14.2. System Restore
As you get more proficient on a PC, pressing Ctrl+Zthe keyboard shortcut for Undoeventually becomes an unconscious reflex. In fact, you can sometimes spot veteran Windows fans twitching their Ctrl+Z fingers even when they're not near the computerafter knocking over a cup of coffee, locking the car with the keys inside, or blurting out something inappropriate in a meeting.
Vista offers one feature in particular that you might think of as the mother of all Undo commands: System Restore. This feature alone can be worth hours of your time and hundreds of dollars in consultant fees.
The pattern of things going wrong in Windows usually works like this: the PC works fine for a while, and then suddenlymaybe for no apparent reason, but most often following an installation or configuration changeit goes on the fritz. At that point, wouldn't it be pleasant to be able to tell the computer: "Go back to the way you were yesterday , please "?
System Restore does exactly that. It "rewinds" your copy of Windows back to the condition it was in before you, or something you tried to install, messed it up.
Tip: If your PC manages to catch a virus, System Restore can even rewind it to a time before the infection if the virus hasn't gotten into your documents in such a way that you reinfect yourself after the system restore. An up-to-date antivirus program is a much more effective security blanket .
In fact, if you don't like your PC after restoring it, you can always restore it to the way it was before you restored it. Back to the future!
14.2.1. About Restore Points
System Restore works by taking snapshots of your operating system. Your copy of Vista has been creating these memorized snapshots, called restore points , ever since you've been running it. When the worst comes to pass, and your PC starts acting up, you can use System Restore to rewind your machine to its configuration the last time you remember it working well.
Windows automatically creates landing points for your little PC time machine at the following times:
After every 24 hours of real-world time (unless your PC is turned off all day; then you get a restore point the next time its turned on).
Every time you install a new program or install a new device driver for a piece of hardware.
When you install a Windows Update.
When you make a backup using Windows Backup.
Whenever you feel like itfor instance, just before you install some new component.
To create one of these checkpoints manually , choose Start Control Panel. In Classic view, open Backup and Restore Center; in the task pane at left, click "Create a restore point or change settings." Authenticate yourself (Section 6.3).
Now the System Properties dialog box appears, already open to the System Protection tab (Figure 14-4). Click Create, type a name for the restore point, click Create again, and the restore point is created. Don't include the date and time in the name of the restore point; you'll see that when you get around to doing an actual restoration.
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Figure 14-4. Background: The System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box is where you manage the System Restore feature.
Foreground: Here's you, creating a manual restore point just before installing a program in which you don't have 100 percent confidence.
Note: When your hard drive is running low on space, System Restore turns off automatically, without notice. It turns itself back on when you free up some space.
As you can well imagine, storing all these copies of your Windows configuration consumes quite a bit of disk space. Out of the box, System Restore can use up to 15 percent of every hard drivethat adds up quickly!
That's why Windows Vista automatically begins deleting restore points when it's running out of disk space. That's also why the System Restore feature stops working if your hard drive is very full.
And that's also why you should run the System Restore feature promptly when your PC acts strangely.
14.2.2. Performing a System Restore
If something goes wrong with your PC, here's how to roll it back to the happy, bygone days of late last weekor this morning, for that matter:
Choose Start Control Panel. In Classic view, open Backup and Restore Center. In the task pane at left, click "Repair Windows using System Restore." Authenticate yourself (Section 6.3) .
The "Restore system files and settings" screen appears (Figure 14-5).
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Figure 14-5. When you use System Restore, you'll be shown the date and time of your most recent restore point, as well as why the restore point was createdfor example, because you installed a new piece of software, or because you applied a Windows Update. That's a clue as to which restore point you should use.
If you want to use the recommended restore point, click Next. Otherwise, skip to step 5 .
Windows recommends that you use the most recent restore point. When you click Next, it asks you to confirm your decision.
Close all open files and programs. Click Finish .
You have one more chance to back out: Windows asks if you really want to continue.
Click Yes .
Windows goes to town, reinstating your operating system to reflect its condition on the date you specified. Leave your PC alone while this occurs.
When the process is complete, the computer restarts automatically. When you log back in, a message shown appears, welcoming you back to the past.
If you want a different restore point, select "Choose a different restore point," and then click Next .
Now you see a list of all restore points (which Windows also calls checkpoints) that have been created in the last five days (Figure 14-6). For each checkpoint, you'll see the time, date, and a description. If you want to see checkpoints from before five days ago, turn on the "Show restore points older than 5 days" checkbox.
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Figure 14-6. The Description column for checkpoints shows you why the restore points were createdfor example, because a Windows Update was installed. You can provide your own names for restore points only when you create them manually. (You'll see their names here.)
Click the checkpoint you want, and then click Next .
You'll be asked to confirm that you want to use that checkpoint.
Close all files and programs. Click Finish .
Windows restores your PC to the past, as outlined in step 2.
Tip: If rewinding your system to the golden days actually makes matters worse , you can always reverse the entire Restore process. To do so, choose Start Control Panel. In Classic view, open Backup and Restore Center. In the task pane at left, click "Repair Windows using System Restore." From the System Restore screen that appears, click Undo System Restore. Click Next, click Finish, click Yes, and wait for the process to reverse itself.