Category: Backup

File History – The Windows 10 Data Backup Tool

If you want to backup your data on your PC, I recommend File History. It’s included in Windows 10, it’s free, and you can use it with any external hard drive or flash drive. And once you set it up, it runs automatically whenever your backup drive is connected. You can even leave the drive connected all the time for continuous data backup!

Finding File History

You can get to File History via two routes under Windows 10:

  1. Click Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Backup -> Backup using File History.
  2. Press Windows + R on your keyboard, type control and press Enter, change the View to Icons if necessary, and then double-click File History.
Making Shortcuts to File History

On your desktop, right-click on a blank area, go to New -> Shortcut. Where it asks for the location of the item, type/paste in:

ms-settings:backup

On the next screen, type Microsoft Backup or File History or anything else that makes sense to you. After you click Finish, you’ll have a shortcut that takes you directly to the Microsoft Backup settings, as per 1) above.

If you enter the Control Panel, per 2) above, you can right-click the File History icon and choose Create Shortcut. The shortcut is automatically placed on your desktop. The right-click menu also allows you to Pin File History to the taskbar or Start Menu.

Setting up File History

Connect your storage device to your computer. Open File History and then click Add a Drive. Select your storage drive and then just make sure that the switch for File History is set to On.

If you’re going through the Control panel to File History, just select your drive and click Turn On and then Run Now.

Once File History is turned on properly, you can count on it to run whenever you connect the drive. It will back up your Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos folders, as well as some other miscellaneous app folders. By default, it will run and update your backup every hour. And it is perfectly fine to leave your drive connected all the time, for continuous backups.

Recovering Data using File History

You can start recovering files via two routes under Windows 10:

  1. Click Start and search for “Restore your files with File History”.
  2. Open File History in the Control Panel, and then click Restore Personal Files on the left.

The window that appears will show you your files and you can drill down into the folders to find what you want. Also, use the controls at the bottom to pick the time and date to restore from. Because File History backs up multiple copies of your files, you can resurrect your data from a variety of different dates.

When you’ve selected what you want to recover, click the big green button at the bottom middle. File History will bring those files back from the past and place them where they were originally on your computer. If you want to restore your files to somewhere other than their original location, use the cogwheel button in the upper-right corner. Click that cogwheel and then use the Restore To option, to choose where the restored data goes.

Using File History to Bring All of your Files Back

If you bought a new computer, or if you had to wipe your old computer and start over, File History can restore an entire backup of files for you. But the process is a little clunky, so I’ll write out the exact steps:

  1. Connect your backup drive to the computer you want to put your backed up files on.
  2. Press Windows + R on your keyboard, type control and press Enter, change the View to Icons if necessary, and then double-click File History.
  3. Check the box next to “I want to use a previous backup on this File History drive.”
  4. In the box below, click to highlight the appropriate, named backup.
  5. Click the Turn On button.
  6. File History will begin backing up your files. Don’t Panic, this is OK, just wait for it to complete.
  7. Click the Restore Personal Files link on the left.
  8. Click the Previous Version button at the bottom, and you should be looking at the latest backup from the previous computer. Select any or all files/folders, and use the big green Restore button to bring them onto the computer.
Making Sure File History Doesn’t Run Out of Room

File History will back up your files until the end of time, or until you run out of room on your drive. If this is a concern, you can have File History guard against that.

  1. Click Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Backup
  2. Under Backup using File History, click More Options.
  3. Find the drop-down menu called Keep My Backups, and change it to “Until space is needed.”

Now File History will automagically delete your oldest backup files, when necessary, to make room for the newest backup data.

Preserving a Voicemail Message

Let’s say you have a special voicemail message. Maybe it’s critical to a lawsuit you’re involved with. Or perhaps it’s a precious memory from a long-lost friend. If it’s important to you, then it needs to be protected! Don’t take your voicemail for granted, as it can be deleted or lost, like computer data.

