Ed Andersen

Software Developer and Architect in Japan

Windows 8.1’s user-hostile backup story

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Update 13th June 2015: It looks like Microsoft has reversed course and reinstated the Windows 7 Backup and Restore feature in Windows 10! Success!

Update 16th Sept 2013: What follows is a rant written after upgrading to 8.1 and seeing my automated backups just stop working and the backup restoration function also removed. An afternoon was wasted faffing about with the new File History feature which still refuses to backup files not on my system drive and deliberately ignores files in the SkyDrive folder, preventing you from having a local backup. I now use CrashPlan which behaves like Windows 7 and 8.0 used to be able to back up files.

Windows 8.1 is now released to manufacturing and those with MSDN or Technet Subs can download it now.

I have the RTM version now set up on home and work machines and have been running the Preview versions on both my Surface RT and Surface Pro. Windows 8.1 has some glaring errors.

SkyDrive integration now built in, removes features compared to the old Desktop client

You no longer have to install the SkyDrive app separately as it is now built into the OS. Windows 8.1 makes a concerted effort to force you to use SkyDrive.


The above is a screenshot of a screen displayed during the upgrade process. Can you see the error?

“automatically backed up to the cloud”

This is nonsense – if you delete a file from your local machine, it will be deleted from the cloud. This is NOT a backup. Live mirroring is NOT a backup. If a sync goes wrong – your file disappears completely. There is no backup.

Edit: Turns out SkyDrive has a “Recycle Bin” for deleted files, but it removes files once it is full or after 30 days. So, you might randomly be able to get your file back. Version History also only works for Office documents.


On the left is Windows 8’s SkyDrive integration after installing the SkyDrive Desktop app. On the right is Windows 8.1’s built-in SkyDrive integration. This is now a system-level folder and doesn’t even have the syncing icons available. This folder is now virtualized and you aren’t guaranteed that the actual file will be present. Opening the file will sometimes download it from SkyDrive.

The “Windows 7 File Recovery” backup system has been removed in 8.1

Windows 8.0 actually contained two backup systems, the new “File History” and the awesome old backup system from Windows 7, threateningly renamed “Windows 7 File Recovery” as a warning that this will be removed. Lets compare the systems:

Windows 8 File History Windows 7 File Recovery
Files in Libraries and desktop only All files in all locations supported
No system image support Full system image support
No progress bar Progress bar

File History is Microsoft’s attempt to copy OS X’s Time Machine, except Time Machine actually backs up all your files and lets your restore the entire OS partition, just like Windows 7 did! At least you had the choice in 8.0 to use the old system. In 8.1, Windows 7 File Recovery has been removed completely, you can’t even restore your old backups!

Edit: You can create a System Image in 8.1 (Click “System Image Backup” on the File History screen) but this doesn’t work on an automated schedule, so is not an automatic backup.

It gets worse. File History is even more useless in 8.1.

“File History” no longer backs up your SkyDrive folder in 8.1

Microsoft really don’t want you to have a local backup of your SkyDrive files. Take a look at this:


Above: Windows 8 File History


Above: Windows 8.1 File History

No problem you think? Just add your SkyDrive folder to a Library and it should back up? Nope – all the SkyDrive files are ignored completely, even if you manually add them to a Library.

The response from Microsoft on this is beyond tragic (from here):


Your files “are protected by the cloud in case user lose/damage their device”. What about protection from user error or viruses or badly written programs? If your files get corrupted the corrupted files will sync to the cloud and then sync to all your other devices.


It appears that Microsoft are desperate to push SkyDrive, even at the expense of the computing safety of their customers – customers you’d hope were being educated about safe computing. Now I am on 8.1 I am personally stuck with no built-in backup system. My experience with File History has been awful – it appears to even ignore an additional Library I’ve created to include non-library files. I literally cannot get it to back up files on my computer, it is useless. I am going to have to go with a third-party backup system like CrashPlan now.

Windows 8.1 was Microsoft’s chance to undo the wrongs of Windows 8. Users are now faced with the prospect of upgrading and being faced with no backup solution, or even worse their existing backups just stopping working with no warning.

Sort it out Microsoft.

Edit: Some excellent discussion on this over at Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6388431

Ed Andersen Avatar

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Hi! 👋 I’m a Software Developer, Architect and Consultant living in Japan, building web and cloud apps. Here I write about software development and other things I find interesting. Read more about my background.

