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— Update 2016-01-03 read about my new approach to backup

My daughter is going to university and has just bought a Lenovo laptop which has Windows 8.1 installed. It is a conventional 15.6″ laptop with a i5 processor, 8 GB RAM and 1TB hard disk.

First impressions

This is my first use of Windows 8.1 and it is generally positive. As you may have heard it offers two interfaces, the conventional desktop and the new Metro interface that is optimised for touch.

Microsoft have produced a beautiful OS for touch screen systems. The live tiles Start screen delivers on a vision of a single interface that will scale across different form factors. The idea is to make a PC work more like a smartphone where everything is “easy”.

Similarities with Android (say) do not stop with the start screen

  • When you turn on the device for the first time your are prompted for your Microsoft account so that all your settings can be stored and recovered from the cloud
  • You can click at the top left corner to see recently used applications. This mimics a long press on the central button.
  • In “Backup and recovery” you can “Refresh” your PC. This is analogous to a hard reset on Android followed by connecting you Google account. All your applications that you have purchased from the PC Store will be magically reinstalled and your settings preserved.

Personally I found that using the Live Tiles Start screen with a track pad was very natural and I have bought a Microsoft Touch Mouse in the hope that this will confer similar benefits. The Live Tiles might actually be useful and pleasant.

The problem is that that there is an unpleasant visual jolt every time you move from the desktop to Metro and back but after a while I suspect you won’t notice it.

For keyboard and mouse users who don’t see any need for Metro (almost all users) Lenovo have bundled Pokki start menu. This makes the laptop boot to the conventional desktop and provides a conventional start menu. This removes most of the pain associated with the Metro (touch) interface and transitions between the two views are reduced.

As in Windows 7 you can pin items to the Taskbar and this element appear in both interfaces. This is the preferred way of ensuring availability of frequently used applications and folder locations.


The killer features for Windows 8.1 in the consumer editions must be its tight integration with One Drive and the new File History feature. One Drive can be used to provide off-site backup and accessibility of key data and File History can be used to allow users to easily restore previous versions from a local drive.

These features would totally eliminate the need to make backups of the system partition (hooray!) but for the fact that there are almost no apps in the PC Store. Therefore once you have gone through the effort of installing your applications such as Adobe Reader you are going to want to make a system backup.

This feature was first delivered in Windows 7 and is still available in Windows 8. You simply attach a USB 3 hard drive and make a system image. It is mistake-proof and the new image will replace the old one. I assume that compression will also reduce the size of the system image. For that reason I have purchased a backup drive that is the same size as my source drive.

The Lenovo like many other laptops comes with a recovery environment and in case of difficulty you can press a special button (the “Novo” button”) and boot to the recovery environment and then restore from the USB Drive.

I hope that the combination of One Drive, File History and System image will mean that I don’t need to purchase more sophisticated backup software as I have done for my Windows 7 laptop.

 File History Hack

Microsoft do not allow you to store you file history on a local drive. Unless you want to lug a portable drive everywhere with you or purchase a high capacity thumb drive that you can leave permanently attached this is very inconvenient.

A neat solution is to use Windows 8.1 other killer feature, virtualisation. My Personal Nerd explains that you can create a VHD drive on the local hard drive and put the file history on that.

If you make a weekly System Image this is will be backed up at the same time.