Windows 7 Catch-up: System Restore

We’re still not past the bad old days when a driver or application update drops a less-reliable version. Such is the tangle of software strata under the Windows desktop, un-installing an update or application may not reverse every change that has been made. Since Windows Vista, the System Restore feature exists to store ‘snapshots’ of the system on the local hard disk. Trouble was, System Restore was either only partially successful or a complete waste of time and disk-space, depending on who you asked. You could actually do more damage by backing out to a Restore point, undoing unrelated changes without fixing the original problem.

In Windows 7 there is a much more informative approach to System Restore…

The idea remains that you run it either at regular intervals ad-hoc prior to applying system, application or device driver updates. However, where the old System Restore worked like the Soviet ‘scorched earth’ retreat, the Windows 7 version provides a preview list of software changes, based on applications listed in Add/Remove Programs, requiring approval before rolling Windows 7 back to an earlier state.

  • Applications and drivers that were installed after the System Restore point will be removed
  • Applications and drivers removed after the System Restore point will be restored

This is still something of a blunt instrument, although it does take away the nasty surprise when you get to a Restore point only to find certain applications and drivers were removed along with the problem. At least you get a shot at weighing the benefit and lining up incremental updates to reapply after the Restore point.

This is a more complex view of System Restore results; it doesn’t take away all the frustrations, but at least you get to see how relatively good or bad it may be; a user or IT support staff can choose a different Restore point, or be sure of the incremental updates to make afterwards.

Restore points can also be used from system images – back-ups – created by end users, allowing System Restore to roll-back to a point further back in time than the local System Restore storage would allow – so now including backups to external hard disks and network drives.

In the corporate environment, your IT support team could remotely connect to a computer across the network and create a System Restore point before making any changes that might negatively affect the computer’s stability. It will also integrate with the Windows PowerShell tool so that automated scripts can include setting Restore Points before other scheduled maintenance and upgrades occur.

This new System Restore still isn’t perfect, it isn’t for the novice and it won’t resolve every issue you get with applications and driver upgrades. This level of detail will be daunting for most end-users and may leave front-line support staff none the wiser. I’m not even sure it can spot all the predicted changes covered by a given Restore Point yet, but it’s heading in the right direction and is a big step forward from anything we’ve had previously. AJS

One thought on “Windows 7 Catch-up: System Restore

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