Wilkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome... Sziasztok!

Welcome to The Lotus Position, an intermittent collection of extempore navel gazings, ponderings, whinges, whines, pontifications and diatribes.

Everything is based on a Sample of One: these are my views, my experiences... caveat lector... read the Disclaimer

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter
Ponder, Scribble, Ponder (Photo Erdotahi Aron)

Guest Nutter/Kindred Soul: Bill Bailey

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Friday, 29 February 2008

Part II of The Case of the Disappearing System Restore Points in Vista Home Premium

The Scene: a variety of rooms around the globe. People are gathered at the PC's reading "The Lotus Position".

The Story So Far: Vista Home Premium is throwing away restore points; this led to a messed up PC becoming unrecoverable except by the good fortune of an external Acronis backup. It seems that Vista's Shadow Storage system is taking copies of everything not just System Restore points; as a result the storage space is quickly consumed and old restore points are lost... The question is, is it a bug?

Enter: Inspector I-Do-Stuff....

You may be wondering why I have asked you here... the answer is that this is the denoument - all is about to be revealed...

[A subtle piece of code injection locks the electronic doors...]

One of you works for Microsoft. One of you - you know who you are - is responsible. One of you is going down...

Yes, I have the answer. It is not a "bug", it is not something that has recently changed so as to render my System Restore functionality totally and absolutely bloody useless, it was a cold, calculated decision by Microsoft to remove the "Restore Previous Versions" feature from Vista Home Premium and Vista Home Basic.

I don't mind that there are backups I can't access; if I had really wanted that I could have upgraded to Ultimate. What I do mind, what I do mind very, very much is that I am left with no control over this system... Vista is deliberately - wasting time, space and resources - taking shadow copies of everything that changes on my C drive and putting them in ShadowStorage where

a) I can't get at them, but so what
b) So rather a lot, they are taking up the space that I want for System Restore Points.

Apparently this "feature" is not quite as obscure as I had thought - it was written about some time ago (see The Vista backups You Can't Have, and The Illusions of Vista, or here for example, to give but a few examples once I knew what I was looking for).

I am however absolutely furious about this.

System Restore is a major feature - under XP I used to have a restore point history going back weeks, now I am lucky if I have 5 or 6 restore points spanning less than a week.

This is catastrophically useless. But what are the chances of Microsoft doing anything about it?

Negligible I expect.

However, I remain on my high horse until hell freezes over if necessary to get this fixed.

We have ways you know...

Stuff moves in mysteriousways...

The Case of the Disappearing System Restore Points in Vista Home Premium

I should be writing but this could be of use...

Since at least Windows XP, many (esp XP and now Vista) Microsoft OS's have had a rather useful feature called System Restore that allows the user to restore their system to a previous point in time, thereby undoing the accidental removal of good software or the deliberate installation of something less helpful. System Restore doesn't touch data files, only the operating system and applications, however...

In Vista this facility is supported by "Shadow Storage" - a hidden area of a partition where Windows keeps copies of things for future recovery - and the use of Shadow Storage now includes keeping copies of data files so that users of high-end Vista systems (Business/Ultimate) can even restore previous versions of data files too.

Having recently encountered a bizarre problem (certain key services not starting automatically and completely un-re-enable-able - my finger points suspiciously as Visual Studio 2008 as the culprit) I naturally went to do a System Restore... only to find that I had only one restore point from midnight that day when whatever actually caused the problem (aplication, Windows Update, whatever) had probably been installed several days ago.

I was a bit miffed (he said understatedly), but to cut a very long and anguished story short I eventually recovered my system thanks to my Acronis True Image Home backups on my Thecus storage server.

But since then I've been rather keen on keeping track of my restore points because, well, shit happens and it's nice to be able yank the chain and flush the system with System Restore.

Alas the System Restore history never seemed to accumulate more than 5-6 restore points before all but the latest suddenly disappeared - and since they were scheduled by Vista to be created every midnight and at Startup, useful restore points were disappearing in a matter of days - which is so short an interval as to make System Restore effectively useless: unless a system is very unstable I wouldn't expect to notice and identify a problem requiring a system restore within a week of it arising.. Under XP the restore point history used to go back months...

I used the Event Viewer and watched SR (System Restore) create points regularly, only to have them cleaned out just as regularly by volsnap because ShadowStorage was filling up. Could restore points really be so big as to make the whole system effectively useless. On the one hadn that seemed utterly stupid, on the other hand... well, there's no fathoming MS sometimes.

The questions were: is a System Restore point the ~2GB it seemed to be... or was something else going on - which actually seemed more likely.