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30 responses to “Windows 8.1’s user-hostile backup story”

  1. Man, you are pissed. Actually, skydrive has a Recycle Bin feature on the site which stores deleted files for three days and lets you restore them. Dunno about other types of files, but office ones have version history on the site as well. You could’ve done at least some research prior to writing the article.

  2. While I don’t disagree that Skydrive is not a backup system in the traditional sense, if you delete a file locally, it is still recoverable in the cloud by opening the Recycle Bin in Skydrive. I recently had a mishap on one of my machines and “lost” some pictures from my recent trip in China, but recovering them was super easy in Skydrive on the web.

    Of course anyone with a clue will also use an alternate method of backup. I use a combination of replicating files on different machines, and Crash Plan which backs up all my folders including Skydrive.


  3. Heya, the system image backup stuff is still available in Windows 8.1 and it doesn’t require Powershell. Paul Thurrott wrote about it here: http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-81-tip-use-system-image-backup

  4. And it also says that settings will be backed up, not files. And settings are in fact backed up in a sense that if you lose your device, you can restore them on a new one, pretty much like icloud.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    And people are bitching about iCloud and iCloud backup. Come on now!

    One little suggestion – get a Mac, have no problems and enjoy a beautiful & flawless UI & UX when you don’t have to worry about viruses or the OS in general and focus on your work.

    With the OS X, you can use Time Machine to backup locally. Backups are performed automatically and you can restore files from the backup individually or you can restore all of the system. Backups are performed hourly and you can restore to the hourly backup within the day, daily backup within the week, weekly backup within the month and monthly backup within the year. If you decide to have all of the files you work on saved in iCloud – great, you “basically” don’t need backups and all of the files support versions when you can restore to the previous version of the document or just copy a chunk of the information from the previous version of the document.

    If that’s not what you want, there are many services which you can use to backup all of your/selected files from your Mac to a cloud. You can even make a 1:1 bootable backups of your drive easily.

    Now the choice is up to you. Trust me, I was there – using Windows for 10 years of my life. It was hell until I got the first iPhone (even tho I had Windows Mobile MDAs before and was against iPhone), loved the experience and thus got a Mac as well (as I liked Linux and Mac has got a Linux kernel but there were not some of the most important apps for me natively supported). Good luck.

  6. To give an example to backup your point (different technologies involved but the same principle). I thought I had duplicated a document and deleted it, and emptied the trash for good measure. Dropbox duly sync’d the changes. A few weeks later, I realised that I had actually deleted the original as well. Fortunately, I have an external drive connected to my Mac doing Time Machine backups. I simply navigated to a folder the day before the delete and recovered the file, and dropped it back into the Dropbox folder for cloud sync…

    The ease of backup/restore on the Mac has been a revelation compared to Windows. Windows 7 backup had been a big improvement over previous versions. Disappointing to see it disappear.

  7. Steve Prior Avatar
    Steve Prior

    The really sad part is that at least somebody at Microsoft once knew how backup was supposed to work. Windows Home Server backed up every Windows machine in your house over the network to the central server. It was a bare metal recovery type differential backup, the backups were aged rationally, and the machines were woken up in the middle of the night to perform the backup, but laptops would only do this if they were plugged into AC so you wouldn’t wake up a laptop in a suitcase and drain the battery and burn up the machine because it had no cooling airspace. It was pretty damn perfect (OK, a couple of minor issues), one of the best products Microsoft has ever produced.

    So of course they screwed up the next version so bad that all the OEMs dropped their products that were based on it and Microsoft killed the product.

  8. Can you see the error?

    I find it disturbing that there’s no button for “Don’t Use SkyDrive,” just some text that doesn’t look clickable, ensuring that the vast majority of users will be tricked into thinking they don’t have any other option.

  9. evgeny likov Avatar
    evgeny likov

    Hello! I think, backup and skydrive are not the best parts of Windows, but they work good, after you (cursing the rest of the world) dive into it. How I scheduled backup of whole partition:

    wbadmin.exe start backup -backupTarget:r: -include:c: -allCritical -vssFull -quiet

    (you can backup anything this way)

    Next, browse to your home profile, right click on skydrive and press “make available offline” (or something like, my windows is russian). It will force sync your whole skydrive to disk.

    Thanks to your post, I noticed, newest of History for Skydrive is the date I installed 8.1 Preview. What the shame, Microsoft!

