Thankful on Thanksgiving (Windows Vista dept.)

My family has so many real and important things to be thankful for that of course I can only address the ephemera here. For instance:

Windows Vista is no longer consuming the totality of my hard drive! Talk about your happy Thanksgiving Day!

Anton Kucer and his colleagues at Microsoft dutifully tried to figure out why, on a 105GB hard drive containing maybe 30-35GB of "real" data, my computer kept showing that it had virtually no space left.

They came up with an answer! We won't exactly call it a bug, and we won't exactly call it user error, but we will call it an interaction among three forces: Lenovo ThinkPad design, Microsoft Vista design; and JFallows user design. All details are after the jump, but the headline version is: if you have Vista and are using a ThinkPad, there is a way to keep your hard drive from being totally gobbled up. I take my Thanksgivings where I can find them.

The details

The main culprit, I contend (and am sure Microsoft won't object) is Lenovo. It equips its new ThinkPads with a "Rescue and Recovery" utility that, untamed, has the potential to become a pest devouring everything in its path. R&R helpfully makes a full backup of what's on your hard drive, and makes incremental backups frequently. This is great if things go bad! But it has these problems:
* the fact that it's making these backups is not obvious, or wasn't to me;
* by default, it makes the backups on your own hard drive, which is both a conceptual and a practical problem. (Conceptual: if the hard drive gets wrecked somehow, so does the backup. Practical: the hard drive gets full really fast.)
* by default, it puts no limit on how big these backups can become.

It's conceivable that Lenovo sets the defaults some other way. As far as I can tell these were the defaults on my poor beleagured ThinkPad T60. And here is the way I saw how much difference it made: When I went into the "Rescue and Recovery" utilities menu and asked it to switch the backups from my hard disk to somewhere else -- specifically, a USB-connected external hard drive -- my hard drive went from having less than 1GB free to having more than 68GB free! That is a difference! Through this same menu you can set a limit on how much total space you want the Lenovo backups to consume.

The secondary... umm, factor, if not culprit, is that Vista itself was making multiple backups of the hard drive too. So: this poor, internal 105GB hard drive was containing its own real data, of maybe 30GB; plus multiple Lenovo backups of that data; plus multiple Vista backups of that data, all in the same place. Poor thing!

In theory Vista is supposed to use no more than 15% of the disk for these "shadow copies." But somehow Vista, like Lenovo, was acting as if all limits to growth had been removed. (The alleged user error is that somehow Vista's behavior here had been changed from this 15% default.) I could demonstrate the problem to myself by using Vista's own utilities to remove its extra backup copies (Control Panel / System / FreeUp DiskSpace / MoreOptions / SystemRestore. Hey, easy! ) and suddenly having an extra 15 or 20GB free.

Whatever the origin of the problem, happily there is a way to impose a permanent fix, thus:

Enter from the command box the string below, with the last value specifying how much space Vista can use for its own backups:

Vssadmin resize shadowstorage /For=c: /On=c: /MaxSize=10GB (or 15GB or whatever)

Nothing to it! My hard disk is now hale and hearty with 52GB free, and my Lenovo backups are on the external hard drive.

Bring on that turkey... There are other Vista issues for another day, but for now I am viewing the hard drive as half empty (which is a good thing!) rather than 99 per cent full. And you Macintosh users, go eat some more pie!