When things have gone wrong on standalone Windows machines — and they often have — one of my repair tricks of last resort has been to restore the Windows Registry to an earlier known good state. A lot of times, doing a restore was faster than a backup.
Good thing I haven’t had to do that lately, though. Microsoft quietly removed this feature in October 2018’s Windows 10 version 1803. But it didn’t bother to tell users about it until late June 2019.
So my question for Microsoft, as a professional journalist, is: WTF?
[ Related: How to clean up your Windows 10 act ]
The Windows Registry backup failure had been publicly reported as a bugin October 2018. Microsoft could have told us about this anytime in the last few months. That is, it could have said, “Oh, yeah, you know what? That’s not a bug. We got rid of that.”
Admittedly, for most of the world, deep-sixing the feature is no big deal. Registry backups and restores aren’t used often. In most businesses, on any Windows PC fouled up enough to need a Registry restore, you’ll probably want to nuke the installation instead. Then you’ll put a fresh copy of the OS on it and restore the data. But in homes and small businesses, where proper backups are rare, being able to restore the Registry can be a real lifesaver.
Microsoft disagrees. Its logic is that eliminating this feature helped “reduce the overall disk footprint size of Windows. To recover a system with a corrupt registry hive, Microsoft recommends that you use a system restore point.”
Sure, I’d do that too, if the system restore point was good. Sometimes, it isn’t. That’s the whole point of this belt-and-suspenders Registry backup approach.
But, hey! Reduced footprint! Who can’t get behind that kind of thinking? Well, OK, but a fresh install of Windows 10 has a disk footprint of 15GB. An average Registry backup is about 50MB. I don’t believe for one microsecond that saving space was the reason Microsoft dropped this feature.
But let’s get back to the really important question for Microsoft: Why did you hide this from users? Windows kept reporting that the backups were being “completed successfully.” But were you to browse to the \Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder in Windows Explorer, you would see each Registry hive backup … with a size of 0Kbit. Zero.
I said “were you to browse,” meaning “on the slim, not to say minuscule, chance that you would do this.” I mean, I always dive deep into obscure file folders to make sure the operating system isn’t lying to me when it tells me a job has been completed. Doesn’t everyone?
That is the real pain in the rump of this entire affair: not that the feature is missing, but that Windows lied to its users, and Microsoft hid this from us for months. That is unacceptable.
It’s moments like this that reaffirm for me that I made the right decision years ago to switch to Linux for my work desktops. Mind you, the Linux desktop has its own share of problems. But at least the Linux distributors play it straight and don’t mislead you.
So now, in my copious free time, I’ll be writing a PowerShell script to automatically restore the Registry backup feature on my Windows 10 systems. If you want to do that by hand, log in as the Windows administrator and follow these instructions:
- Open the Start menu, type regedit.exe, and select the Registry Editor entry from the list of results.
- Navigate to the following key: HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Configuration Manager\
- Right-click on Configuration Manager and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value.
- Name it EnablePeriodicBackup.
- Double-click on it after creation and set its value to 1.
- Restart the PC.
At least Microsoft didn’t completely remove the functionality. Still, it doesn’t escape me that to restore this functionality I have to edit the Registry — without the net of a Registry backup. Thanks, Microsoft. I appreciate this!