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Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Updated August 12, 2020

Backing up your computer has never been exciting, but it needs to be done regularly. And with the increase of file-encrypting malware, having a good backup has never been more critical. Here's how to back up your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Windows 10 backup basics

Now there are two (2) different backup programs inside of Windows 10, Windows Backup, and File History, and each one does a specific type of backup. Windows Backup is geared more towards scheduled backups (nightly, weekly, etc.) and is usually used for full system backups / complete 'bare metal' system images. File History is more for personal files that frequently change, like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, as it saves multiple versions of the same file.

File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time stamps in the names
File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time-stamps in the names

The one thing that Windows Backup and File History have in common is that both of these programs can back up to an external drive or network folder. Windows Backup can also use writeable disks like CDs or DVDs.

With the recent outbreak of file-encrypting malware, if you're going to use a network folder, it is recommended you do not map a network folder to a drive letter (N:\Files), but instead use Uniform Naming Convention (UNC) (\\Server\Volume\Files).

Never use the same drive that Windows is installed on for File History or Windows Backup. If your computer gets a virus or the operating system gets corrupted, you may have to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows.

Remember, when not in use, store the media used for backups (external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files. It is also recommended to use a fire-proof location, like a data safe, to store the backup media.

Using File History to back up your files

File History will automatically create time-stamped versions of your files (documents, music, photos, etc.) on a set schedule. If the originals are lost, damaged, or deleted, you can restore them from an earlier point in time. You can schedule File History to run from every ten (10) minutes to daily. And you can also set the length time that File History keeps copies of your files, from 1 month to forever or whenever space is needed.

The main screen for File History
The main screen for File History

To use File History, you will need to either have an external drive or network folder to save the files. By default, File History will back up your folders (documents, photos, videos, etc.), but you can add additional folders to its configuration. Now configuring File History inside of Windows 10 can be a little confusing, as there are two (2) different places to change the settings, Settings and Control Panel.

How to open File History in Settings

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.

How to open File History in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large/small icons, left-click on File History.

or

  1. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large/small icons, left-click on File History.

Here is a breakdown of what options can be changed and where to find them.

File History option Settings Control Panel
Turn on or off X X
Manually run File History X  
Change frequency (how often it runs) and duration (how long they are kept) of history X X
Add or remove folders X  
Exclude folders (useful for sub-folders) X X
Change where backups are stored X X
Clean up older versions   X
Restore files   X

Using Windows Backup to back up your files

The Windows Backup version included in Windows 10 is actually from Windows 7, hence the name in the Control Panel, Backup and Restore (Windows 7). If you used the version in Windows 7, everything will be familiar to you. With Windows Backup, you can back up just specific files and folders or do a complete system backup/system image. And you can schedule it to run whenever you want.

The main screen for Windows Backup
The main screen for Windows Backup

But unlike File History, Windows Backup creates a single backup that gets updated when it is run. No multiple file versions here, just the latest version of files at the time Windows Backup was run.

Along with using an external drive or network folder for backup, Windows Backup can also use CDs or DVDs. But if you're going to do a complete system backup on CD's or DVD's, be prepared with plenty of blank disks.

If you're creating a complete system image, remember to make a system repair disk to go along with it. If you ever need to restore your computer from a Windows Backup image, you will need to boot your computer from it. The link to create it is in the left-hand column.

How to open Windows Backup in Settings

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.
  4. In the right column, left-click on Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to open Windows Backup in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

or

  1. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to customize the Start menu in Windows 10

Updated August 16, 2020

The Start menu was first included in Windows 95 and was a big part of its success. It has undergone many changes over the years, but still is the primary way of navigating Windows. So here is how to customize the Start menu in Windows 10.

How to customize the Start menu in Windows 10

The Windows 10 Start menu is a combination of the Start menu that was in Windows 7 and the Start screen from Windows 8. You have the traditional Start menu features like folders and apps on the left and Start screen tiles on the right side.

The different areas of the Windows 10 Start menu

Now there are four (4) main areas of the Start menu that you can customize; Appearance, Folders, App list, and Tiles. You can also change the size, color, font, and transparency of the Start menu. Changing the size is relatively simple.

Just like any other application, you can change the width and height of the Start menu. Hover your cursor over one of the Start menu edges until the sizing arrows appear, then hold the left mouse button and drag it to the size you want.

