It was as if I had told them about a death in the family. My friends sent me the same half-consoling, half ‘buck-up’ messages of support when I told them that I’d lost my laptop containing the sole working draft of my novel,” says Hyderabad-based journalist Jaideep Undurti.
“Inevitably, the next question would be, ‘But didn’t you have backups?’ I’d reply sheepishly, ‘I did. It was on my friend’s laptop... that was stolen too. There was a break-in at the flat.’ Apart from notes, bookmarks and e-books meant for reference, I think I lost about 50,000 words.”
Crash proof: Don’t wait for your hard drive to give up on you or get stolen. Create backup for your precious data now.
If, unlike Undurti, you’re fortunate enough to never have lost your most precious bytes to the great hard drive, know this: It will happen to you one day. Your data may never encounter theft, or fire, or floods, or viruses. But there are only two types of hard disks in this world—those that have failed, and those that will.
This fact, however, seems lost on us, citizens of the Information Age, as a survey of 4,257 computer users in 129 countries by Kabooza, an online backup service, showed in December 2008.
Asked “How often do you back up your home PC?”, 54% of respondents said they had no backup whatsoever. Only 18% (about one in five) did perform a backup every day, while 15% said they did irregular backups. A frightening 13% responded with the question, “What is backup?” A whopping 66% of respondents said they had suffered critical data loss.
Admittedly, backing up is boring. On a scale of dullness, it belongs somewhere between flossing and Farmville. But now that your virtual farm is about the size of Madagascar and you’ve harvested the moon’s weight in strawberries, why not devote some time to safeguarding your most important documents, your lifetime’s worth of photos and your—ahem—entirely legal MP3 collection?
If you have a fast broadband connection, online backup is the safest bet. However, if your broadband plan has download/upload limits, you may end up spending a lot if you exceed them. But if you are on an unlimited plan, here are two services worth checking out.
Basic: 2GB storage for free
Premium: Unlimited storage for $4.95 (Rs235) a month
Mozy is an automated backup solution. Once you install it on your computer, it will back up any files you specify at a frequency of your choice. Mozy can even back up files while they are open. Most importantly, after the initial full backup, it will only upload the portion of a file that has changed and not the entire file all over again. This means subsequent backups will be quicker and use minimal bandwidth. Mozy stores previous versions of your files for easy restoration. You can restore files by downloading them or order a backup on physical media for a fee.
Basic: 2GB storage for free
Pro: 50GB storage for $9.99 a month
Once you install Dropbox, it creates a “My Dropbox” folder in your Documents folder. Anything you place in this folder will be synced with your Dropbox account. You can sync files and share them by making the folder public. You can also restore a previous version of your file—Dropbox keeps a change log going back 30 days. All your files are also accessible via the Dropbox website, which is great if you’re at a computer that doesn’t have Dropbox installed. Dropbox, unlike Mozy, doesn’t have an unlimited storage option, but unless you’re backing up movies and other huge files, you’re unlikely to breach its 50GB limit.
Online office suites
Whether or not you use any other online backup, switch to online suites and you’ll never lose an important document again.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets
This set has a word processor, a spreadsheet program and a presentation program. However, Google Docs isn’t 100% Word-compatible. Spreadsheets too has a few compatibility issues with Excel.
Microsoft Live Office
This is perfect if you need 100% compatibility with Microsoft Office. Live Office is actually a storage and sharing solution rather than an online suite—you can view your files online from anywhere, but not edit them online. To do so, you need to download a small plug-in that integrates your desktop Office suite with Live Office.
ThinkFree offers the best balance. It is far more compatible with MS Office than Google Docs and, unlike Live Office, lets you edit documents online. It has three main components—Write (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), and Show (presentation software). The word processor has two modes: Quick Edit offers a minimal interface with a few toolbar buttons for simple tasks, while Power Edit looks more like a full-featured application.
These programs are ideal if you have a lot of data (several GB) and limited or no Internet access. Most sync programs allow you to perform traditional one-way backups as well as two-way syncs. Here are two of the best.
Allway Sync ‘n’ Go
Free for personal use; pro version for businesses costs $29.99
Simplicity itself: Add a source directory to the left of the application window, a target directory to the right, hit a button to ‘analyse’ them and then sync. The target directory can be on another partition of your hard drive, a network drive, a USB stick, an external hard disk or a blank DVD. The first time you run the program, it will ask you to do a complete backup of the source directory. For subsequent syncs, the program will only update the ones that have changed. You can set it to one-way sync (keep a copy of your files in the target directory even when the original files have been removed from the source directory), or two-way sync (which will delete files from the target directory if they are removed from the source). It also comes in a handy portable version that requires no installation (it is a .exe file, which means you simply run it directly without going through lengthy install wizard dialog boxes and you can bring it along even on a USB stick).
Open source freeware
Say you have two computers and want to keep a pair of synced folders on them. With the help of a modest USB stick, CleanSync offers a nifty solution. Let’s say you have a folder called Work 1 on one computer and Work 2 on another. With a traditional sync program such as Allway Sync ‘n’ Go, you’d have to sync Work 1 with the USB stick, then attach it to your second computer and sync it with Work 2, effectively creating three copies of the entire folder to achieve synchronization. However, CleanSync only picks up the changed files, which saves space and time.
Also known as disk-cloning programs, these are the big daddies of backup, for backing up the entire drive or partition that contains your operating system. They not only backup data files but your entire OS, programs and all, so they are useful for system recovery in case of a hard disk disaster. They are also useful if you want to upgrade your hard disk without losing your OS, applications and data. Windows “System Restore” is nothing but an inbuilt disk image program. However, it has very few features, isn’t 100% reliable and won’t let you export an image to an external drive. But there’s a better option.
Acronis True Image
Price: $50; 15-day trial version available
While it isn’t free, Acronis True Image may be worth paying for. It has a number of features that most other disk-cloning programs lack, including the ability to exclude specific folders. It also lets you create an image or restore data without rebooting the system. If your operating system becomes corrupt or your hard disk fails, you can boot up your PC to the Acronis Startup Recovery Manager using the F11 key, which returns the system to a previous, usable state.
The backup calendar
Back up your work, daily if possible, or weekly at least. Choose a backup solution that’s easy to use and requires minimal intervention. Schedule backups to run at nights, on weekends, hourly or each time you save
Have more than one backup. This could mean buying more than one USB stick, or using a combination of online and offline backups.
Test your backups. USB sticks and external hard drives are prone to viruses as they are plugged into a number of computers
Test backups. Always check that key files are indeed backed up and can be accessed.
Backing up browser bookmarks is often overlooked. Use an online bookmarks backup service (mybookmarks.com, delicious.com) or use Google Chrome, which has a bookmarks sync feature built in.
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