This info is intended primarily for Windows computers - not for
MAC, UNIX, Linux, etc. But some of this information (like need to backup your
files) applies to all platforms.
Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. What can go wrong on a computer? You can lose your files.
When that happens, if you don't have a backup of those files, you will experience a lot of unpleasantness. In order to not have such an experience, you HAVE to backup your files. If you have multiple copies of your files, you are much less likely to lose all copies at the same time (unless you store all the copies in the same location and disaster strikes that location). For non-Windows systems you are on your own to figure out how to do it, but the following info will give you some ideas. For Windows systems, you can buy a USB external hard drive for under $US100 and use a simple program to backup what you need to backup.
You need to backup almost everything on your hard drive. This is because Windows co-mingles your important data and and other files that don't need backing up. So the easy answer to "What to backup?" is "Everything" - actually everything except your Windows folders and your browser's cache folders. There are two things you need to do to create a backup system:
Obtaining an external USB hard drive.
There are a number of manufactures who build USB external hard drives - LaCie, BusLink, SeaGate, etc. When choosing a USB drive, get one larger than the size of your computer's hard drive - that allows for deleted data to remain on the backup drive if desired.
Obtain a simple backup program.
Many external hard drives come with a simple backup program. You can use that. Or if you want something REALLY simple, here is a batch file that will generate a simple backup system for you:
To use cr8_bkup.bat:
To actually perform a backup, double click the new BKUP.bat icon on your backup drive.
The first time you run BKUP.bat, it will take a long time as it copies everything to your backup drive. After that, it will perform the backup much faster as it only copies files that are new or have changed. The exception to this is that after Daylight Savings Time (aka Summer Time) starts or ends, BKUP.bat will backup everything again. This is a nice feature - but it is due to a bug in Windows(!).
People often ask me how often they should backup their system. The answer is as often as you change things on your computer that you don't want to lose or do over. If I'm just doing e-mail or browsing the web, I don't backup but maybe twice a week. If I work on a program, write a paper, change my web site, etc., I always backup as soon as I'm done. And if I'm leaving town, I always backup before leaving.
So now (if you've actually carried out the instructions above), you have a duplicate of your files. This works great in case of hard disk failure - but it does nothing to protect you in case of disaster striking the building where your computer lives. To be really safe, you want two of these USB backup drives and take one of them to a different location after doing the backup; keep the other one attached to your system. After backing up to the one attached to your system, swap it for the off-site one. This system is probably sufficient unless disaster strikes both your main and your off-site locations - e.g. earthquake, hurricane, flood, etc. To deal with that possibility, you will need to have yet another copy in a far away location.
Good Luck - but don't depend solely on good luck - be prepared.
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