Alternative to File History for Windows backup: Veem Agent

Don't lose files, back them up to a USB drive with a free utility

Backups of files on your computer are essential. You may never need them, but you’ll be glad if you do. Windows includes backup features, but Veem Agent is a free alternative to File History.

File History is a simple backup tool that is built into Windows. It means that there is nothing to install and it is ready to go. You just need to plug a USB drive into your computer and set it going. The configuration options are minimal and anyone can set it up.

It is surprising that more people do not use it. It is common to see requests for help in Facebook groups and online discussion forums from people that have lost files. They ask, how do I get my lost/deleted files back? One of the first questions asked in return is, did you have a backup? The answer is always no. Oh dear, that makes it much harder to recover anything and sometimes impossible.

A backup can be a copy of the whole drive in a computer, including all of the partitions, or just your own personal files like photos, documents, music, videos and so on. Windows File History just saves your personal files and you must look elsewhere for a complete system backup. However, it is still useful and most file losses are your personal files anyway. Even if the computer dies, you can buy a new one or reformat and reinstall Windows and then restore files from a backup.

Back up files with File History

Press Windows+I to open the Settings app, click Update & Security and then select Backup in the sidebar. Turn on the switch under Back up using File History. File History can also be accessed in the old Windows Control Panel, although Microsoft is slowly moving features to the Settings app, so it may not be there for much longer.

File History in the Settings app in Windows: Screenshot
Settings > Update & Security > Backup

The first time File History is enabled, you may be asked to select a drive. Any drive that is not the C: boot drive can be selected. An external USB drive is the best place to store backups.

Screenshot of File History settings in the Windows Settings app
File History backup options

Click More options and you can manually start a backup or just leave it to the schedule, which is to back up every hour by default. Click this and backups can be set to occur between 10 minutes and daily. It does not back up every file every time. It just backs up files that have changed since last time, which is likely to be no more than a handful.

You can choose how long to keep backups. This is not what it sounds like. It means if there are multiple versions of a file, like a document you regularly update, versions older than the selected age are deleted. If there is only one instance of a file, such as when all the older versions have been deleted, it is kept forever. You don’t lose anything.

Screenshot of Windows File History backup options
The folders to back up with Windows File History

Most folders in your C:\Users\YourName are automatically selected, but additional folders can be added if files are stored elsewhere.

Screenshot of Windows File History folder exclusion options
Add folders to exclude from Windows File History

You can also exclude folders if there are some that you don’t want to be backed up.

Restore files with File History

File History mirrors your files and folders on the backup drive in the FileHistory folder. To recover a lost or deleted file you can simply open Explorer, go to the F:\FileHistory folder or wherever it is, and copy the file back to your Windows drive. No software is needed.

However, if you go to Settings > Update & Security > Backup > More options, scroll down to the bottom and click Restore files from a current backup a window appears that enables you to browse the folders and files in the File History backup.

Screenshot of restoring files using Windows File History
Restore files with Windows File History

The left and right arrow buttons are to go forward and backward in time. This enables you to see previous versions of files in the past, so if a file changed last Monday and Tuesday, you could choose which version to restore.

Select a folder or file and click the big green button to restore it to the original location. Click the gear icon in the top right corner to restore it to a different location.

File History is brilliant because it is so simple to back up and restore. However, in the several years I have been using it, I have occasionally found it turned off and not backing up. I have to check it is working every few days to be sure.

Veem Agent alternative to File History

Visit the Veem website and you would assume that it is not for you, unless you are a growing enterprise looking for flexible hybrid cloud services for AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, like backup, replication, monitoring and more.

It is not obvious, and it is not easily found on the website, but there is a useful free backup utility that anyone can use on Windows 11 or 10. It makes a good alternative to File History.

Veem has a number of free community products and to get the backup tool, go to Veem Downloads, select the Free/Community tab a little way down the page, scroll down some more and click the Download Free button next to Veem Agent for Microsoft Windows Free.

Veem Agent requires several steps to install and activate, registration and checking your email inbox for responses, but just work through them. It’s all free and it doesn’t cost anything.

Once Veem is installed on your Windows PC, it adds several new items to the Start menu and an icon to the right side of the taskbar, in the little popup panel with other icons for things that are running in the background.