  10. Understandable rant! You can still use wbadmin (as a someone already pointed out) or recimg for full image backup or a recovery image backup, respectively, which frankly is all you need for system and apps. As for user-level files, the new backup system is probably more likely to be used by the average user, whereas the Windows 7 version was a bit slow and cumbersome for the average user. Now, don’t get me wrong, i hate it when products are ONLY developed for the lowest common denominator, which is what MS is doing here, but I do understand the motivation for the change.

    A product I’ve been really happy with is called Syncovery (used to be called Super Flexible File Synchronizer). http://www.syncovery.com/ It’s not free, but it really is quite good and worth the expense. I just protect my user profile folder in its entirety with Syncovery.

    You could also just set a scheduled task for robocopy… or you could even use the file monitor feature of robocopy (never used it, but it looks like it would provide effective realtime backup). Version history would be difficult there, but it’s an option. There are probably a dozen other tools out there for that.

    But I still hear your frustration loud and clear. Hopefully with Ballmer leaving MS will stop screwing over the pro user so hard in a desperate attempt to win the tablet space.

  11. Does that screen mean your settings and camera roll will be backed up to the cloud whether or not you choose to save files to the cloud? Can you install Windows 8.1 without specifying a cloud account?

  12. I have a question. What happens if I click “Don’t Use Skydrive”? Does it get rid of my existing Skydrive app? Can I still download and use the Skydrive app? Or use the Skydrive folder on my desktop? Or do I just use Skydrive through the browser? (Which I don’t like.)

    Currently, I use Skydrive as a folder on my desktop. I don’t use auto-backup because most of what’s on my computer I don’t care about (e.g., online games, etc.). The rest I “backup” by dragging and dropping a few select docuemnts and/or pictures that I choose to save.

    I really don’t want Skydrive backing up everything I do.


  13. Yet another reason to keep XP alive.

  14. Brian Balke Avatar
    Brian Balke

    Your frustration is rooted in a fundamental disjunction that the power developer community needs to recognize and plan for when it interacts with Windows technology going forward.

    For the last two decades, Microsoft has catered to the needs of the power user, creating an environment for managing enormously complex practices. With Windows 8, they are drawing a line in the sand and saying: “Enough. This is just confusing the hell out of the average consumer.”

    Windows 8 and SkyDrive is a huge improvement over the practices of most consumers. However, it’s a step back for the power user. Recognize that, don’t upgrade critical systems until you’ve figured out how to make your infrastructure work on the new release, and SUPPORT THE PLATFORM. It’s your job to know how to do things that the average consumer would never imagine doing. It’s Microsoft’s job to keep the average consumer from cutting their throats, including protecting their machines from becoming enrolled in botnets. Your value as a developer depends upon the way that Microsoft is perceived in the marketplace. Stop throwing garbage in your swimming pool.

  15. @Anonymous, Try sticking to the topic. You love your Mac. Good for you. I have been through 2 separate Macs at work, and it has been BY FAR my worst computing experience in 10 years. We’re talking about Windows here, get it?

  16. It seems the more MS moves forward, the more it keeps stumbling backwards (shooting itself in the foot). Or, is it a ploy to get customer to buy the new improved Windows 8.2, which will have better backup, but something else screwed up. By then, customers will smarten up and move on to another OS.

  17. Reverend Jim Avatar
    Reverend Jim

    If you don’t like skydrive then don’t use it. I have never relied on backup software from Microsoft. I keep images (Macrium or Acronis) of my system partition. I do weekly backups of my data partitions to an external drive. Once a month I mirror the external to an identical external.

  18. I’m with you 100%. As someone with PC experience dating back to DOS 3.0, I know ALL too well the importance of backups and now MS has left me in one shitty situation. I’ve updated to 8.1, have backups from 7 which I need to restore files from (which I could do in 8) but they’ve removed the tools without a replacement. WTF MS?! Guess backups just aren’t really important, even to ENTERPRISE users!!!! …. or so MS would have us believe.

  19. Hi I have slightly different question but related to backup. HOW DO I CHOOSE MY OWN FOLDER to backup with file history? I have data drive on my computer and I would like to add that in file history.

  20. I won’t update to 8.1 anytime soon. This is ridiculous. SkyDrive is not for professionals, but home users!
    I have so many apps installed and a very time consuming authorisation/protection system it takes 3 days to install all programs and is a massive headache.

    With the W7 recovery I automatically ran backups at night and always could 100% restore my system within minutes in case of a hardware failure or user error.

