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7/19/2012
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Windows 8 File History Lacks Enterprise Focus

Microsoft's new file protection utility is aimed at consumers, but that doesn't mean IT can't benefit.

Microsoft's Windows 8 File History is designed to overcome end users' unwillingness to proactively back up their data by periodically scanning files stored in libraries, desktops, favorites, and contacts folders for changes and then copying any new or altered files to an external hard drive, either local or networked, or to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service.

In a blog post explaining the new approach, Bohdan Raciborski, Microsoft's program manager for Windows, says the company's data shows that fewer than 5% of consumer PCs use the current Windows Backup utility, and the company hopes that adopters of Windows 8 will do better.

While it's highly unlikely enterprise IT teams will favor File History over incumbent backup products like those from CommVault or Symantec--for one thing, it lacks centralized management--it's less clear whether IT should disable the feature for company-owned or -supported Windows 8 devices.

Raciborski admits that File History may not comply with corporate security, access, and retention policies, and thus Microsoft includes a group policy setting that allows administrators to disable the feature. Still, for groups wrestling with the data protection angle of a bring-your-own-device policy, the utility may be worth a look.

That's especially true because it seems that, in the near term, it will be mainly employee-owned devices running Windows 8. Our latest InformationWeek Windows 8 Survey of 859 business technology professionals at organizations with 500 or more employees shows that only about half plan to upgrade. Of those sitting tight, 64% are on Windows 7, while 20% still cling to XP. Microsoft has extended Windows XP end of life a few times already, most recently to April 8, 2014, and will likely do so a few more times to satisfy enterprises that won't budge from it.

"There are so many legacy applications out there that don't run on anything but Windows XP," says Joshua Marpet, founder of consulting and research firm DataDevastation. "We will be seeing XP for another 15 years." That's because enterprises see Windows XP as a stable OS that is also great to program applications to. "I even had lawyers building Access applications on XP by themselves," says Marpet.

For there to be any motivation to rewrite these applications to work on Windows 8, there would have to be a good reason they can't continue to run on Windows XP. There isn't, says Marpet. For now, Windows XP is stable, as is Windows 7. Historically, every other Windows operating system has not been great. "Windows 8 is fated," he says, and for now at least, support for touch screens isn't a selling point for enterprises.

However, it may be for end users.

"I have looked at Windows 8," says Marpet. "The file entry backup tool is really nice. It is great for a consumer because it makes backup and recovery simple."

IT teams that provide guidance to employees who use personal systems for work may want to educate users on how to make the best use of the new utility. Among the benefits Raciborski cites:

-- Users can browse via a Windows Explorer-type UI and have versioning control.

-- Only users' personal files are protected, not the OS and applications, saving on space, and utilizing the NTFS change journal improves performance.

-- The system is optimized for mobile users by recognizing state transitions and, when the target backup drive is unavailable, detecting that and caching versions of changed files locally until the external drive is accessible.

Microsoft says the Windows 8 upgrade from XP, Vista or Win7 will sell for $39.99. The Windows 8 Pro DVD package will sell for an initial promotional price of $69.99. The release date is scheduled for Oct. 26.

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