Almost all settings to customize the Start menu are located in the Personalization section of the Settings app. To find the Start menu settings in the Settings apps just:

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  2. Left-click on Personalization.
  3. In the left-hand column, left-click on Start.

Appearance

This is where you can set up the way the Start menu looks and operates. In the right-hand column, you will find a list of options that you can turn on. Their functions are pretty self-explanatory.

  • Show more tiles on Start
  • Show app list in Start menu
  • Show recently added apps
  • Show most used apps
  • Show suggestions occasionally in Start
  • Use Start full screen (similar to Tablet mode)
  • Show recently open items in Jump Lists on Start or Taskbar and in Explorer Quick Access

Folders

At the bottom of the list is a link labeled Choose which folders appear on Start. When you click on it, you get a list of the folders that you can toggle on or off. The folders that can be displayed on the Start menu are:

  • File Explorer
  • Settings (on by default)
  • Documents (on by default)
  • Music
  • Pictures (on by default)
  • Videos
  • Network
  • Personal Folder

Tiles

Some of the Tiles are Desktop program shortcuts, and some are UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps. All of the Tiles can be resized and unpinned. Live Tiles (tiles that display information, like the Photo app) can be turned on and off.

And there are a few that can be uninstalled directly from the Tile section of the Start menu. If you place the mouse cursor over a Tile and hold down the left mouse button, you can move a tile around. If you right-click on a Tile, you will get a context menu with different options.

You can easily pin a program to the Tile area of the Start menu. Just right-click on any application or shortcut in the App list, on the Desktop or inside of the File Explorer, and select Pin to Start from the context menu that appears.

App list

I left this area of the Start menu for last, as it is the most complicated to change. The App list is a special folder on the drive where Windows is installed. Actually, there are two (2) App list folders; a system folder that is for all system users and a user folder that is inside of each user profile.

You can perform almost all of the regular folder and file editing inside the system App list reasonably quickly. Just right-click on an item and select an action from the context menu. Remember that the system App list is propagated into the user App list, so if you make a change here, it affects all users.

Now adding to the system App list is hard, since you can not do it directly. When I say directly, you can not just click inside and select New > Folder or Shortcut from the context menu. You have to copy/paste or drag/drop a folder or shortcut into it. I recommend leaving the system App list alone and changing only the user App list.

How to create a shortcut in Windows 10

Modifying the user App list is easier and is the recommended way of changing the App list. It will have fewer folders and shortcuts, but most of the App list comes from the system App list. Here are the different App list locations.

Just copy and paste the code below into a Run dialog box (Windows logo key Windows logo + R).

The system App list location
%programdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu
The user App list location
%appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

How to create a shortcut in Windows 10

Updated February 10, 2021

Shortcuts are links to various types of objects, like a program, file, folder, another computer, or a webpage, and they can be placed on your Desktop, Taskbar, or Start menu. Here's how to create a shortcut in Windows 10.

In this article, we are going to look at two (2) types of shortcuts, File (.lnk) and Internet (.url). You can spot a shortcut on your Desktop or File Explorer by the curled arrow in the lower left-hand corner of the shortcut's icon. Shortcuts on the Start Menu do not have the curled arrow.

How to create File shortcuts in Windows 10

To create a shortcut to a file in Windows 10, you need to know where the object is located on your computer. Open File Explorer by left-clicking the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or right-clicking on the Start Menu to bring up the Power User menu and select File Explorer. Then navigate to the object you want to create a shortcut to. If you're going to create a Desktop shortcut, make sure File Explorer is not in full-screen mode.

  • For a shortcut to a file on the Desktop, press and hold the right mouse button on the object and drag it to the Desktop. From the context menu that appears, select Create shortcuts here.
  • For a shortcut to a file on the Taskbar, right-click on the object and select Pin to Taskbar.
  • For a shortcut to a file on the Start menu, right-click on the object and select Pin to Start. That will create a shortcut in the app tiles section. To create a shortcut in the list of programs, that is a little more complicated. For more information on creating a shortcut in the program section of the Start menu, check out how to customize the Start menu in Windows 10.

