The Improved Windows Backup tool in Windows 7

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Windows has had a backup program included with the operating system for a long time, and generally it improved in useability with each new version of Windows. But a lot of Windows users chose some third-party alternative because of the limitations of Microsoft's product. Now, in Windows 7, the average user may be fully satisfied with the built-in backup program. It gives the user much more control of how backup operates, and yet it doesn't make it too complicated for anybody to actually use.

When you for the first time go to Backup and Restore in the All Items view of Control Panel, you get this screen:

 Windows 7 Backup and RestoreSince, as shown in the screen, Backup has not been configured yet, you next click on the button for Set up Backup.

The next screen gives you the opportunity to specify where you want to save the backup, and you can choose another internal or external hard drive, a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, and possibly a network location.  The option to choose a network location is only available if you are using the Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise edition of Windows 7.
Select where to save the backup
The next screen gives you the option of having Windows choose what data to backup ("recommended" according to Microsoft, but perhaps only because it is easier for the user), or making the choice yourself. If you decide to let Windows make a choice, then every user of the computer will get his or her files backed up, and you will also get a system image by default (assuming there is sufficient space on the backup media), so that the computer can be completely restored in case some catastrophic event leaves your computer unbootable.  If a system image is made, then a single .VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) file is created, and you cannot pick and choose which files to restore when you later use the Backup and Restore utility to restore your computer.  If your computer has crashed and is unbootable when you would like to restore it, you would need to use a System Recovery disk in order to enter Windows 7's replacement for XP's "Recovery Console", which is now much improved over XP and has been renamed to the "Recovery Environment."
 What do you want to backup
If you want to specify your own choice, then this screen narrows down the choice still further:

- whether or not to include common user file types
- whether you want to choose specific drives or folders to include or exclude
- whether or not to include system files.
  What to include and exclude
The next screen asks you how often do you want to do a backup.  A check mark (which may be removed) will allow the default option of doing a scheduled backup, and list boxes let you choose whether to schedule a backup monthly, weekly, daily, etc. and on which days of the week and at what time.  If you perform a scheduled backup, then it is possible to pick and choose what to restore at a later date.  If a backup is scheduled when the computer is unavailable because it is in hibernation or turned off, then the backup is not done, but will be performed the next time it is possible to do so.

The Windows 7 backup tool, like Vista's, is a block based backup, so the first backup performed will be a full backup, but afterwards only what has been changed from a previous backup will be saved.  This amounts to what others call an "incremental" backup.

A very nice collection of tutorials on using the Windows 7 Backup and Restore tool is available at the Windows Seven Forums website, available from this page:

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