File Backup in Windows Vista FAQ

[Last updated 4/26/07] 

On Windows Vista, how can I restore a .bkf backup made using NTBackup in Windows XP?
Use the NT Backup Restore Utility located on the Microsoft Download Center.

The new File Backup is too simple. Why didn’t you add more features, such as location-based backup?
The file backup feature in Windows Vista is targeted at the core consumer audience. To savvy users, it will appear quite simple, probably too simple for you to use. For most consumers, however, it will hopefully be the right balance of complexity and functionality to get them backing up their files, which is something virtually none of them did in Windows XP, no matter how capable the tool was. For core consumers, we wanted to eliminate the confusion caused by selecting individual folders and files from a long tree of checkboxes, trying to find or guess where other users kept their files, predicting where files would be stored in the future, etc. These choices added too much complexity to the backup process and discouraged users from using NTBackup.

How are core consumers expected to benefit from File Backup?
File Backup creates an experience where you configure it once and it will keep user files on that computer on a safe location from that point on. The backup is updated incrementally on a regular basis chosen by the user when File Backup is configured. Having a scheduled backup eliminates the need of performing adhoc backups (which is supported by using “backup now” option) at regular intervals. Without a way to schedule backups, a lot of users would simply not run File Backup at all, and not remember to run it regularly (until data is lost at least).

Why did you use .ZIP files for backups?
We intentionally chose “industry standard” ZIP files for the file backup and restore feature to ensure that our customers would be able to restore their backups on a non-Windows Vista PC (or even a Mac or Linux box). That was a major shortcoming (according to our customers) of NTBackup’s proprietary BKF format. And by using separate files, vs. one monolithic file, we’re able to span across multiple media (CDs and DVDs), while still being resilient to any one of the media failing.

The Complete PC Backup and Restore feature users the VHD (virtual hard disk) format from the Virtual PC and Virtual Server team.

BKF is not a standard because it is not published nor supported. There are numerous other issues with BKF, but fundamentally, it’s not easy to work with, and was designed for backup solutions 20 years ago. ZIP and VHD are nice robust standards and help the Windows Vista solutions “play nice” with other platforms.

Why doesn’t Windows Vista give you the option of assigning a password to your .ZIP file? Without a password, the .ZIP file is insecure.
There is a lot of debate in the industry about the value of encrypting backups for consumers. People tend to forget passwords more often than their computer dies, and it is hard to do key escrow for consumers (where there is no domain controller or IT department, etc.). All you need is one case of someone losing their key or forgetting their password, and being unable to restore a backup after a disaster, to realize that it is a very dangerous proposition. We point out in our help content that your backups are only as secure if the media is kept physically secure (specifically, it says “Always keep removable storage or media used for backups… in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files.”). The same goes if you are backing up to a file share, although we do “ACL-down” the share to try to block regular users from traversing the backups in an unauthorized manner.

Why did you cut tape backup?
We wanted the Windows Vista backup and restore features to be accessible and easy-to-use by our core consumer audience. Tape is not a viable backup media in that market and is a foreign concept to most users. When we rebuilt the backup features from the ground up, we prioritized around common consumer media – CDs, DVDs, hard disks, and file servers / NAS devices. This choice allows us to drive the best quality solution with the most useful features, and ultimately result in more people backing up their files and systems.

Why does running File Backup require administrator privileges?
File Backup requires administrator privileges because it backs up all users’ files, not just the files that belong to the person running Backup. Backing up a single user’s files is challenging—how do you determine which files belong to that user? It’s impossible to guess the past, present, or future intent of the file creator/user. Do we assume that all files in your profile directories are your files? (And all files not in those directories are someone else’s?) What about files in the public or common folders? Or files on an external hard disk with wide-open ACLs? For these reasons, we back up all users’ files.

My external hard disk was turned off when the backup was supposed to occur, leading to a backup failure. I expected a notification of this but didn’t receive one. Why not?
If you’re in front of the computer when the backup fails, you will see a brief notification that backup failed. However, this message does not stay up forever, so you might not see it. Another notification will be triggered when you unlock the computer, log in, or wake the computer from sleep.

I want to choose a folder where the backup will be stored. However, my only choice is the root of the drive. Why?
File Backup controls the folder structure where the backup is stored. The location is computernameBackup Set Date. File Backup uses its own folder structure to have a predictable place for the backups, both for the users to look at and for File Backup when performing a restore from a foreign computer. You can use the same drive (or network share) for backing up several computers.

My backups are larger than I expected. Doesn’t File Backup use VSS to make the incremental backups small, like in Complete PC Backup?
Complete PC and File Backup are very different in terms of how they make use of VSS. File Backup creates a shadow copy (also known as a snapshot) using VSS to make sure that all opened files are flushed from memory to the file system. Once this is done, File Backup reads the files from the snapshot and places them in a zip file. The zip file will contain complete files from both a full and incremental backups, so this is why the zip file is larger than you might expect.

File Backup does not make use of snapshots to store incremental block-level changes to files like Complete PC Backup does. For example, if you had a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that was 10 MB, the first time you backed it up using File Backup, it would take up 10 MB. But if you then added some slides to it and it grew to 11 MB, your next incremental backup will include a complete new copy of it. On the other hand, with Complete PC Backup, the first time it will back up 10 MB, but the second time, it will only capture the block-level changes (within the file), which could be as little as 1 MB.”

I’m trying to back up to a NAS device, but it’s not working. How can I fix this?
First, make sure the share on the NAS device is configured correctly using our blog post on backing up to network shares. Even with the share set up correctly, there might be issues in the NAS device’s file sharing implementation that prevent Backup from using the device as a target, particularly if it is a Linux-based device running an older version of the SAMBA file sharing software. We made a number of code changes in Backup to work around these bugs in SAMBA, but we could not do this for every NAS device. We recommend contacting the device’s vendor to obtain an upgrade to Samba 3.x. This version works better with Windows Vista than previous versions. And you will not have any protocol-related problems backing up to a network share on a Windows Vista PC.

Why is Backup prompting me to do a new full backup?
Instead of performing incremental backups indefinitely, Backup will periodically prompt you to start a new full backup. The prompts are based on a number of factors, including how recent your last full backup is, how many files you are backing up, how many CDs or DVDs you have backed up to already, etc. You can see the sequence of checks that Backup performs before prompting you for a full backup in this flowchart.

How do I start a new full backup if I’m not prompted to do so?
In Backup and Restore Center, under the Backup Files button, click Change settings. Next, click Change backup settings. Go through the Backup Files wizard, changing settings if you want. On the last page of the wizard, click the check box called Create a new, full backup now in addition to saving settings. We are investigating ways to make this easier in future versions.