How to create Internet shortcuts in Windows 10

To create a shortcut to a webpage in Windows 10, you will need to open your favorite web browser and navigate to the webpage you want to create a shortcut. Make sure the browser is not maximized to full screen, as you are going to need access to your Desktop.

  • In your browser's address bar, place your mouse cursor over the icon to the left of the web page address. Then press and hold the left mouse button and drag it to an empty spot on your Desktop. If you are not sure about how to do this, watch the video below for more details.

7 things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10

Updated August 17, 2020

With the release of Windows 10 comes the inevitable upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, And with the upgrade being free, why not upgrade to Windows 10? But before you do, there are some things you should do before. Here are seven (7) things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10.

7 things to do before and after upgrading to Windows 10

1. Run Window 10 Upgrade Advisor

Update 8/1/16: Microsoft ended the Get Windows 10 (GWX) promotion, and the Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor is no longer available. If you perform an in-place upgrade using Windows 10 media, the installer will check your computer for incompatible hardware and software.

Update 8/17/20: Even though the Get Windows 10 promotion has ended, you can still upgrade Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 for free.

How to get a free Windows 10 upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1

Doing an in-place upgrade has its pros and cons. Even though Microsoft claims that if the software runs on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, it will run on Windows 10, there will be exceptions to the rule. The same can be said about hardware too. Remember that Windows 10 will only come with generic drivers for a good portion of the equipment. Running the upgrade advisor will tell what issues you may have, and then you can find a fix before performing the upgrade. Download any hardware-specific drivers that you will need and save them to a flash drive or network folder.

    The Get Windows 10 icon
  1. Left-click the Get Windows 10 icon on the Taskbar
  2. The Get Windows 10 PC check
  3. Left-click on the three horizontal bars in the upper left corner to expand the menu and select Check your PC.

2. Check your drive for errors

One of the last things you want is to have the upgrade fail because of errors on the system drive. This is especially so if the failure were to happen while copying new files and left your system un-bootable. To be on the safe side, run Windows disk checking utility CHKDSK.

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7
Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

3. Clean up the junk

It's now time to clean the system up. Uninstall any program you don't need or want and then run Windows built-in Disk Cleanup utility. You can also use a program like CCleaner, but be careful not to go too far with it.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup
Windows 8 Disk Cleanup
Clean up and optimize your computer with CCleaner

4. Backup everything

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", so a complete backup of your system is the next thing to do. Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 both have a built-in File Recovery program that can do a full system image to an external drive, network folder, or DVDs. You will also need to create a system repair disk to boot the system so that you can restore the system image you create, just in case. Links to both are located on the left-side column of the File Recovery program screen.

Now the File Recovery program can be kind of hard to find, especially in Windows 8.1. To make sure you are running it with the correct privileges, I suggest just running the program using an administrative command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

To open the File Recovery program, type the following into an admin command prompt and hit enter.

sdclt.exe

5. Perform an inventory with Belarc

Having a complete list of all of the hardware and software inside your computer can come in handy if anything were to go wrong. Belarc Advisor is an excellent program for creating an inventory of your computer software and hardware, including software installation keys. Once it is done creating an inventory, it opens the results in a web browser. Print or save the results to a flash drive, just in case you might need it down the road.

Belarc Advisor

6. Uninstall system utilities

This is not mandatory, but I recommend uninstalling any anti-virus, anti-malware, EMET, etc. program before the upgrade. These programs look for malicious activity geared toward the operating system and could create a massive headache during the upgrade. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Time to upgrade to Windows 10

Grab a drink and have a seat; it'll take a little while.

7. Update drivers and reinstall software

It's now time to install any device-specific drivers you downloaded in Step #1. Once that is done, it's time to download the latest version of all the software you removed in Step #6. If you're unsure what version of a program you had installed, go through the inventory you created in Step #5.

How to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 10

Updated December 12, 2021

Have you ever tried to find a file in a disorganized filing cabinet? It can take some time. The same thing can happen when your computer's drive becomes fragmented. But you can keep all of the folders and files on your computer organized with regular defragmentation. Here's how to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 10.

How to defragment and optimize your drive in Windows 10

There are two (2) types of drives used in computers, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD). The kind of drive you have determines whether you need (or want) to defragment and optimize it. To find out what type of drive(s) you have, follow the standard instructions below. The Optimize Drives screen will tell you what kind of drive(s) you currently have in your computer.

