Septmber 22, 2000

Window Manager, Brian Livingston

But enough about you, let's talk about Me: System Restore needs a few good tweaks

AMONG THE MOST highly touted new features of Windows Me is a "roll back" utility called System Restore. This program runs silently in the background, saving a "snapshot" of important system and program files every 10 running hours, or at least once per day.

Windows Me automatically saves an additional snapshot, or Restore Point, when you install an application with the Windows installer. Also, you can manually save a Restore Point at any time.

The problem is that System Restore takes up lots of disk space without giving you the benefits of good backups. System Restore affects only Windows files and third-party programs you install under Me. Neither the My Documents folder nor any documents with registered extensions are covered. So users may get a false sense of security, saving even fewer data backups than they do now.

I'm sure System Restore will ease the demand on Microsoft's tech-support people. "Run the System Restore Wizard" will probably become the favorite remedy given out by Microsoft's earnest but harried staff.

That's less painful than Microsoft's previous fave: "Reinstall Windows." But a consistent set of backups -- using whatever medium you choose -- will save your bacon a lot more often than System Restore will.

And then there's all that disk space. By default, System Restore configures itself to use 12 percent of your hard drive. You can reduce this, but not below 200MB of disk space.

There seems to me to be little reason to save a Restore Point once every 10 hours (because no documents are saved). Perhaps saving one Restore Point every time you install new software or hardware would be reasonable. Even once a week. But System Restore has no visible method to configure it that way.

The System Restore function also has a strange interaction with benchmark testing. The rapid disk writing that some benchmarks perform can cause System Restore to start saving, making your test timings inconsistent.

For all of these reasons, you may want to turn System Restore off. You can turn it back on when you need it, such as just before you make a significant change to your system.

According to Shane Brooks, author of 98Lite Me, turning off System Restore via its dialog box erases the Restore Points it has already saved (see my Sept. 11 column). So once you get your system working the way you want it, and a good Restore Point is saved, Brooks suggests renaming Vxdmon.vxd. This disables System Restore as well as, unfortunately, System File Protection.

To see the Restore Points that Windows Me has saved, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.

To configure how much space System Restore uses, click Start, Settings, Control Panel, System, Performance, File System.

To turn System Restore on and off (erasing all Restore Points), do the preceding steps, then use the Troubleshooting tab.

According to System Restore's help file, you must click the Apply button before you click OK in the last two examples, to save your configuration changes.

Wait a minute -- the OK button no longer saves my changes?

That's right. Sources within Microsoft say that Redmond's developers have long battled over this. The fight was won by the side that wanted to disable OK unless Apply is clicked first.

Now Windows Me has some OK buttons that work correctly, and some that don't unless you click Apply first. This idiotic decision has resulted in an interface nightmare. Maybe Microsoft will fix this soon.