A good tool that needs to be better

While testing a new WebCam with a beta copy of Windows XP, I realized that the WebCam's Windows 2000 driver wasn't working properly with the new OS. I reinstalled my old WebCam, but its Windows 98 driver, which—before I uninstalled it—had worked under XP, then refused to function. Reinstalling the driver didn't fix the problem, so I tried out XP's System Restore feature, which lets you easily restore OS and application files to a previous state. After I selected a restore point that the feature had automatically created the day before, I rebooted, and my old WebCam's driver worked fine.

System Restore will make life easier for technical support staffs that deal with corrupted files and for end users who accidentally overwrite or delete critical files when installing or uninstalling software. Whenever a user installs an unsigned driver or uses InstallShield, Windows Installer Service (WIS), or Windows Update to install software, System Restore copies all OS and application files before the installation proceeds. At a minimum, System Restore creates a restore point every 24 hours. You can also create a restore point manually—a good thing to do before you download applications from the Web.

You can store as many as 3 weeks of past restore points. The number of restore points you can save depends on how many applications you've installed, the amount of free disk space on your system, the frequency with which you install applications or drivers, and the amount of disk space you allocate to restore points (up to 12 percent).

Microsoft introduced System Restore with Windows Me and has refined the application in XP. For example, XP's restore points provide pointers to unchanged files rather than maintain multiple copies of those files, thus utilizing disk space more efficiently and letting the system create restore points more quickly.

But System Restore still feels incomplete because it doesn't protect document files. Microsoft didn't want users to lose recent document changes or email while restoring application or OS files. Although I understand that concern, haven't we all at some time wished that we could quickly restore a document that had been accidentally deleted or changed? Of course, you can retrieve files from a backup, but that takes time.

While working with System Restore, I remembered a similar Roxio product called GoBack 3 Deluxe. This product, which you can download from the vendor's Web site at http://www.roxio.com, monitors all disk activity and continuously records incremental changes to all files, thus letting you roll back the system to virtually any point in time. Although the rollback affects all files on the system, GoBack lets you return specific files to their present state so that you don't lose email and changes to important documents.

System Restore is useful, and I applaud Microsoft for improving it and making it available in XP. Nevertheless, I'll reach for my credit card to buy a third-party product that does everything I need.