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20060811 Friday August 11, 2006

Vista's backup tool fails to impress

It's been a little while since I've talked about actually using Vista, and I've got some quite cool things I want to talk about, but first I need to get something off my chest: Vista's backup tool really isn't much fun to use. At all.

It doesn't have a great bloodline, true - it has been well documented that Windows XP's backup tool was terrible. One horribly crude program that wasn't even installed by default on Home Edition and couldn't do much anyway. Vista has backup baked into it, and in some great ways too: Volume Shadow Copy means you can roll back to previous versions of individual files, CompletePC creates a hard drive image you can mount in Virtual PC, and the backup service actually runs in the background so you don't have to leave the PC grinding away unattended while archiving.

All good stuff. Less good, however, by a //really long way// is the backup interface, which manages to be simultaneously oversimplified and overcomplicated. It's designed to be easy to use, and it is: witness the options to set what you back up:.

Simple, isn't it? Good thing too; I can see this going down very well with that universal barometer of technical inexpertise, my parents: just tick these boxes and your photos are stored. Great. One problem: it doesn't tell you what, exactly, it monitors. And there is no way to find out. I can't believe that it's going to include every last image file on the hard drive - random program elements and all - so what is it including? Am I going to find my photos weren't included because I stashed them somewhere deep in System Files? And just what are "Additional Files?" Are my precious savegames and Leonardo-esque email templates included? How about log files? And hey, how about just giving me the option to specify specific locations? This is actually a backup tool that doesn't let you choose what to back up. Fine, conceal the complexity, but don't bury it so deep I've got no idea what I'm saving.

A big part of this is paranoia; I just can't believe that everything is covered. That's probably doing the developers a disservice; I know from their WinHEC presentation that the backup tool looks for everything that it thinks is a user file, and I've no reason to think it will miss anything. But this is backup, this is mission-critical stuff: I want to be really sure that it's getting everything, and there's just no way to find out.

Going through the backup itself to check this presents a new problem: the restore window is stupidly fiddly. You're presented with a blank list and have to browse through the backup to populate it, which is clunky, inelegant, and confusing as the browse options are individual buttons that open individual windows, none of which have the master list in. It's cumbersome, totally unexplained and just not very easy to understand, a problem which isn't helped by the fact that the browse feature looks just like Windows Explorer:

That should make things easier, but it actually works against it - it just feels like you're browsing your hard drive, which is weirdly confusing and makes you think you've pressed the wrong button. Just having an information bar across the top saying BACKUP BROWSER would help.

The best bit about it is the search function - although this too gets another screen just to confuse things a bit more. I can't see why that isn't the starting point with the restore list stuck on the side, rather than scattering everything in different windows. In fact, if you're wedded to the Windows Explorer design (which is a great idea) go the whole hog and do drag-and-drop.

As a tool, it's a series of good ideas badly realised, and I am ferverently hoping it changes in the beta builds. It's better than Windows XP, but that's not hard and not enough: this needs to be clearer and simpler to get people using it.

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Yes, MS are total idiots. I have Vista installed on C but in the backup it also selects drive D. I DO NOT want to backup drive D because it is 500GB!!! And it is already backed up on another 500GB drive!!! I can't deselect drive D.
MS should drop dead for screwing up everything ALL the time. Only idiots work for them.

Posted by Chuni ( on January 19, 2007 at 11:02 PM GMT #

Dear Microsoft,
I installed Vista Business and want to use Backup. The Backup application included in Server 2003 works perfectly and meets my needs. The backup application in Vista does not. With Vista backup, this is what I want to do:
1. Back up specific folders that I choose (the contents change regularly).
2. Run Back up jobs 5 days a week and one Saturday per month. These are scheduled in Task Scheduler.
3. I have 6 folders on a separate internal hard drive. The folders are named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monthly. Monday's backup is saved in the Monday folder, Tuesday's backup is saved in the Tuesday folder, etc. Next Monday's backup will overwrite this Monday's backup file. Same with Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
3. I want schedule the Monday backup to run at 1 a.m. on every Monday, the Tuesday backup to run at 1 a.m. on every Tuesday, etc.
4. I want to schedule the Monthly backup to run at 1 a.m. on the 1st Saturday of every month.
5. I need to be able to back up open files.