The issue of drive fragmentation stemmed from the early '80s when Microsoft needed an OS, and they bought Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS) and renamed it MS-DOS. At that time, HDDs were the only type of drive available, and they are still the de facto standard in the industry. And they do need to be defragmented and optimized regularly.

Now SSD's are different in that there are no moving parts inside, just memory chips. So when your computer reads and writes to it, the data is going back to the same location on the drive. You can defrag and optimize an SSD, but it is not recommended since SSDs have limited read/write cycles, and any program that intensively accesses the SSD could shorten the life span of the drive. Microsoft started adding support for SSDs in Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 with the Trim command. Since the low-level operation of SSDs differs from HDDs, the Trim command handles deletes/format requests.

You can verify Trim is enabled by typing the following into an Administrative Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

If the command returns a 0, then Trim is enabled. If it returns a 1, then it is not. To enable Trim, type the following into the Administrative Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0

Standard drive defragment and optimization in Windows 10

standard drive defragment and optimization in Windows 10

    1. Bring up the Defragment and Optimize Drives application by:
      1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
      2. Scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools and left-click to expand.
      3. Left-click on Defragment and Optimize Drives.

or

      1. Open File Explorer by left-clicking the File Explorer icon (the manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
      2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
      3. In the right-side column right-click on the drive you want to check and select Properties.
      4. Left-click on the Tools tab.
      5. Under Optimize and defragment drive left-click on Optimize.

then

  1. Left-click on the drive(s) you want to optimize.
  2. Left-click on Analyze (Analyze all) or Optimize (Optimize all)

Advanced drive defragment and optimization in Windows 10

advanced drive defragment and optimization in Windows 10

  1. Open a Command Prompt with Administrative privileges (click here for instructions)
  2. Use the following command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) to run DEFRAG:

Defrag <Volumes> <Operations> [<Options>]

Examples:

  • Defrag C: /U /V
  • Defrag C: D: /TierOptimize /MultiThread
  • Defrag C:\mountpoint /Analysis /U
  • Defrag /C /H /V
Volumes
/C | /AllVolumes On each volume run only the preferred operations from the given list of operations.
/E | /VolumesExcept <volume paths> Perform all the given operations on each volume except those specified. If the exception list is empty, this behaves as /AllVolumes.
volume paths Specifies the drive letter followed by a colon, mount point, or volume name. More than one volume can be specified. Run all the given operations on each specified volume.
Operations
/A | /Analyze Perform analysis.
/B | /BootOptimize Perform boot optimization to increase boot performance.
/D | /Defrag Perform traditional defrag (this is the default). On a tiered volume, traditional defrag is performed only on the Capacity tier.
/G | /TierOptimize On tiered volumes, optimize files to reside on the appropriate storage tier.
/K | /SlabConsolidate On thinly provisioned volumes, perform slab consolidation to increase slab usage efficiency.
/L | /Retrim On thinly provisioned volumes, perform retrim to release free slabs. On SSDs perform retrim to improve write performance.
/O | /Optimize Perform the proper optimization for each media type.
/T | /TrackProgress Track progress of a running operation for a given volume. An instance can show progress only for a single volume. To see progress for another volume launch another instance.
/U | /PrintProgress Print the progress of the operation on the screen.
/V | /Verbose Print verbose output containing the fragmentation statistics.
/X | /FreespaceConsolidate Perform free space consolidation, moves free space towards the end of the volume (even on thin provisioned volumes). On tiered volumes consolidation is performed only on the Capacity tier.
Options
/H | /NormalPriority Run the operation at normal priority (default is low).
/I | /MaxRuntime n Available only with TierOptimize. Tier optimization would run for at most n seconds on each volume.
/LayoutFile <file path> Available only with BootOptimize. This file contains the list of files to be optimized. The default location is %windir%\Prefetch\layout.ini.
/M | /MultiThread [n] Run the operation on each volume in parallel in the background. For TierOptimize, at most n threads optimize the storage tiers in parallel. Default value of n is 8. All other optimizations ignore n.
/OnlyPreferred When volumes are specified explicitly, defrag performs all the given operations on each specified volume. This switch lets defrag run only the preferred operations, from the given list of operations, on each specified volume.

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