Microsoft has a tumultuous past in regards to lost files and system restoration, so their decision to implement a file recovery system in Windows 10 feels important–if not severely overdue.
To be clear, the file recovery tool–aptly named “Windows File Recovery“–isn’t immediately available upon updating your computer to the most recent rendition of the operating system (version 2004); you’ll have to download it from the Microsoft Store if you want to use it to restore your misplaced files.
Windows File Recovery also isn’t a particularly accessible piece of software. Much like similarly effective yet minimal software interfaces–Clonezilla comes to mind–Microsoft’s file recovery system is command line-based. Tom’s Guide points out that the default settings should be enough to restore most users’ files without issues, but the command line presentation is a curious decision for a company that has, admittedly, struggled to make interfaces relatable.
It also seems that your recovery drive has to be different than the drive from which you’re recovering the files, meaning that you can’t restore a file that you deleted from your computer’s main hard drive back to that same hard drive. This is an easy fix if you have a portable hard drive or flash drive, but it’s an extra step that’s most likely to penalize people who have less technical know-how–i.e., the same people who are more likely to delete files on accident.
The good news is that, once you download and figure out the tool, you can use it to recover deleted files from both your computer’s hard drive and any connected peripheral drives, including anything from the humble USB flash drive to things like SD cards and portable hard drives. What Windows File Recovery absolutely won’t recover is cloud storage files, though you might be able to retrieve files deleted from the OneDrive local folder if you’re quick enough.
Keep in mind that the only reason you’re able to recover files is because your computer’s hard drive doesn’t erase them the moment you click “Empty Recycle Bin”. In fact, those files can remain on your hard drive for virtually forever if you never add more files to your computer. That’s because the space that those files take up on the hard drive is eventually replaced by other files–something that doesn’t happen if you don’t add them to your computer.
That said, this means that the longer you wait to restore your files, the more likely it is that the space that they occupy will be overwritten with new files. Even if you aren’t actively adding stuff to your hard drive, your computer downloads and stores information all the time, so if you realize that you’re missing a file you desperately need, it’s in your best interests to attempt to restore it right away rather than waiting.
Microsoft has some room to expand this program and make it more accessible, but it’s a good–if belated–step for the company.