Yikes, Microsoft’s Time Machine clone leaves out tons of important stuff

(Updated to include a way to unhide files and add them to a “library” for backup)

Basically, this post is a warning to anyone using the new File History backup program in Windows 8. The program is severely limited because it will only back up files in a few preset locations that can’t be expanded. If you have almost any third-party program that saves its own data, File History is leaving you exposed. There is a fix, but it takes a little mucking around.

In my case, for example, I have gazillions of email messages stored by the program Postbox. The mail is kept in a huge folder in my personal Windows user folder under PostBox’s own folder in the application data area. None of the stuff that your applications have saved here is backed up by File History — none. And you can’t add it, either.

Update: As several commenters have noted, there is a way to get this data added to the backup set. In the Windows File Explorer, navigate to your personal directory and under the View section of the ribbon bar, click for a check in the box called “hidden files.” Then a folder in your directory called AppData should be exposed. Right click on the folder and choose “Include in library…” and add the folder to one of the libraries which is backed up by File History. Phew!

All that File History will save by default are “files that are in your libraries, contacts, favorites,¬†Microsoft SkyDrive¬†and on your desktop,” according to Microsoft. That is a huge hole, especially if you don’t rely on the My Documents, My Pictures and other “library” folders set up in Windows. Even if you do, third-party programs that store their data exactly where they are supposed to will not benefit from File History unless you use the trick above to add them.

That’s a shame because File History is supposed to be Microsoft’s version of the drop-dead easy to use Apple backup program Time Machine. Both work behind the scenes to back stuff up on an automatic schedule without the user having to remember. And both give quick access to old versions of files within the File Explorer/Finder program. But you can set Time Machine to backup anything from just a few files to your entire disk.

Apple makes deleting a Boot Camp partition super easy

hero_bootcampA couple of years back, when I upgraded the hard drive on my then-new Macbook Pro, I used Apple’s incredible Boot Camp software to install Windows Vista. Using Boot Camp, you’re not just simulating running Windows under Mac OS X — you can actually boot up into “pure” Windows on your Apple hardware. The only complication was that Boot Camp required its own bit of my hard drive, it’s own partition in techno-speak, for the exclusive use of Windows. So I handed over 50 GB of my practically-empty 250 GB drive.

More recently, three trends have come together to make me regret that partitioning decision. First, the remaining 200 GB left to Mac OS X has gotten increasingly tight. With the growing library of all my iPod media on my laptop, I was down to only 25 GB of free space recently. Second, I have VMWare Fusion to run Windows virtually without having to reboot out of Mac OS X. Fusion used to lack some important features, like graphics acceleration, but it has improved and improved to the point where everything I need to do under Windows (stupid Sony digital recorder, I’m talking to you) works fine in Fusion.

And third, the only real reason I needed to run Windows Vista under Boot Camp (instead of just simulating it under VMWare Fusion), was to play games — well, really just one game, Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, which was never released for the Mac. Until now!

Not needing that Windows partition anymore, I fretted that recovering the space and adding to my main partition would entail some litany of horrors like: back up every single thing, erase the whole drive, reinstall every single thing and, all the while, make plenty of sacrifices to the PC gods of yore.

Instead, it was drop-dead simple and completely painless. How to eliminate a Boot Camp Windows partition without breaking a sweat? Just run Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant program. Choose the option that says add or remove a Boot Camp partition. Recognizing that I already had a Boot Camp partition, the program automatically began the removal sequence. Just follow the directions and watch as 50 GB of ugly fat disappear and your Mac OS X drive gets more room to breath in under 2 minutes:

unbootcamp1jp

For what it’s worth, I also worried that I had to somehow deactivate or uninstall the copy of Windows Vista I was about to blow up in case I every wanted to use the same install disk on some future home brew PC. But there’s no way to deactivate Vista. Basically, you just go ahead and re-use the install disk. If the new OS installation won’t activate, you call Microsoft and tell them what’s what and they let you re-use the software. Or so I’m told, anyway.