If you have a valuable voicemail on your smartphone, please know that you can copy it to other locations, and then back it up. Here are some possibilities:

iPhone users: Tap on a voicemail, and then look for the Share button (looks like a box with an arrow pointing out of it). Tap that Share button to find a wealth of options. You should be able to copy the voicemail to Notes, Voice memos, or even attach it to an email message.

Android users: Tap on a voicemail and look down low for a Send To… option. Tap this to reveal choices for saving the recording to Google Drive, attaching it to a text message or sending it along in an email.

If you don’t see a Send To… option on your Android device, play the voicemail all the way through to the end, and then check again. If your phone still doesn’t offer that option, tap or tap-and-hold on the voicemail and look for pop-up options like Save or Save to Phone.

My preference is to email the audio message as an attachment. Creating an email is an easily-saved item, but also, the attachment is usually a universal MP3 file, which can later be downloaded, saved to a computer, backed up to another drive or shared with any other computer user.

Safeguarding a voicemail sent to a landline is a different ball of wax. Every telephone company is different from the next. Comcast, for example, allows for voicemail web access if you are an Xfinity Voice customer, and you can download/save voicemail files from their website. Shentel, on the other hand, offers no voicemail backup tools. If this becomes important to you, contact your specific provider to ask what is possible with their phone service. Or consider making a re-recording using another device, as described in this article.

Recovering Permanently Deleted Emails

It is common for a scammer to delete things after they compromise someone’s email account. After recovering a stolen email account, you may notice that your Inbox is empty, or your address book has nothing in it. Checking the Trash folder, you’ll probably find nothing there, as well. They’ve covered their tracks, adding more insult to injury.

But in some cases, there is a chance to recover what’s been deleted, even though the Trash folder has been emptied. Each email provider has different avenues for you to try to “roll back time” or resurrect your lost items. In all cases, time is of the essence, so take immediate action for the best chance at recovery.

Google offers this Gmail Recovery Tool that may undelete messages from the last 30 days.

Yahoo Mail users may Send a Restore Request to get back messages deleted in the last 7 days.

Microsoft offers these steps for people with Outlook.com, Hotmail.com and Live.com email addresses.

I can’t tell if AOL offers any such recovery service, but they do detail how to recover deleted Contacts. It is possible that AOL could help with email loss, if you upgrade to their paid service, but you might want to call them at 1-866-265-8990 to see if it’s worth paying up ($5/mo.).

AT&T can recover their emails that have been deleted within 7 days, if you submit a restore request.

Comcast/Xfinity customers should reach out to their tech support, and ask to restore the affected email account to an earlier date. They should be able to “roll back time” to a previous day’s backup of emails. They may not be able to recover your addresses, though.

If your email is with a different provider or host, reach out to their support and explain your situation. Let them know that you’ve already checked your Trash/Deleted Items folders, and that what you want may have been removed from there. Ask if they have any process of recovering your account or restoring it to a previous date. It is fairly certain that they back up their mail servers…. The big question is: Are they nice enough to offer those backups to their customers?

Recovering Data from an Unbootable Computer

For many years, I’ve recovered data from defunct computers for my customers. But while the pandemic is on, and my fieldwork is on-hold, this service is one of the few things I cannot offer remotely. So, I think it’s time I describe this process in detail, in case some of you are comfortable doing it yourself.

DISCLAIMER: Please do not open up or dissect any computer if you are not comfortable with such. BlueScreen takes no responsibility for any breakage or loss you encounter while entering the chassis of any computer, using this information!

So your computer doesn’t boot. The files are usually still sitting there on the hard drive, waiting for harvest. The first step is to free to the hard drive from the useless computer. Most desktop towers have a easy slide-away side panel, while All-in-One and laptop computers can be more complicated. YouTube is your friend, if you cannot figure out your way inside — simply Google for “hard drive replacement” and then type out the make and model number of your computer. You might also go to your computer manufacturer’s website and look up the manual on your device.