Why should a Restore Point be much less than 2GB? Well... I unthinkingly thought that restore points ought to be only differences in system state, and if not much is being installed, uninstalled, updated etc. the changes should be relatively small. But as Rick Rogers pointed out this is (my words, not his, seems like a nice chap) bollocks: there can't be a "full backup" to reference "differential" backups to because it might get thrown away as the system manages shadow copies to keep the total space under the nominal 15% - and I now see that my flash idea that somehow they were referenced to the current state isn't any better. (But - if my Windows folder is ~10GB and a Restore point is say ~1GB what is being saved and what isn't - and how are the choices being made?)

Anyway, I eventually turned up the Cmd window command "vssadmin" (Cmd needs to be run "As Administrator" for access to this command) which allows me to see how much ShadowStorage space is available and how much is in use. ShadowStorage can be up to 15% of the partition size and a quick check showed that indeed my 83.5GB C partition had 15% available for ShadowStorage - and most of it was used, but I only had 5 restore points.

I kept a very careful eye on Shadow Storage usage and did some experiments: I tagged a large number of photos... shadow usage went up (thought not by the total size of all the files tagged - it was about 25%); I forced certain other files to change (Outlook.pst) and it might have changed a bit, I created a System Restore point and it went up by 2-400MB. Generally however ShadowStorage usage seemed to be creeping up continuously whether I was making Restore points or not.

At which point, "Mark" directed me to a new piece of 3rd party freeware called ShadowExplorer (at http://www.shadowexplorer.com) which would allow me to take a peek into ShadowStorage and see what was there.

The application is only at V0.1, but after a virus and malware scan I installed it and took that peek...

Woah! It looked like my whole C drive was there - specifically including all my music, which hasn't been touched in months. Of course it couldn't all be there, but there was enough to apparently account for the lack of space. I restored one music file just to establish it really was in ShadowStorage and the file played perfectly, so I have no reason to doubt that everything else that appeared to be there really was filed away (and of no use to Vista HP users whatsoever)

So, I have an answer to why I have so few restore points - Vista HP is eating ShadowStorage space with copies of files that Vista HP itself would never let me get at!

Which leads to the Great Unanswered Questions of the day: why?, and how do I stop it?

I'll let you know when I find out - and in the meantime, thanks to Mark and the currently unknown author or ShadowExplorer.

And Mr Microsoft, if you are reading this - could you perhaps explain what is going on?

More Stuff later... perhaps.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Ah! Les Francais!

I'm rationing myself so this is going to be quick...

Just thought it worth recording a delightful example of why the French are so... well, French...

At Le Louvre you can take photographs of everything - including the Mona Lisa/La Joconde (which has always surprised me, but then I suppose the special glass absorbs all the harmful flash - at least I hope so) - but elsewhere the situation is more naturally Gallic.

At the Musee Picasso (impossible to locate with the aid of the large scale tourist map - ask someone when you get close for specific directions) there are great symbolic signs that say "No Photographs", but since we also had a hi-def video camera with us I thought it worth asking whether videoing was permitted.

Approaching a group of museum employees - one of whom seemed slightly managerial - I said that I understood photography was not allowed, but could I used the camcorder?... and was then gently taken aside by the manager type who whispered Gallically and conspiratorially that on the contrary, of course one could take photographs - one just had to do so discreetly.

So, to the general entertainment of the exhibition itself was added the further fun of playing cat and mouse with the rest of the staff who were either not fully informed as to the (un)official policy on photography or were in fact fully informed (impossible tell either way) and enthusiastically playing the role of "Discretion Enforcers" by announcing loudly "NO PHOTOGRAPHS" if they managed to catch anyone raising a camera in a suggestive manner...

Just remember the same unstateable meta-principles apply in other areas of French life: in business, never try to negotiate with the French - buy them dinner with nice wine and cognac/Armagnac and make friends with them... acquire a little hauteur of your own and throw tantrums if your new friends let you down...

Les Francais... Bof!

PS And speaking of photography I am reminded of that wonderful supposedly three-word review of the film "I am a Camera", which stated succinctly "Me no Leica" (I've got the ref somewhere but I'm sure you can find it for yourself if you are that interested...)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Budapest to Amsterdam (via, er, Paris)

Perhaps more on the recent St Valentine's, anniversary, birthday trip to Paris and Amsterdam another time

[Summary: Paris - whirlwind tour of les musees Picasso & Rodin, the Louvre, Le Jeu de Paume, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Ile St Louis, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, le Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendome, les Invalides, etc. etc. so rather a lot to catch up on]

Until then, just an insight acquired in Amsterdam to share...

A Theory of Everything Should Include Biscuits.

...which I hope is uncontroversial yet teasingly provocative