Back Up Your Stuff!

Back Up Your Stuff

I've written a few articles advising our users to back up their data.  Every so often, usually when we need them the most or when the warranty has expired, our computers stop working.  This wouldn't be so horribly bad if we'd backed up our files first.  So, let me reiterate for anyone who has read me before that backing-up your data means that the same files are stored in two completely different places.  If you've copied all your important files to an external hard drive, but then erased them from your laptop, they are not backed-up; maybe your external hard drive goes kaput,  and, even though your computer is still working, all those files are lost from the external device, aren't they?  To back up your files they absolutely need to be in two different places.  Redundancy is the name of the game, and I'm going to teach you how to play (wow that sounded corny).  

Different Types of Backups
There are two basic types of backups: personal document backups and system backups.  A document backup will only save your personal documents, pictures, music, videos, and whatever else you choose.  A system backup will create some form of restore media--either on DVDs or an external hard drive--that can be used when your computer starts malfunctioning to restore it to its normal operating status.  Here's how to go about doing all that with both PCs and Macs.     

Ideally you'll want to use your computer manufacturer's restoration disc utility to create DVDs that will bring it back to life first.  You'll want to create these discs when your computer is running just the way you like for the best results.  Most new PCs sold include this restoration disc utility (in lieu of the cost of supplying restoration discs with each computer shipped) which you can find either on the desktop or in the Start menu, buried in a folder labeled with the manufacturer's name.  

If you're running Windows 7 and your computer did not come with recovery discs or a manufacturer restoration disc utility (though it's rare a computer comes with neither these days), go to the Control Panel from the Start Menu, select Back up your computer, and on the left side of the window, select Create a system repair disc.   Once that has been done select Create a system image to backup your entire computer to DVD.  Just go now to Wal-Mart or Best Buy or wherever and pick-up a spindle of DVDs.  You’ll need them.  In the event of a catastrophic operating system error, you can boot your PC from the system repair disc(s) and restore your system with the system image discs.  

If you’re running an earlier version of Windows for which no such utility was included and it did not come with recovery discs, I recommend a utility like EaseUS Todo Backup Free which works with Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and 7.  Use EaseUs to first create a bootable recovery disc and then create a system backup onto multiple discs.  

After this has been done you can go about backing up your personal documents.  If you want the minimum backup protection, go invest in an external USB hard drive, which, again, can be purchased at your local big box.  Get one that's at least 320GB or more if you've got a lot of music and video stored on your PC.  Most of these external drives will come with their own backup utilities which you're totally free to use, but my preferred method of backing up my stuff is to make sure it's all saved inside the structure of my PC's My Documents folder, then copy and paste the whole thing over to the external hard drive; you may have to copy and paste multiple folders depending on how you've been saving your files.  Then every few weeks I erase the external drive and redo the whole shebang so that any new files that have since been added will be included in the backup.

I prefer this method because most backup utilities will wrap all the files up into a few proprietary formatted file archives that can then only be restored by the same software.  Ick.  I just want to be able to take my external hard drive and plug it into another computer if necessary and have instant access to everything without having to spool the backup files through the software again.  

But this is only a recommended method if you're as avid about backing up as I am.  I realize most people won't have that on their brains every day in which case a backup utility is the way to go.  With the WIndows 7 Backup and Restore utility detailed above, you can perform a regular system backup and during that process schedule the backup to be performed automatically on a recurring basis so that you don’t have to remember to do it yourself.  Windows XP’s backup utility will let you schedule non-recurring backups, falling short of Windows 7’s glory.  Instead  I recommend SyncBack Freeware which will let you schedule recurring automatic backups.  When you first run this program, you’ll be prompted to create a profile.  Create and name a Backup profile, select your file source, the backup location, choose Expert mode at the bottom of the window, then select the Background tab at the top of the window to scheduling your automatic recurring backups.  

So now we’ve got your restoration discs created and your files backed up to local media.  If you want to get really fancy and add another layer of backup redundancy, consider backing up in the cloud.  Services like Dropbox and Sugarsync offer great, free packages for storing and sharing a few gigabytes worth of personal files between multiple computers and devices.  If you want to get serious about backing up your computer, cough up a few dollars for services like Mozy or CrashPlan and get storage for your entire computer, business, or even enterprise.  Please note that all four of these services will work with both PCs and Macs and both Dropbox and CrashPlan officially support Linux.  

Mac users have it much easier than PC users thanks to a great program called Time Machine which has been built into Mac OS X since version 10.6.  Use it to backup your Mac onto any external hard drive or invest in one of Apple’s pricey but cool Time Capsules which are built to work with Time Machine wirelessly out-of-the-box.  As far as rescue media that comes with your Mac, systems running 10.6 and older came with full restoration DVDs, but now-a-days versions 10.7 and 10.8 of OS X can be restored from the Internet using the Apple Recovery Mode.  If you don’t have ready access to a speedy Internet connection to perform an online recovery (and many people don’t given the plethora of free albeit slow wifi hotspots all around to fuel most day-to-day online activity), make ready ahead of time with the Recovery Disk Assistant.  And remember that all the online backup services described above will support Macs.  

Mobile Devices
Of course we’re increasingly relying on our mobile devices as our primary computing solutions for small day-to-day things, aren’t we?  Funny how small day-to-day things turn out to be so important in the end as you hold the smoldering remains of a smartphone gone rogue AND ALL YOUR CAT PICTURES ARE GONE FOREVER!!!!!  OMG WHAT DO YOU DO????? Read on is what.   

With devices like the iPhone and the iPad which run Apple’s mobile iOS software, use iTunes for local backup and iCloud for online backup.  iTunes should, by default, be set to automatically backup your device every time it syncs.  If you want to perform a manual backup, connect your device and launch iTunes; when your device appears on the left side of the window, right-click it and choose Back up from the menu that appears.  

Backing up online for iOS devices is mostly done for you automatically: all your content purchased from iTunes including apps, music, movies, tv shows, books, and magazines can be re-downloaded again at any time from either the device or iTunes for free (this is a relatively new feature and has made me deliriously happy).  Other items like documents, photos, app data, contacts, calendar data, mail, and wallpaper are backed up using iCloud.  Apple device users get 5GB free for iCloud storage which is more than enough for most people, though they can purchase more.  To get more information on how to take advantage of iCloud, read Apple’s support article.  

Oh Android.  I believe I’ve made my love for you clear, but your backup options are a bit confusing. And underwhelming. This is due to the fractured nature of the Android landscape; because Android is open source, manufacturers are free to download any version of it and customize it as they like for a particular device or line of devices.  Sometimes they’ll be nice enough to include software that will backup the device to a PC, other times, not so much, and so quite often Android users are left to fend for themselves in the world of data backup.  

Like iOS, any Android or Amazon apps, books, or other media that you’ve purchased can be re-downloaded again as many times as you like.  For other data, however, you might want to consider a solution like My Backup Pro to backup either to their servers or your own microSD card items like Photos, Music, Videos, Contacts, Call log, Browser Bookmarks, SMS (text messages), MMS (multimedia messages), Calendar, System Settings, Home Screens (including shortcut positions), Alarms, Dictionary, Music Playlists, APNs, and more.  SanDisk Memory Zone also gets some very good reviews and has a nice looking UI.  For a local backup option with an iTunes-like UI, WonderShare’s MobileGo seems to be a winner as I noted in my Android VS iPhone article.  

So there you have it.  Backup solutions for the two major desktop operating systems, as well as the two leading mobile operating systems.  I’ll be honest with you. I still haven’t backed up my phone, and my laptop is desperately in need of some attention, too. I bet your machines are as well, and I hope this helps!