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Data Recovery Article

BackUp Your Data and Prevent Data Loss

by Bill Hoyt, Hoyt Station Personal Computing

Eventually you'll have to get a new computer. Don't worry, it happens to all of us ;-) At some point your old one will wear out, the hard drive will crash or be erased, or something will happen where you need to move old data to another machine. There are not many guarantees in life, but I can guarantee this: if you use your computer long enough, eventually you'll lose some data, or have to move it from one computer to another.

What do you do when the genealogy files you've collected over the years are suddenly trapped on a hard drive which won't work anymore? Or when all the precious family pictures you've saved are no longer available because the computer can't boot? The last resort is to pay a specialty data recovery company $1000 to recover the data and send it to you on CD. No one wants that. Fortunately, there's a quick and easy way to make sure that your precious data is tucked safely away and available when you need it: Backup files.

"But, Bill", you say, "how can I make copies of all this data? There's so much... I don't want to spend hours every week on something I might never need." Good, because you don't have to. In fact, the vast majority of data on your drive *never* needs to be backed up. So how do you decide what you need to make copies of? It's really pretty easy, and will take no time at all.

There are really only 2 kinds of data on your PC: that which you have copies of and that you don't. You don't ever need to make backups of anything you already have on CD, like Windows, Printmaster... anything you bought and installed, if you still have the CD, is a backup. In fact, if you don't have the CD, backups won't do you any good for many programs...you must have the CD to install it. Put the CDs in a safe place (that does *not* mean on the floor under the desk! ;-), and 90% of your backups are done.

That leaves only the data you don't have on CD, and there are two kinds of these: those programs you've downloaded from the web (or copied from someone else), and that which you've typed in, scanned in, or received in email.

The first type is easy to make backups of, so long as you have a Zip drive or a CD writer. In the case of a Zip drive, simply insert the cartridge into the bay, then double-click "My Computer". A window will open which lists all the drives on your PC. Drag (click and hold) the downloaded file to the Zip drive icon (often drive 'D' but not always) and let go. The program will be copied to the drive and if you need to reinstall it, you have it. It might make sense, however, to rename (right click, rename) the file to a name you'll remember, like "Download Accellerator Install", so you can recognize it when you need it. Remember, you only need to back up the 'install' program... anything else that's created during the install will be re-created when you install again.

If you have a CD writer, as soon as you get a few files (enough to be worthwhile), rename them and copy them to a CD, then label the CD 'Backups' with the date on it. Many CDs are 'one time only' writeable, so it's not worth it to put each file on a CD by itself (this is one of the *huge* advantages of Zip drives). One idea might be to save them one-by-one on a Zip disk, then when it gets full, copy them to a CD en masse.

If you don't have a CD writer or a Zip drive, unfortunately, you won't be able to back up a lot of 'big' download files... the floppy will only hold about 1 1/2 meg of data. The best solution is to keep a notebook or a 3x5 card with the name of the program and where you downloaded it from (the web is the biggest backup drive in existence), so you can re-download it if you need to. This is a solution of last resort since you are at the mercy of someone else... often files 'disappear' from the web without a trace, so unless you have a copy, there are no guarantees you can recover.

Of course, if you don't want to write them down, you'll have the advantage of starting over with a hard drive that's *not* full of programs. Believe me, there are times when I choose not to recover some programs I've saved... they are simply not worth the trouble.

That leaves us with one final category of data, that which is 'yours': you entered it, calculated it, created it, or got it via email. But once again, there are two categories: those which will fit on a floppy disk, and those which will not. For the big ones, use the Zip drive or CD, or you can use an online drive (many places offer free space where you can share pictures with family and friends...of course, you have to look at their ads, too).

Now we are finally to the one which will not be the most common, but will be the most trouble: the little files. If you save your letters, or notes, or small files of any nature, you can probably fit 100 of them on a disk, and I don't need to tell you that it's going to be a ton of trouble to copy them one-by-one to a floppy. First of all, you'll miss half, and secondly, you'll copy a lot of things twice.

The best solution is to make a list of all the file types you have, like letters, spreadsheets, and the like (not the file names, just list the types...there should only be 3 or 4), then be sure when you use a program (e.g. MS Works), you always save in the same place (like "My Documents", which is *perfect* for this sort of thing). When it comes time to back the data up, simply put a floppy in the drive, then drag and drop the whole directory to the drive. If you have all your letters in one directory and all your spreadsheets in another, they'll still be separated on the diskette. And if you need to recover something, it's a breeze to find! Check your list to make sure you got all the file types, and you're done!

Now, the most oft-asked question is: "How often should I make backups?" Unfortunately, there's no 'right answer'. Can you afford to lose the data? If not, back it up. How long would it take to recreate it? If it's a lot of work, back it up. Then every few months take a moment to think about the programs you use and what would happen if they were lost.

Making good backups is not a chore, it's a frame of mind. Remember, just recovering one 'priceless' picture, file, or program will make all the trouble worthwhile.

Good Computing to you!

About the Author:
Bill Hoyt is the Webmaster of Hoyt Station Personal Computing.

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