FileHistory is skipping Files without notice / Microsoft hates The Crystal Method

So I have a Windows PC here, and I’ve installed Windows 8.1 instead of 7 because

basically of one killer feature: FileHistory. After all, having an almost fully automated backup is a very nice thing to have, especially if you got used to it with TimeMachine.

Now the only problem is, that FileHistory is a buggy piece of shit. It silently skips files and doesn’t include them in the backup.

Which is in some sense kinda funny, because backing up your files is the SINGLE PURPOSE OF THE FRIKKIN APPLICATION!

I first thought that the issue is due to the MAX_PATH thing in Windows. Because of ancient compatibility layers, a file path (i.e. the full directory + filename) must not have more than 260 characters. MAX_PATH is/was a constant that lots of programmers included in their applications. When backing up files to the destination directory, FileHistory changes the filename: Essentially filename.end become filename (2017_08_15 21_53_46 UTC).end – this is the way FileHistory keeps track of different file versions. So the limit is actually below 260 characters.

I have a complex file structure in my home directory, and my files look like this:

C:\Users\user\MyFiles\Musik\mp3\Alben\The.Crystal.Method-Legion.Of.Boom-Advance-2004\The_Crystal_Method-Legion_Of_Boom\00-the_crystal_method-legion_of_boom-advance-2004-(back)-ph.jpg

which should be come

D:\FileHistory\user\EUROPA\Data\C\Users\user\MyFiles\Musik\mp3\Alben\\The.Crystal.Method-Legion.Of.Boom-Advance-2004\The_Crystal_Method-Legion_Of_Boom\00-the_crystal_method-legion_of_boom-advance-2004-(back)-ph (2017_08_15 21_53_46 UTC) .jpg

But the file is never copied up. And it’s not just the cover jpg, all mp3 files are missing, too.

And indeed that destination is a long filename. But still only 243 characters, so no problem. In fact, I did have some files which were longer. They showed up as errors in the Event Log (that is start the event viewer, then Applications and Services Logs, then Microsoft, Windows, FileHistory-Engine.

However the whole album from Crystal Method was simply skipped. No error message at all. Just silently skipped. Actually it wasn‘t just these mp3’s, some important insurance contract files were missing, too. But hey, I have priorities. I mean I got fond of “Keep Hope Alive” from the album “Vegas”, which was used in the movie Replacement Killers. Quite average movie, but the music…

The really annyoing thing is that you cannot file a bug report at Microsoft. They have no bug tracker. They do everything to not get bothered with bug reports.

Of course you can google and then find out that zillions of other people have the same problem, and you can go to answers.microsoft.com, ask your question, and then you will get an answer from some MVP/MCSE/BST (BST stands for Bullshit Talker), who will post a reply that completely ignores your question, so that he can claim he answered your question in order meet company goals on the amount of answered questions. Even though he didn’t.

So this is really really annoying – a backup that you cannot trust is no backup at all.

A very neat application in Linux is BackInTime. It works similar to FileHistory – and by similar I mean the backup strategy, not the skipping files at random thing – in that it copies all your files to your destination drive on the first run. On subsequent runs it checks wether there are new files or files have changed, and then copies these files. If a file did not change, simply a (hard)link is created that links to the file stored in the previous backup. For home users, who rarely have a lot of changing files (think an mp3 or movie collection), this is actually quite perfect.

A very appealing thing is also that in the worst case, if you really need your data, it’s all there – not stored in some proprietary backup container, it’s just there, and a simple file copy restores all your data.

Unfortunately I could not find any open source solution on Windows with the same functionality. There is a script by German c’t magazine heise Backup Tool but it’s very primitive, no GUI – my wife wouldn’t be able to use it. Also it cannot copy files which are currently in use, which is a must have if you want to backup your system while working (my browser and mail program is always running while backing up, and thus the files which store my mails are also opened).

Then there is True Image, but it seems they store their backups in a proprietary file format, i.e. you will need True Image in case of a recovery. And of course as Murphy dictates, just in that moment, you won’t have a working installation and the setup won’t work, and well, these things.

There is also HardlinkBackup which seems to do what I want, but it’s not open source, the free version also can’t copy open files, and the pro version is quite costly. Also, it seems to be a one man show, and I am always a little skeptical when building my whole strategy on a one man show. What if he retires – then I have to setup my workflow again from scratch.

To paraphrase the Hitchhikers Guid to the Galaxy, I am quite sure that the FileHistory guys will be first against the wall when the great revolution comes.

Update @25..08.2017: After evaluating various solutions, I finally settled with Acronis True Image. There are several reasons for that; but the main point is that Acronis works similar to TimeMachine:

  • True Image creates a full system backup, i.e. you can completely recover you whole system.
  • The backup is stored in Acronis proprietary .tib file format. This is probably the only negative point. Nevertheless, as long as you have True Image installed (or created a rescue disk) you can mount *.tib files as drives and access/recover any file individually
  • Despite the full system backup, files are saved incrementally, i.e. only changed files are copied. You can even go for differential backups, i.e. only the changed parts of a file is saved. (However this takes more time and is of course more risky, because after several several differential backups, all of these backups have to be intact to be able to restore a file). You can also schedule to do 1 Full + 5 incremental and then repeat by starting with a full one.
  • Backups can be automated, scheduled, and stored to a USB drive or network drive.
  • It is amazingly fast. For my system the backup time of TrueImage was approximately half compared to the time required by FileHistory or HardlinkBackup (the latter was approx. 8 hours, vs. 4-5 hours for TrueImage).

After googling a lot, I was able to buy a 3-PC license for 35 Euro, which is definitely worth the money.

Interestingly, when it comes to convenience, this definitely tops BackInTime and anything else that I got used to on Linux…

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