versions. I am pretty sure these were added in the past month or so; maybe revisions are coming.

  10. I was trying to page through it myself and a lot of the pages simply didn’t come up at all. So it sounds like this stuff is being written and added as we speak. That said, I’ll bookmark it and come back to it, so if there’s a way to use a piece of VBScript to enumerate a file’s shadow copies and then restore them, that would make for a nifty utility.

  11. “15% of HD space and CPU cycles”

    Ed, sorry that line was misleading. I never had the idea it took 15% of CPU cycles. Only HD.

  12. Dave,

    “The most expedient way to exclude large swaths of files is to reformat/repartition the drive as you suggested.”

    With Vista, it’s actually quite simple and nondestructive. You shrink the main volume and use the free space to create a new one. Abby won’t do it, but her computer-savvy kid might.

  13. You shrink the main volume and use the free space to create a new one.

    That’s a Cliff Notes outline; the plot is a lot thicker than that.

    Disk Manager can’t shrink below the first used block of data, which can be pretty high up even on a recently defragged system. On my Acer notebook DM was willing to give back 15GB, but there was 55GB free. And I haven’t even used this system much since taking it out of the box!

    DM’s shrink dialog indicates (in its own Delphic way) that SR/PV backups may be one of the things preventing the shrink. If I was intent on shrinking more, I’d need to disable SR/PV in Control Panel, System, System Protection. I didn’t do that in my case, because I’m still experimenting with that data and didn’t want to start from scratch.

    But there’s one other problem. The standard automatic defrag doesn’t make any strong effort to coalesce files towards the front of the volume. It will even leave large files fragmented if the chunks are big enough. As a result, DM can’t shrink. I’d have to get to an Admin command prompt (type “cmd” into the pearl and Ctrl-Shift-Enter) and type “defrag -w -a” to run a defrag that does as much as it can to pack down the files.

    I am still a Vista novice just starting to dig; I’m trying to keep notes on all this before the “That’s just the way Vista works” callouses form on my perceptions. It’s clear to me that for every XP tip or utility Microsoft obsoleted with Vista features, they have created two more tips or utilities that are needed to use Vista effectively.

  14. Why not use any former Windows version (NOT VISTA) with the free version of the BOS -backup proxy server- solution? Keep all the versions you wish, recover deleted files, use some great additional features, and be happy!

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