Windows Vista dumped my profile, Windows Home Server brought it back

When I turned on my laptop this morning, Vista had evidently misplaced my profile.  My wallpaper was gone, messenger didn’t start, and my desktop was empty except for the default icons. 

Normally I would start digging, checking the event logs, looking in my profile directory on the hard drive, googling for similar experiences, etc., but not today.  Today I decided that this would be a great opportunity to test out Windows Home Server’s restore functionality.
I did a quick mental inventory.  Had I changed any important files since the backup from 3 nights prior?  Nope.  Did I have a reasonable “extra backup” if Home Server managed to fail on the restore and trash my disk?  Yup.  Ok, here goes…

I threw in the restore disk, rebooted, and waited.  And waited.  Really it wasn’t that long, but I’d think that distributing the restore disk on DVD might make this a little snappier.  Maybe include the restore function as an option on the Server install DVD, and include the CD in the pack for older machines without a DVD-ROM.

After the restore wizard started, it failed to find my Server.  I was pretty sure this would happen since I was living on the edge.  I was hoping to perform the restore over my WiFi connection, and nothing had prompted me to enter my WEP key yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to work.  I tried going down the path to manually find my server, but no-where is there an option to enter WiFi info, so I ended up going down to the basement to rummage for an ethernet cable.  I set up the laptop and plugged it to my router. (Suggestion for the WHS Team: If you’re going to require a wired connection for restore, then this should be explained in the Wizard.  Some people expect their WiFi to “Just work”.)

After this the wizard easily found the server and prompted me for my server password.  Next I was presented with the option to select which computer I was restoring, and then I could choose which backup to restore.  The times seemed a bit out of whack, so there’s probably a mix up in the time zone on my server.

Next I was presented with a screen showing me options for the different volumes in the backup.  My first thought was that this is a stark contrast from the simplicity of the rest of the user interface.  IMHO the following screen should’ve been hidden behind an “Advanced” button:

 

One last chance to back out:

Then off it went.  The initial “Time Remaining” estimate was 5 minutes, and then over the next 15 minutes it slowly climbed to 46 minutes.  I had to leave at this point, so I’m not sure exacltly how long it took, but then I got home later in the day, it had finished.

  ->  ->

After I rebooted the machine, it went through about a half-hour of scrolling text on the screen about recovering orphaned files. 

This made me wonder whether the restore had actually been successful or not.  Usually a half hour of file-recovery related text scrolling on a Windows boot-up means your hard drive is toast.  Thankfully the machine booted right up after it finished.

I haven’t dug deep to make sure that the restore really did get everything, but so far nothing is missing, everything is working just like it was 3 days prior. 

Some minor wierdness that I experienced:  After rebooting, I received a warning about the previous shutdown being unexpected.  Now logically this makes sense:  If you restore a computer to a point-in-time where it was running, it’s going to think that it was shut down unexpectedly.  This might be a point of confusion for users who are less tech savy.  Second, my display settings had reverted to 1024 x 768 instead of their normal 1280 x 768.  I’m guessing this has something to do with Windows trying to recover from the “Unexpected Shutdown”, but I’m not sure.

All together it was a success, although I’m left wondering what Vista had done with my profile in the first place.  Seems kinda odd that I just used some beta software to recover from an error in the production Vista.  If it happens again I’ll dig a little deeper, but for this round it was fun to put Windows Home Server through it’s paces.

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