With desktop computers, you’ll typically only need a Phillips-head and flathead screwdriver. And some desktop are tools-free, meaning you’ll be able to find and pop out the hard drive using only your fingers! But with laptops, you might need smaller tools, and with Apple computer, you’ll need very specialized screwdrivers (Apple often uses Pentalobe screws, to discourage laypeople from fixing their own computers). You can always use Amazon to find such tools, after searching for “laptop tool repair kit”.

With the right tools and instructions, let’s say you’ve freed the storage drive from the computer. Now what? Then, you have to find the right adapter, so that you can connect the drive via USB to another working computer.

Identify the connector on your drive: a SATA connector looks like this, and an old-school PATA connector like this. Some higher-end laptops have special SSDs inside that look like a stick of RAM. Once you know what type of drive you have, it’s time to head on over to Amazon or Newegg, and seek an adapter.

Search your favorite technology-selling website for “SATA to USB adapter” or something similar (‘PATA’, or ‘M.2 SSD’, depending on your type of drive) and you’ll quickly find something that can attach to your bare drive. This adapter fits the majority of drives out there. And if you want, you can also search for “SATA to USB enclosure” (or something appropriate to your drive), if you want to permanently change your drive into an external, reusable device.

Once you’ve obtained your adapter and connected your drive, you simply connect it to another working computer with the included USB cable. In most cases, the drive will pop up immediately on your screen! Use File Explorer or Finder to locate your files and drag them onto the computer or other storage drives. If you go into the Users directory and double-click your account name, you’ll probably find Documents and other important file folders.

In some rare cases, this doesn’t work. You get the correct adapter, everything connects perfectly, the File Explorer window appears and… nothing is there. If the computer shows an empty drive or offers to initialize the unreadable partition (DON’T!), then it could just be a problem with the Boot Table at the beginning of the drive. Sometimes this gets scrambled, but the files may still be there. As a last-ditch effort, try connecting the drive to a computer with a different operating system (Windows, MacOSX, Linux). I have had many instances where a Windows computer told me there were no files on my drive, but a Linux system revealed 25GB of photos sitting there, waiting to be copied off.

If after all of this, you still see no data, then perhaps the drive is truly dead. Electrical surges, drops, reformatting, disintegration of internal ball bearings, old age & other flukes can defeat the above methods. You still have a further option, but it will cost you. There are many data recovery labs that use special techniques and equipment to recover data from broken storage media. It can cost hundreds of dollars, but they are the true miracle workers. If you’re ever in this kind of need, I can recommend Gillware — they’ve done reliable great work for my customers.

If you are attempting this process, and hit any snags, please reach out to me! I’m happy to advise or answer quick questions to get you back on track.

Sync Your Browser Bookmarks

Whichever browser you choose, make sure it is syncing your bookmarks. This is useful for two reasons. The first is that if you are syncing to multiple devices, your browser will show you the same bookmarks, from computer to phone to tablet. Add or delete a bookmark, and that change hops to all of your devices.

But if you only have one computer, it’s still a good idea. Syncing your bookmarks means they are backed up to the cloud somewhere. So if something bad happens, you’ll have a good chance of getting them back, when you sync again on a new device or a reinstalled browser.

In Chrome, syncing happens when you sign in with your Google account. If you didn’t do that when you first installed Chrome, you can sign in at any time using the bubble icon to the upper-right. And you can check your syncing status if you click the 3-dots button and go to Settings.

With Firefox, it’s very similar. If you click the hamburger icon to the upper-right, one of the first options is for syncing/signing in to Firefox. But you may have to create a unique Firefox account before you can turn it on.

Microsoft Edge syncs through your Microsoft account. If you sign into your computer with one, then sync is probably already set up. But you can always check it, just like in Chrome: click the 3-dots button, then go to Settings.

Safari syncs its bookmarks through iCloud, so if you need to check on that, you would go into the System Preferences panel and then go to iCloud. If you’re properly signed in, there should be a few categories of what’s being backed up, one of which is Safari.

And with some browsers, the syncing doesn’t just duplicate your bookmarks on all devices. Some browsers also sync your saved passwords, extensions and other customizations. It can be really handy, if you’re the type to bounce between computers all day.

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