Windows NT Backups are Too Difficult

Windows NT 4.0 is simply too difficult to backup and restore properly. Windows 95 can also be difficult to restore if you compress your system disk, but my Clone Directory program will do the job fairly well for standard drives. After having lost a Windows NT installation and having to install it and all my programs again, I am rather upset at Microsoft for this state of affairs. Backing up the system and restoring it should be as easy as it was for DOS. There are several reasons why NT is difficult to backup and restore:

  • With DOS you could access everything and perform disk maintanance using a boot floppy. Because Windows NT uses the NTFS disk partition format, and DOS can't read the long file names, this is no longer a solution. If NT was able to boot from a floppy and access NTFS partitions and long file names the situation would be much better. 
  • Perhaps a special "safe mode" or "backup mode" boot option for NT would be a good solution. In this mode (selected from the initial boot message, same as VGA boot mode) the NT system would not lock critical files and perhaps only use a console mode operation and allow a backup program to be run. Are you listening Microsoft! 
  • When Windows NT is running it locks certain critical system files. The standard backup program that comes with NT may or may not save these files properly. The backup program that came with Windows 95 appeared to function correctly, but would not restore the registry (this is why I wrote Clone Directory in the first place). I don't care to go out and pay good money for a tape drive to only find out that I also must spend more money for a working backup program. Some of the commercial backup programs claim to properly save locked files and they also claim to restore the system using a boot floppy, but I have my doubts about being able to restore a NTFS partition with a boot floppy. 
  • The NTFS file system allows special security and file permission information to be hidden away in the file directory system. If you perform a direct copy of the files with Clone Directory or the XCOPY command, these permissions will not be copied. Only special backup programs use the extra Win32 calls needed to backup this information. 
  • Powerquest ( makes a fairly good product called Drive Image that will backup whole NTFS partitions to another disk drive or a network drive (I am using this solution for now). This is a reasonable solution except that you must stop your Windows NT system to do the backup. Also, getting a DOS boot disk to run with network drives can be a problem. It is also slow because it backs up the entire partition each time. This can be a problem if you don't perform a disk check each time before the backup. If you overwrite your only backup and later find out the original is corrupted you can lose all your data. I like to keep several backups offsite but with this solution they take a lot of time to create. 

There are currently no good solutions for Windows NT backups. You can try the commercial backup programs and hope that after you spend the money they work. I suggest that you go through the steps of backing up a system, wiping it out and then restoring it again. This is best done on a fresh install of NT on a test system to avoid losing your current system. I personally don't care to spend the money when there are simpler ways to get the job done.

The following site has some useful information on backing up and installing Windows NT. I think you will find it very helpful: Windows NT FAQ (broken link)

© James S. Gibbons 1987-2015