Here is what real world users need in Backup:
1. The ability to choose exactly what folders and/or files are included in the backup.
2. The ability to select "overwrite" the previous backup.
3. The ability to back up open files (shadow copy).
4. The ability to choose exactly where backups go.
5. The ability to create multiple back up jobs for specific files, destinations, times, etc.

As delivered, Vista Backup is unusable for my needs or the needs of my small business customers (I am a Microsoft Partner.) Please redo Vista Backup to include the functionality of Server 2003 Backup.


Posted by Jerry Seigel ( on February 16, 2007 at 03:36 PM GMT #

This backup problem is the primary reason I will not be upgrading my desktops to vista for the foreseeable future. MS need to add a "Power Users" option to the backup tool for automatic scheduled backup of specific user defined directories.

Posted by Dale Cunnigham ( on March 07, 2007 at 03:58 PM GMT #

I have not been able to backup my Visa home premium since I have had it get a message "a shadow copy could not be created. Incompatiable version of the serializing package. (ox80070570)"

Posted by Paul Lambert ( on May 03, 2007 at 01:52 PM BST #

I totally agree with you guys. I am in the process of looking at Vista as my replacement workstation.

As an IT support professionaal I feel I am obligated to get a Vista PC to learn about it... what better way than to use it. But the backup tool alone is a big enough issue to put XP Pro back on my shopping list.

My business cannot rely on a backup tool that is so uncontrollable in what it backs up. I cannot take the risk with my data. The only other option is a third-party solution, which adds to the cost.

XP Pro here I come.

Posted by Rob Freemantle ( on May 31, 2007 at 11:29 PM BST
Website: #

Would SyncToy not do what you are looking for? I don't know as I haven't tried it yet.

Posted by on June 13, 2007 at 09:00 PM BST #

Backing up with vista is a joke. I had to change disks during it and after this it just froze. An absolute pain in the neck.

Posted by Tim Johnson ( on June 14, 2007 at 12:38 AM BST #

Trying to backup (scheduled or manually)on my external NTFS-HD results in an "internal error 0x81000001" message. And the advice to check the backup settings. Which I've done several times without the faintest idea wich setting can possibly be wrong. Only the complete backup seemed to work.

Posted by Floris Varekamp ( on July 13, 2007 at 07:48 AM BST #

You can find out what Vista is backing up by going through the restore process and trying to find the files you assumed were backed up. This is where I found the most serious problems with the Vista backup. It says it does not backup program files, that is true in fact it does not backup any .exe file it finds regardless of what folder it is in. I keep copies of all the .exe files from programs I have purchased and none of them were in the backup. Also I program using asp and c# and none of the c# files or asp files are included in the backup. If left unchecked this could have caused me to loose years and years of programming files. XP backup was solid and reliable for me, why did they have to mess with it, man I am fuming at the risk they have placed on my livelihood.

Posted by Tim Gilbert ( on August 09, 2007 at 01:12 AM BST #

I used Vista Back up. I did have Office Suite Pro 2003-now it is not functional and has to install each time I open an application. what Vista did was backup all data into Zip files and even affected some Dell files.

If anyone has any ideas as to how to correct this, please email me at paralegal90808-AT-yahoo-DOT-com.

Teresa Lewis

Posted by Teresa Lewis ( on August 21, 2007 at 07:52 PM BST #

To add to Tim's post above, the Vista BU may skip .exe's, but it copies every graphic, audio & .cab file in Program Files folders - something I definitely do not want! Of course, if I exclude these file types, I don't get a BU of my audio/video files that I do want copied. This is the worst BU program I have seen in my 25+ years as an IT professional. Where's the ability to select/deselect folders??

Since this thread is about BU, I'll hold my other complaints about Vista, but simply say that reminds me of Windows ME with a MAC GUI slapped on... 'nuff said?

