Monday, June 1, 2009

Eight steps to successful and reliable home backups


By Heather Wardell

Backing up the computer. We all know we should do it, but most people never do. Then comes that horrible moment when your hard drive fails, or your laptop is stolen, or the "I won't need that again" file that you deleted becomes vital, and everyone says the same thing:

"I should have been backing up my files."

Well, yes, you should have been. And if you're not, you should start today. This article will show you how to set up a simple and thorough backup process.

Step 1: Figure out what you need to back up.

The Documents directory is an obvious source of files that require backing up, but not the only one. Take the time to really think about how you use your computer. Common file categories that are often overlooked include: Internet bookmarks, email address lists, emails saved in a program like Thunderbird, Outlook, or Outlook Express, downloaded music, Microsoft Word's file or settings files from other complicated applications.

"Never rely on one storage location for important files."

Some programs, especially older ones, don't save their data in the Documents directory by default. Make note of where they do save, or change their preferences to save there if possible.

Think also about things that are online but not necessarily backed up. How about your blog? Gmail has occasionally deleted user accounts without warning, so anything in there that's mission-critical should be in more than one place as well.

That's a good rule overall for backups. I have my current novel's working file stored in my Palm, on my netbook, on my desktop, on an external hard drive, and uploaded to my Web site. If I lose it from all those places simultaneously, I will be deeply surprised. Never rely on one storage site for important files.

It's not overkill to monitor your computer usage for a week or so to see what files you touch that aren't stored in your regular documents area.

While you're at it, take this opportunity to clean up any files that you truly no longer need. Why bother backing up something you'll never look at again? Of course, do this with caution. How ironic to delete something critical while setting up your backups!

Step 2: Decide how often each category of information needs to be backed up.

As a writer, I am paranoid about losing any part of the current draft of my current novel. I back these up to an external hard drive after every work session, and send them to an online backup nightly. I am less concerned about the third-last version of a completed novel, which probably doesn't need to be backed up at all although I like to keep them in case I want them later.