Demo: Restore an old version of a file

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Watch this demo to learn how to find earlier versions of a file.

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Whenever I’m working on a file, whether at home or at work, I like to save as often as possible in order to protect my work. And, if you’ve ever lost data in a power outage, you might feel the same way. However, all that saving can sometimes work against you, but in Vista, there’s a way around that.

Hi, I’m Andy Sweet, I’m a writer on the Windows team here at Microsoft, and let me give you an example: I'm writing a letter to my uncle Jim. I've been working on it for a few days now, and an early draft had a paragraph about a camping trip I was on. I've since deleted that paragraph and saved the file. But now, I wish I had it back. But since I've saved, and I don't have a back-up anywhere else, I’m out of luck, right? Maybe not.

In Vista, there's a feature called Previous versions of files. And it's a way to maybe get back work that you thought was gone.

Here's how it works: Previous versions of files uses restore points which are generated by System Restore on a regular basis. These are snapshots of your computer system files that Windows can use to fall back on in case there's a system problem. What's new for Vista is that every time a restore point gets created, a version of your file gets created at the same time. So if you’ve been working on a document for a few days, there’s a good chance a previous version of it exists. Let's see if we can go find my missing paragraph.

To get to previous versions of a file, browse to the file—I’ve got the letter here in my Documents folder. Right-click the file, and click Restore Previous Versions.

I see a couple of previous versions here. So I think I wrote the camping story on the twenty-second. Let’s go there. Hmm, no. Okay, let’s try another one. Try the twenty-fourth. There it is!

Now that you’ve found what you’re looking for, you have a couple of options: You can copy the paragraph and paste it where you want it; you can save a copy of the entire document (which might be worth it if you've made a lot of changes); or you can restore the document, which overwrites the current version with the previous version you just selected.

Since it’s only one paragraph and I have the current version already open, I’ll copy and paste the text from the old to the new version. There, I got my story back.

Previous versions of files are a great thing to try in this kind of situation, but remember that there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. Restore points only contain the state of your file at the time the restore point was made—it’s not a record of each save you do. And, if you’ve only been working on the file for a short period of time, a restore point might not exist yet that contains the information you need.

But, it’s easy to try, a good thing to know about, and if you’re save-happy like I am, it might help you find that change you wish you’d kept.


  • Only Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate editions support previous versions of files.