Computers are an essential utility in the present age. Their influence in people’s daily lives is expected to grow further. Most workstation computers are usually active for the better part of the day. They are usually networked and often used by multiple users. Several files, drivers, extensions, and a range of other items are downloaded (automatically as well as manually) during each active session. This leaves them vulnerable to malfunctions due to total or partial failure at the system level. Issues that crop up as a result of such incidents are usually disruptive, to say the least. In case of PCs, major system issues can be resolved using Windows System Restore, which comes as an in-built utility with the OS.
What is Windows Restore?
Windows Restore or System Restore rolls back PC system configurations to a previous state. First released with Windows ME, Windows System Restore has been included in all later versions of the OS, including XP and Windows 10. Windows System Restore is auto-enabled in some versions of the OS, while it has to be disabled in others. It is considered good practice for users to check whether Windows System Restore is enabled on their device or not. When enabled on a device, it starts saving the system configuration at regular intervals. Each saved instance is called a Restore Point. This allows users to revert their devices to a previous state to get rid of issues that did not exist earlier. Users can select the state of configuration to which they want their devices’ system settings to be rolled back. Windows System Restore does not affect users’ personal files. It is therefore not a tool for retrieving deleted files or uninstalling an existing software.
Windows System Restore works by capturing and saving the state of the computing system at a given point in time. The captured system information is referred to as Restore Points. It uses a part of the hard disk to store all critical information related to configuration, such as system settings, Windows Registry, system files, and installed software. System files that are affected by Windows System Restore program mostly have .sys, .dll, .exe, .vxd, and .com extensions. Restore Points occupy 3% of the disk space in devices with 64 GB storage space in Windows 7 or later versions. If the storage space is more, the Restore folder can occupy 5% or 10 GB of storage space, whichever is lesser. In case of devices running on Windows Vista or Windows XP, the space requirement for Restore Points are 15% and 12% of the disk space respectively.
Windows XP and Vista creates Restore Points every 24 hours while Windows 7 and later versions do so once in a week. Users can also create Restore Points manually, so that they can roll-back the device to their last preferred state in case of any disruption. The Windows System Restore Control Panel intuitively takes users through the process of creating Restore Points manually.
How does Windows Restore Work?
When a user executes the Windows System Restore program, the system is reverted to a configuration point stored as a Restore Point selected by the user. If the users do not select a Restore Point, the device is rolled back to the latest Restore Point. Before Windows System Restore initiates, users are prompted to ensure that the power supply is steady so that the entire process can complete without interruption. Incomplete restoration of files due to power interruptions can cause additional system issues, rather than resolving the existing one.
A successful Windows System Restore removes all the software installed after the creation of the selected Restore Point. The changes to the system settings are undone as well. Conversely, all the applications that were uninstalled post the setting of a Restore Point are restored to the device. As Windows creates a Restore Point before any critical system changes, the issues that arise due to any such changes are resolved via Windows System Restore. Any item removed or brought back by Windows System Restore may have to be installed or uninstalled by users manually.
System Restore for Various Windows OS Versions
System Restore on Windows 8 and later versions
Microsoft has made Windows System Restore simpler for its users to execute. Steps for executing it on Windows 8 or later versions are as follows:
- Open Control Panel, and click on System and Security.
- Click on System. Note that if the Control Panel view is set to large or small icons, then the System option will be directly visible on the Control Panel.
- On the System window, click on system protection. The System Properties window will open.
- Click on System Restore. It will open a new window with the heading “Restore System Files and Settings.”
- Click Next. It shows the options to Undo Windows System Restore and Choose a Different Restore Point. The first option appears only if Windows System Restore has been executed on the device previously.
- Select the desired Restore Point and click on Next.
- Click on Confirm and then Finish.
- Click on Yes on the prompt asking whether to continue.
After the Windows System Restore completes, the device will restart automatically. Once restarted, the device can be used as usual.
System Restore on Windows 7 and Vista
The steps to execute System Restore on Windows 7 or Vista devices are as follows:
- Click on Windows button on the Home Screen and type System Restore in the search box. Click on System Restore from the results that appear. Alternatively, Click on Start button and then on All Programs. Click on Accessories and then System Tools. Click on System Restore from the options that appear.
- Click Next on the window with the heading Restore System Files and Settings.
- Make a selection between the recommended and other Restore Points.
- Click Next and then Finish.
The device will restart on completion of the Windows system restore process and will be ready for use.
System Restore on Windows XP
Steps to access and execute Windows System Restore in XP are as follows:
- Click on Start, followed by All Programs, Accessories, and System Tools.
- Click on the System Restore icon that appears.
- Click on the restore option and then Next.
- Select the Restore Point and click on Next, and then click on Next again to confirm.
Once the device auto-reboots, it is ready for use.
What is SteadyState Software?
Windows SteadyState was a freeware tool used for security and maintenance of shared systems. It was based on the ‘Reboot to Restore’ method and was available for use on Windows Vista and Windows XP. Every time a device (on which Windows SteadyState was enabled) was restarted, the program reverted the system configuration to a previous state. The Windows Disk Protection (WDP) component of the program had to be enabled for it to function effectively. When enabled, WDP redirected the changes made to the hard disk to a cache. It offered the system administrators the options to discard the cache on reboot, keep the cache even after reboot, or make all changes permanent.
Windows SteadyState was particularly useful for maintenance of public access computers at schools, libraries, and cyber cafes. Irrespective of how many users accessed a device and what actions were performed on it, the desired configuration of the devices could be maintained with just a reboot. Though it was discontinued in 2010, there are third-party alternatives that provide the desired protection for public-access systems.
Time Freeze is simple to deploy Windows system restore software which is effective in protecting computing workstations from various malicious threats like viruses, spyware, and trojans. The software functions on the basis of virtualization. By locking in the base configuration system, it creates a virtual environment for the system partition in which users’ actions take effect. All the changes made as a result of a user’s activity exist in that virtual environment, which is discarded when the device is restarted. All the unwanted and/or malicious inputs to the system are thus prevented from taking any effect on the configuration. The process takes place when the next user starts working on the device after reboot. Time Freeze allows changes to the configuration only when it is disabled.
Faronics’ Deep Freeze is a Microsoft SteadyState replacement that leverages ‘Reboot to Restore’ methodology. When Deep Freeze is deployed on a device, it freezes the system configuration at that point in time. This saved configuration is referenced every time the device is rebooted, thus rolling back the system to its frozen state. All system changes made by users during their sessions are discarded and the system is reverted to its originally saved configuration with just a reboot.
Deep Freeze allows users to retain changes as and when required. Users need to disable Deep Freeze prior to making changes that they want to retain. Once it is enabled again, it freezes the current state of the system which now becomes the baseline configuration for Deep Freeze. The installed software and other changes therefore persist even after the reboot.
Deep Freeze has the provision for automatic Windows updates to take effect even when the devices are frozen. Also, this Microsoft SteadyState alternative integrates with Microsoft SCCM, Apple Remote Desktop, Dell KACE and other popular desktop management systems to facilitate centralised management.
The constant malware threat to which personal as well as public access devices are exposed on a daily basis can be effectively countered with system restoration. Windows has in-built restoration utilities for device protection. Alternatively, IT admins managing multiple devices running on different OS’s can opt for a third-party restoration software for greater efficiency and convenience.
Reboot to Restore Technology mitigates unwarranted configuration changes and resolves IT issues with a simple yet effective reboot.