It is a good backup utility and with more features than some rivals, but it is a bit more complicated in some ways. For example, instead of one app to do everything, its functions are divided over several apps.

Several different types of backup are possible with Veem Agent Free, from full disk imaging to making copies of just your most used folders. A few features are limited in the free version, but it can still do a lot. To give you an idea of what it can do, here is how to create a file backup that is an alternative to Windows File History.

1 Create a backup job

Screenshot of making a new backup job in Veem Agent for Windows alternative to File History.
Name the backup job in Veem

Find Configure Backup on the Start menu, under Veem, and click it. You can also right click the Veem icon at the right side of the task bar to either create a backup or open the control panel, which enables you to create and modify backup jobs.

Enter a name for the backup job and a description, then click Next.

2 Select a backup mode

Screenshot of making a new backup job in Veem Agent for Windows
Select the backup destination in Veem

It is essential that you create an entire backup of the whole computer and create a bootable rescue disk, but here I want to create an alternative to Windows File History, so I will choose File level backup. This will back up files and folders of your choosing.

3 Select folders to back up

Select files to back up with Veem Agent for Windows: Screenshot
Select what to back up, like Personal files

You can manually select the folders on the disk to back up, but there is a quick way to select what’s important. Tick the Personal Files box to automatically select everything that is important. Click the button next to it if you want to change the selection.

Most people will not have files outside of these folders, but if you do, they can be added. This is a useful quick selector though.

4 Where to save the backup

Choose the backup destination in Veem Agent for Windows
Where do you want to save backups?

Now you must choose where to save the backup and the options here are good. A common place to store backups is a USB drive. They are cheap, you just plug them in, and they just work. You could use a network drive if you have sufficient storage on a device attached to your network. I will use local storage.

5 Select a drive

Back up to local storage with Veem Agent for Windows: Screenshot

I chose to back up to local storage, so a list of drives is shown. Select the drive to use in the list, making sure there is plenty of free space on it, and choose the folder. VeemBackup is selected by default.

6 Schedule backups

Schedule backups to occur automatically with Veem Agent for Windows: Screenshot
Schedule the backup frequency in Veem Agent

Manual backups can be started any time you want, but it is useful to schedule them so they occur automatically. This is where Veem differs from File History: Daily backups is the minimum time period for Veem, whereas File History defaults to every hour and can even be set to back up as often as every 10 minutes.

I don’t need 10-minute backups, and even hourly is hardly unnecessary. I am fine with daily backups, are you? That’s it. The backup job is created and you can sit back and relax. Backups will occur at the scheduled interval.

7 Backup control panel

Veem Agent for Windows backup control panel

Run Veem Agent fron the Start menu, in the Veem folder, and you can see when backups were made and how big they were. You can also start a backup manually by clicking the Backup Now button if you feel the need for an extra backup.

The size of each backup is shown as a bar and you can see how old it is below. The first backup is a full copy of everything. It is slow and it uses the most disk space. Subsequent backups are incremental and are small and quick because they only back up new and changed files, if any.

This utility also enables you to access other tasks, like creating new backup jobs, restoring files, editing and deleting jobs.

8 Restore from the backup

Restore files from a backup with Veem Agent for Windows: Screenshot
Browse files in the backup and restore them

I chose to create a file backup and running File Level Restore from the Start menu enables you to select a backup and browse its contents using an Explorer-like utility.

You can browse the folders and files and select items to restore or to copy and save elsewhere. It is straightforward to use and easy to rescue a lost file or folder.

Conclusion

Windows File History is very useful and very easy to use. You don’t even need any special software to recover files and you can simply use Explorer to browse folders and files in the backup and recover them. However, I don’t fully trust it. It has stopped on me several times, so I need to regularly check it is running and restart it if it is not.

Veem is more complicated to download, install and configure, which might put off some people. The benefit is that there are many more backup features, including full system backups, which can restore a non-booting PC from rescue media like a USB flash drive, in addition to file backups like Windows File History. More places to store backups is supported too. It makes a good alternative to File History.

Once set up, backups take place in the background and you don’t notice them. You do need an external USB drive, but you will be glad you have it if you ever lose a file. Forget file recovery tools, a backup is a much better way to recover lost files.

There are many alternatives to Veem Agent and Karen’s Replicator and SyncBackFree are both useful free tools for backing up and syncing your files to a USB drive.


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