Windows Secrets Newsletter: How to Recover Archived Data in Windows 7

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By Fred Langa/Windows Secrets Newsletter

In recent issues, I’ve described Windows 7′s four levels of built-in data protection, each with differing capabilities for preserving your data.

Now I’ll tell you how to dig the data out of your backups, whether it’s a single file, a folder — or even your entire drive contents.

This extensive, multipart data protection is easily the best ever built into Windows — possibly any desktop operating system. Used properly, Win7′s tools can help you get closer to the Holy Grail of data management: the total prevention of data loss.

Stated more simply: Win7′s built-in, data-backup-and-recovery systems can ensure you might never again experience that awful “Oh, no!” feeling when you realize an important file has been incorrectly altered or deleted.

Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  • 1. If you need to recover a file that was very recently deleted — within hours or maybe days — you can probably retrieve it from the Windows Recycle Bin. Need a quick refresher? See the Microsoft article, “Recover files from the Recycle Bin.”
  • 2. If the file was deleted or altered days or weeks ago, use the powerful but little-known Restore Previous Versions function. See the June 16 Top Story, “RPV: Win7′s least-known data-protection system.”

  • 3. If the file is no longer in the Previous Versions system, you should be able to recover it from your automatic backups — assuming you let Windows make them for you. See the May 12 Top Story, “Build a complete Windows 7 safety net.”

  • 4. If the file was deleted a long time ago and is not in your routine backups, you may be able to recover it from an old system image. (See that same May 12 Top Story.)

  • How to recover data from your backups

    Almost all the coverage referenced above was focused on getting your data into Windows 7′s various protective systems. Now you have to know how to get your data back out of the backups when needed.

    My sample file for this how-to is a simple Wordpad .rtf document called “Windows Secrets Test File” that I created on my desktop PC. I then deleted the file after it was stored as part of a normal, automatic Win7 backup. At the start of my recovery process, the test file is no longer on my desktop, nor is it in my Recycle Bin. The test file exists only in the Win7 backup system. Now I’ll walk you through the process of locating and restoring that specific file from my backups.

    You can follow along on your own system, if you’d like — assuming you’ve made at least one backup using Win7′s built-in system. (See items 3 and 4 from the list above.) You can choose any file for your test restore.

    There are several ways to start a restore operation. Using the Windows Control Panel, look for System and Security, then Back up your computer. But the easiest is to enter either backup or restore into the Win7 Start menu’s search box. Either word will invoke the Backup and Restore applet. (See Figure 1.)

    W20110811 TS Backup1 Recovery: the last step in total data security

    Figure 1. The easiest way to invoke the Backup and Restore applet is to type backup into the Start menu’s search box.

    The Backup and Restore applet will open, showing you something like what you see in Figure 2. Of course, the details will be different on your system, but the general layout will be about the same.

    W20110811 TS BackupRestore Recovery: the last step in total data security

    Figure 2. Win7′s Backup and Restore functions share a common interface, which makes for a busy dialog box. But the restoration steps are relatively simple.

    When you’re restoring data, start by looking for Last backup and Contents, highlighted in Figure 3.

    W20110811 TS LastBackup Recovery: the last step in total data security

    Steps 3-Article Continued Here:

    This post is excerpted with permission from Windows Secrets.

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