    To remove such an important feature alienates everyone working professionally with Windows.
    I always thought Offices/Business is where MS rules? No? why is MS so obsessed with the consumer and pissing the professionals off? Wow! First Apple, now MS.
    I’m run a recording studio, but I imagine a graphic designer, 3d animator, video editor etc must be similar pissed off like me.

    Windows is becoming more and more a toy. It began with W8 and the useless Metro thing they forced on desktop users. What a pain I the neck!

    I restored after nothing but trouble today to 8. Yes with W 7 File Recovery!! God bless it! I tried 8.1 and nothing worked. IE11 is a total joke.
    I could not even put events into Google Calendar.
    All the documents I tried to save had underscores instead of dots (and could therefore also not be run/opened)
    SoundCloud was totally broken. My website program did no longer work (Xara, corrupted uploads)

    I will stay with W8 as long as I can. I already made the mistake to upgrade from W7 to W8. W7 was the best.
    I will never be better for us desktop users.

    Sorry MS. You are not seeing my $ anytime soon anymore. You are a joke.

  21. Bill Reece Avatar
    Bill Reece

    I agree that this is an EPIC fail for MS. MS will backup your “data” files, music, pictures and other stuff, but I CAN DO THAT MYSELF. MS will also restore Windows. What it will no longer do is back up your applications. If your a power user (I’m a developer and I am a power user) you are no longer supported by MS. Should you crash for whatever reason, in my case it will take 2-3 days of restoring applications. This doesn’t even begin to touch the fact that Windows does not do Windows anymore. It does vertical Venicen blinds. (emphasis on the “blinds”) What 14 year old thinks this is acceptable on a power workstation? I’m seriously considering Apple, but that is like joining a religious cult. But someone needs to speak up and say this sucks!

  22. […] Index (good riddance), the Messaging app (replaced by Skype), and notably Windows Backup. Ed Andersen claims that Windows 7 file recovery was removed as well. Apparently Microsoft really wants everyone to […]

  23. Martin Crosbie Avatar
    Martin Crosbie

    Yes, there is a danger that a failed sync or other error could corrupt the skydrive, and replicate this through all your devices. This is my biggest fear with the system. I have a similar fear of my Exchange server data becoming corrupted, so I make my own backups. the ability to do it yourself has not been removed, or disabled in anyway – you just have to take responsibility and do it yourself.

    Windows 8 is very much a shift to a dumbed down consumer focused locked up product, for the simple reason that people have been buying dumbed down, consumer focused locked up products from Apple in increasing numbers and many people have complained that the previous methods were ‘too complex’ (I know they weren’t and people were just too lazy, but that was their opinion) so they have turned to these, simpler, less controllable methods because that’s what the strongest voices were asking for.

    I let file history work, for the sake of version management, take regular full system images (which DOES include the skydrive data) for disaster recovery, and separately take semi-automated (manually triggered batch file) copies of critical document folders all to an internal HDD, which I then occasionally copy to an external HDD for off site storage. I have done similar processes for my entire computing life, and have thus far, never lost any data.

    MY data is MY responsibility, not Microsoft’s. I appreciate that they provide tools for doing it. and find them useful, but they are not, and should never be your only defence. Your data is not backed up unless you have verified that it is backed up in at least two locations, and carried out a test restore to prove it. If you merely buy a PC of the shelf and expect it to magically backup everything for you without lifting a finger, then you have already lost your data.

  24. I cannot believe the number of replies here from “power users” that actually have been using MS built-in backup options exclusively. MS built-in options are NOT and never have been for power users. Even the Windows 7 offering is only reasonable with the Pro version, Home does not support backup to a network location. Anyone who is serious about backing up there systems/data should be investing in a decent 3rd party solution. Acronis is my personal choice, despite the consolidation snafu. Just my 0.02

  25. Rick Hillenbrand Avatar
    Rick Hillenbrand

    So I’ve been traveling for the past two weeks since upgrading (maybe down grading?) to Win 8.1. Surprise, surprise come Monday morning and I see my Sunday night full back up has failed and Win 8.1 has removed the back up function. The over reliance on backing up to the cloud by MS (and others) totally ignores those of us who live in areas where internet speeds are slow, and/or very expensive. I currently share a 10Gb wireless monthly plan with my family of 5 which includes internet data for computers at home and all handheld devices. Extra data is NOT free. Not withstanding all the other valid complaints that ‘File History’ does not back up all files (such as my thesis written in WORDSTAR during the Iceage), how in the world could I afford to back up a device constantly to the cloud?