Posted by Steve Nachsin ( on September 01, 2007 at 03:27 PM BST #

I tried to backup my Vista Premium Home and am ready to tear my hair out. I'm not an IT person. I don't understand all this. All I know isI want to backup my PC to disk, but can't find disks with enough memory to hold it and it won't let me use more than one disk! Why can't I use more than one? I remember old PC's telling me, Okay, time to insert another disk, hit enter to continue. Simple. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by Kate Johnson ( on October 10, 2007 at 03:51 PM BST #

Why can't I overwrite my last back up. I schedule a backup once a week of about 100GB of data, onto a 500GB hard drive. after 5 weeks, it's full and I have to delete everything and schedule a new backup.

bloody hell MS. you want us to buy your crap, at least make it easier for us!

Posted by Mack ( on December 10, 2007 at 03:52 PM GMT #

Despite all the complaints about the XP backup feature, it worked and it gave you choices about what you were backing up.

Up until this last year there were no third party backup programs that outclassed it (all failed to support basic NTFS features). Even now, those few backup programs that support NTFS features only support an incomplete subset.

Posted by Paul Coddington ( on January 02, 2008 at 02:48 AM GMT
Website: #

The Vista backup tool is definatly lacking. I have set it up for several customers and have had no real issues. It's just kind of sad that you have to own ultimate or business to do the full backup and create an image. If this feature was standard it would help to cut down on customer support issues because they would already have a backup of their computer with installed programs

Posted by Vista Backup ( on March 17, 2008 at 04:54 AM GMT
Website: #

Hi Windows Vista Magazine,

The New Improved Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate is one of the best OS i have every used in the market. I agree to some users Windows Vista Ultimate did came with some bugs but not major ones and the SP1 has fix those bugs. Regarding the BackUp Windows Vista Ultimate it is real useful tool & simple to use. I will recommand to any developer who is willing to learn new stuff to use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate (Not Cracked Version). As it develop the knowledge strong and For Design to also use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate as it open the path to Web 2.0 Design and Web 3.0 Design.

Posted by Zaheer Rafiq (Ziggy) ( on April 14, 2008 at 09:43 PM BST
Website: #

I agree with all the comments here. I am running Vista Business and Backup is just not acceptable as a solution. I think I will go back to just using robocopy to my network drive that gets backed up to tape.

Posted by Craig_B ( on June 13, 2008 at 04:08 PM BST #

I always thought it was hilarious when doing a complete system backup under Windows XP that it would ask you for a floppy when finished! Now that we're in the 21st century I hope that you can do a complete system backup under Windows Vista and have the system reboot off a FLASH drive. I've yet to try it with Vista Backup but does anyone have any comments on this?

If you want to do folder-specific backups (mirroring) and/or synchronisation between mounted drives (really useful if you work on more than one computer) I'd highly recommend you check out SyncToy v2.

You won't often hear anyone say this, but this is an excellent piece of MS software!!

Posted by SplungeGasket ( on August 07, 2008 at 02:07 PM BST #

Please, please can somebody help a computer illiterate with obtaining a successful backup with Vista Home Premium? It is driving me mad and I am considering changing to a new operating system altogether!!!!!
Ex- Scientist(going slowly insane!)

Posted by Keith Rouse ( on August 26, 2008 at 11:10 AM BST #

This is the worst (and slowest) backup program I have ever used. I've seen (and used) half-baked freeware with considerably more functionality. Its crapware like this that makes users despise Vista as the worst OS, ever.

Posted by Squidward ( on August 27, 2008 at 06:05 PM BST #

I use mac at home and pc for work and almost everything on a pc is more difficult than on a mac but back-up and copy to disc is an absolute joke. why can't windows just use a simple drag and drop window with "burn files to disc" at the top, counting the size as you drop the files?? I don't understand why it's so primitive, so slow, so confusing and leaves you in the dark about its progress. then again, I don't understand why most of the world use these toys in the first place (phew, that's better!)

Posted by rayston ( on September 03, 2008 at 01:32 PM BST #

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