But wait! Windows Vista Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions include a feature called Shadow Copy that lets you browse backward in time, recovering a specific version of your file, not just the most recent copy.

Each system-restore point or backup point that Windows creates initiates a new Shadow Copy. So at least once a day, Vista creates another copy of your precious files, without your having to lift a finger.

To recover a lost document with Shadow Copy, right-click a file or folder, and select Restore previous versions from the context menu. Browse through the different modification dates, and click Open to preview the file as it was. Then just click Restore to retrieve a copy for current work.

The thriftier versions of Vista, namely Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium, also save Shadow Copy data — even though those versions don't give you the necessary tools to access the "shadow" files. Fortunately, a free download called ShadowExplorer can add this retrieval feature in a snap.

After installation, launch ShadowExplorer, and choose your desired restore date from the drop-down menu at the top of the window. Navigate through the file browser to locate an item that you'd like to restore, then right-click it and choose Export. Save it to any location you wish.

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