  26. I don’t have the ability to use the internet reliably in an “always-on” fashion. I want nothing to do with SkyDrive, or the Store or any other services that require a constant internet connection (I’ve disabled the store by creating firewall rules to prevent it from talking to anyone). I live in a rural area and my only connectivity option is asymmetric satellite, and the “always-on” costs are prohibitive (I physically bring my system into town every couple of months to do batch updates).

    I need to be “disconnected” as much as possible — so local backups and software installations via physical media are essential.

    I guess I’ll switch to Linux.

  27. I agree. I don’t understand WHY they would remove something beneficial. I’m a gamer. So.. ya.. it’s great my libraries get backed up but not all games save the save game data to those backup locations.

    My only recourse is SYSTEM IMAGE and image ALL my drives…. I bought an usb 3.0 external 16TB raid 5 backup system… Here’s the one problem.. anytime I TRY to make an image backup , it wont. it “CLAIMS” my external drive is corrupt and to run chkdsk.. the drive(s) are fine… so I slapped in a 2TB internal drive… tried that.. still corrupted… it’s like MS doesn’t even want system images made anymore…

    they act like as long as your “data” is backed up, it’s all well and good.. It’s NOT

    I DONT want to reinstall windows, I DONT want to reinstall all my programs.. many games have limited activations.. some only one or two

    And to the person who said “get a mac” – SHOVE IT.. this is about Windows.. not a Mac.. not OSX.. and believe me.. I have a mac mini.. OSX has a CRAPTON of it’s own devlish hell holes of issues. It’s not the Mac of old that was pre OSX anymore.. it’s a full grown PC that just runs another OS.

    For the most part Windows 8 and 8.1 are fine… but removing the backup features? I mean.. WTH???

    So right now I just include EVERYTHING in my libraries and File history dumps that to my 16TB external drive…MS is no help on the corrupted drives. They said if windows says it’s corrupted, either it’s corrupted or I have a problem with my HD controller… seriously?!

  28. jonny salmon Avatar
    jonny salmon

    hopefully Microsoft is watching and taking note of all the extremely pissed off users who lost Windows 7 Backup on the upgrade to 8.1. I appreciate the comment about not throwing garbage in the swimming pool (don’t berate Microsoft); and I don’t expect anything better from google or apple as they too see the Internet as just a delivery system bringing consumers to advertisers and merchandisers.

  29. Agree with the writer 100% and the people out there saying the “Recycle Bin” is the answer are just goofs. Some of us have attics or pay for storage units to store things we want to keep but no longer have room for or will no longer have an immediate need to access quickly. This keeps our house un-cluttered, and our memorables available when we want them. The recycle bin is like saying anything you put in the attic will dissapear in 3 days… and same with the storage unit. Some of these people must be the same ones help microsoft steer itself into the iceberg. I’m also frustrated that wbadmin features are only partially available based on which OS you use and then within that which version of the os as to which features you can use… Windows 8 will NOT let you backup to a Mounted Share… Windows 8 will not allow you to do partial volume backups… but there is nothing clear out there shows the list of wbadmin features limits by OS/Version… you end up discovering this after you are trying to use it sometimes hours into it. Just a joke… They’ve completely lost touch and its clear in most everything they are doing. BIGGER isn’t always Better.

  30. Greg Askew Avatar
    Greg Askew

    This is by far my biggest complaint with Windows 8.1. I actually pleaded with one of our Premier support contacts at Microsoft and they said sorry it isn’t coming back. The backup utility under Windows 7 was perfectly fine. It was essentially the same as Windows Server Backup, and I could come home, drop the notebook in the port replicator with a USB-attached hard drive, and have numerous multiple backups on the same drive (due to the block level backup feature – most underappreciated). AND restore individual files/folders. It was so simple a shaved chimp could do it.

    I even purchased Acronis True Image, which was ok around 2013 or so (still not as good as Windows Backup). But then THEY “upgraded” their application for the 2015 version and effectively rendered it unusable. I even downloaded and evaluated most of the other backup apps out there. They’re all crap.

    Right now I am still running a WbAdmin script to an external drive, but that only keeps one backup, and WTF good is it if you can only do a full system restore. The next opportunity I get, I will probably blaze the notebook and install Windows Server 2012 R2. At least that still has a backup utility. I do most of my development and testing in VM’s anyway, so I would not have that much to reconfigure.

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