Strangely enough most computer users never think of that kind of insurance.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
Backups are easy with an external drive and the right software
Oct. 7, 2007
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
Car insurance? Check.
Life insurance? Check.
Data insurance? Che ... Say that again?
You heard me right. There IS such a thing as data insurance -- a way of protecting the files on
your computer. It doesn't have to cost much, and it might even be free if you're a real cheapskate. But strangely enough
most computer users never think of that kind of insurance.
What am I saying? I'm talking about backups. This week, I'll explain how easy this can be. The
methods are the same, whether you use Windows or Mac OS X. Only the software is different. I'll have recommendations for
Backups are copies you make of important files. I'm not a believer in backing up all your files --
that's something banks and businesses might do, but it's not needed for personal computers -- but I do think you should
always have recently made backups of all your important personal stuff -- your photos, videos, music and documents.
You don't have to back up the programs that came with your computer -- they'll reappear if you use
the "restore" function from the installation disk on a Windows PC or Mac -- and you might not have to back up any
programs you added through downloads. Just keep track of where you got them and you'll be able to download them again.
But your personal files are not replaceable. They're priceless; no amount of money will bring them
back if you lose them and don't have copies.
So think of backups as nothing more than "insurance copies" of stuff you can't afford to lose.
That's easy, right?
The next part is even easier. You buy an external hard drive -- they start at less than $100 -- and
plug it in. The idea is simple: Your copies should not be on the same drive as your originals. You don't want to lose
your originals AND your backups all at the same time.
Get an external drive at least as big as the drive that's in your computer. (Find out how big your
drive is by right clicking on the C: drive in Windows and looking at Properties or right clicking on the Macintosh HD
icon on a Mac and getting Info.
External drives use your USB connection on Windows, or your Firewire connection on Macs. (Macs can
also use the USB method.) Find external drives at electronics stores for Windows or Apple stores (physical or online) for
For software, I recommend (and use) Second Copy for Windows, $30, from www.centered.com, and Data Backup 3 for Macs, $59, from www.prosofteng.com. Both are easy to configure, and both will make
backups of only the files and folders you choose.
What should you choose? Just back up your important personal files.
On a Windows PC, back up your Documents folder (which might be named "My Documents"). By design,
this folder also contains folders for your videos, your music and your photos, but please note: If you've created your
own folders for such files outside the Documents folder, be sure to include them in the backup.
On a Mac, back up your Home folder. It's the one named after you inside the Users folder.
Everything you've created is in there.
On Windows and Macs, set up the backup software to make copies only of files that have changed,
once you have a full backup. That way, you can have the software run every day, without interrupting your work. (Daily
incremental backups won't take more than a few minutes.)