August 7, 2008

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Turning back time
Backups get you back up
By John ďjaQĒ Andrews† jandrews@hippopress.com

Iíd like to talk to you kids about protection.

I know itís uncool. I know itís more fun to live dangerously, to never take simple precautions that delay your gratification. But itís important, really.

Just back up your computer systems. Thatís all.

Todayís software, hardware and operating systems make it pretty simple, too. So simple that thereís really no excuse anymore.

You probably know about System Restore in Windows XP and Vista. Whenever you install a new program ó at least, one that follows all Microsoftís rules ó a restore point is created. If your system is somehow messed up, you can go back to that restore point and itís as if that installation never happened. But System Restore doesnít keep extra copies of files anywhere, so itís not a true backup program.

In fact, Windows has had its own backup utilities for years, but Vistaís aims to be the simplest and most configurable. Of course, just how useful it is depends on which edition of Vista you have. All versions (except the stripped-down Starter, which isnít even sold in the US) include Automatic Backup, which can perform scheduled backups of your files either locally or to a network location. Business, Ultimate and Enterprise editions include Complete PC Backup, which creates an image of your entire system that can be restored from within Vista or by using Vistaís install disc.

Mac users have a program with a much cooler name: Time Machine. It saves a full system backup to the external hard drive or Mac server of your choice, complete with a timestamp so you can restore to a time your machine was working perfectly. It too works from within the operating system or from the install disc.

You donít have to stick with what your operating system gives you, though. Most computers from the last few years come with rewritable CD or DVD drives, and most of those include at least rudimentary backup software. Rewritable Blu-Ray drives give you even more storage capacity ó discs can hold up to 50GB. Even without special software, you can drag and drop your My Documents folder to a disc every week or so.

Buy some external hard drives and theyíll make it as simple as pressing a button. A single freaking button. Come on. The most common are in Maxtorís OneTouch line, and theyíre up to 2 terabytes in size. They literally have a button on them that you push and, presto, a full system backup starts right up. Other varieties include the EDGE DiskGO and Seagate Pushbutton Backup. And they all come with software of their own for scheduling and customizing your backups.

As if all those options arenít enough, you can even pick your own backup software from the tons available. There are free packages, like Cobian and and Simply Safe, as well as commercial ones, from companies like Symantec and Acronis. They all probably do more than youíre doing now.

So just back it up. Donít come crying to me when you find yourself without that totally important file. Itís all about taking a little responsibility.