Have you ever deleted a file (or folder) from the desktop and emptied the recycle bin only to realize, seconds later, that you deleted the wrong one? Or have you ever edited a document or photograph, saved the file, and then wanted to undo those changes?

Luckily, both Windows Vista and Windows 7 include a build-in feature called Shadow Copy that can solve this exact problem without you having to do anything. As you work with the files, Shadow Copy will automatically save incremental backups of your files in the background so if you accidently delete or change a file, you can easily revert to the previous version with a simple right-click.

"Restore Previous Versions" for Vista Home

The Shadow Copy feature is available in all Windows 7 editions but only in the Business and Ultimate editions of Vista. However, if your computer is running Vista Home Basic or Home Premium editions, you can still enjoy the Shadow Copy feature without upgrading your OS.

In that case, all you need is Shadow Explorer – a free (and tiny) utility that makes it easy for users of Vista Home Basic and Home Premium edition to view the Shadow Copies of files that Windows is already saving on to their systems.

When you run the Shadow Explorer utility, you are presented with a Windows Explorer like dual-pane view as shown in the screenshot.

ShadowExplorer with date and time menu open

From the drop-down menu, you can select how far back in time you wish to restore files (or folders) from. The right pane has a list of all files and folders that were on your computer at that date and time.

You can browse through the folders just like you do on Windows Explorer and if you need to restore the previous version of any file or folder, simply right-click on the file or folder and click “Export.”  This will allow you to save the file in the location of your choice so you don’t have to replace the most-recent version.

The feature may also come handy if document get damaged (say due to improper shutdown) or you want to bring back the files that were deleted by some virus.

Shadow Explorer for Windows 7 and Vista

ShadowExplorer will run just fine on all editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7; however, only Windows Vista Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium users will need this tool as they don’t have any other mechanism to access shadow copies of files that have changed with time.

The Shadow Copy functionality was first added to Windows 2003 so the ShadowExplorer utility will work on that OS as well provided the shadow copy service is enabled.  However, ShadowExplorer will not work on any version of Windows XP, 2000, or any earlier version of Windows, as they do not have the shadow copy service that ShadowExplorer relies on.