Have a DVD burner? If so, you've got a super backup system right in your computer.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
The backaphobic's guide to saving your stuff (Hint: It's easy)

Nov 12, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Most new computers come with a built-in DVD burner. That's cool because you can make your own DVDs of movies you took with your digital camcorder.
   But it's even more cool because you've got a super backup system right in your computer.
   Uh-oh. I can hear you muttering all the way over here. I used a bad word in that sentence. Let's see, you wash my mouth out with soap, and I promise never to mention that "b----p" word again. Right?
   Wrong. It's time to own up to something we've avoided for years. Most of us have treated the idea of backing up our files as if they were radioactive. Catch these statistics if you want proof: Maxtor, the hard drive company, says one third of all computer users never back up their files; Apple, maker of the hot-selling Macintosh, says the number is much higher; as many as 76 percent never make backups, Apple says.
   So let's all take the pledge. "My name is Bill, and I'm a backaphobic." (Use your own name, please. Bill's getting tired of this.) Now get out there and follow The Plan.
   It's a 6-Step Program, half the usual amount:
   1. Refuse to make things hard on yourself. Resist the temptation to buy some sort of tape drive and fancy-schmancy software. Just get an external hard drive and a simple backup program. Everybody who has a modern computer can connect up a USB drive. Simple (but very effective) backup programs include Second Copy for Windows (from www.centered.com) and Data Backup for Macintosh OS X computers (from www.prosoftengineering.com).
   2. Make the external drive your primary backup medium. (No, that's not a soothsayer who puts the truck in reverse. Pay attention!) Every month or so, copy the files on your external backup drive to your secondary backup medium (no, that's not the substitute for the soothsayer). The secondary backup medium is ...
   3. Your DVD burner. DVDs hold more than 4 gigabytes of files, but, hey, why not double that? By purchasing dual-layer DVD blank disks instead of standard ones, you double the capacity of each disk. That means you get 8.8 gigabytes of files on each DVD. Make sure you use non-erasable DVDs, too. Don't use RW disks. They can be erased, and that means you could lose your backups.
   (A warning: Older DVD burners might not be able to use dual-layer disks. Buy one blank disk and try it before you buy a bunch.)
   4. Don't waste your time backing up stuff you can easily replace. Programs are easy to get back; you simply reinstall them from their original installation CDs or get them from the Web sites you downloaded them from. So the secret to manageable backups is to back up ONLY your own documents and data. Music you created? Back it up. Music you downloaded? Naw. Excel files your software created? Back them up. Excel files you copied off the Web? Naw. You get the point.
   For many of us, the most important "documents" on our computers might be our photos. (Yes, in a way they're documents, too.) Make sure you back them up.
   5. Never trust a shiny silver disk. Your DVD-burner software should verify every disk it burns, and then you should check each disk, also. Backup disks are worse than no good if they won't give back your files. An easy way to check is to copy the entire contents of a backup CD or DVD to a temporary folder. If everything copies OK, use your marking pen and put a checkmark on the disk.
   6. If you need more backup space, buy another external USB drive. The cost of a new drive is practically nothing compared to the cost of losing priceless photos or financial records. Its cheaper to be smart than to be sorry.