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Back It Up!

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004 by | Filed Under: File & Disk Management, System Tune-Up Help

Back It Up!

As most of you know, I recommend backing up your computer on a regular basis. Since I’m always harping about it, I thought it might be a good idea to actually explain how to do this!

First, what exactly does it mean to “backup” your files?

To backup simply means to copy files to another disk. This can be in the form of using a program designed to do backups or just doing a straight copy from your computer to a floppy (probably a lot more than one floppy), a zip disk , or CD-RW .

For a zip disk, just copy and paste the files you want to save onto the disk. For a CD-R or CD-RW, use your CD burning software. (Note that most CD burning software and Zip drives come with some kind of backup utility you can use if you like).

If all your files will fit on a single CD or Zip disk, then you’re in good shape just copying your files straight to it. If your files are too large, you’re probably better off using a backup utility, since they can “split” your files up automatically and most can even compress them.

That’s really all there is to it. You just take the files you want to be sure to save and copy them to a disk or CD.

Now, here’s my advice for easier backups:

One question that seems to come up all the time is. “If I do a re-format and re-install every year or two, how can I be sure I get all my important files?”

I use to have a terrible time with this one. I would hunt through every folder on my hard drive searching for my data. And let me tell ya, I would still miss stuff and lose it.

Well, a long time ago, I decided to keep any file I create (documents) or want to save (i.e. downloaded software) in the My Documents folder. Then when I go to backup my info, I know it’s all in one place. I back up My Documents and it’s a done deal. I have it all.

I also advocate putting sub-folders into the My Documents folder. You can do this from most “Save As” dialog boxes by clicking the ” New folder ” icon. You can also do it from Explorer by opening the My Documents folder, right-clicking on a blank area , then selecting New, Folder from the resulting menu.

Here I am making a new folder (the arrow there, that’s me :-):

Oh, one other thing to remember –

Make sure you backup your e-mail and Favorites too! You can set current versions of Outlook Express (and many other e-mail clients) to save your e-mail to a specified folder, like the My Documents folder. Doing that will insure you at least keep your e-mail.

See the link below for more on saving your e-mail:

As for the Favorites, those you’ll have to work a little harder at. They are usually found under your C:\Windows folder. XP users will find them under the Documents and Settings area.

Now, here’s a tip-in-a-tip:

I didn’t know you could do this – kind of found out by accident- but you can actually drag your Favorites folder to your My Documents folder. I tested this on Win 98/ME/XP (I’m sure it’ll work on Win 2000, not sure on 95). Each time, it worked perfectly. Explorer didn’t “lose” any of the favorites and since they are in the My Documents folder now, it makes for MUCH easier backups.

What about program files?

My advice on backing up programs is not to – as long as you can re-install them. I personally back up just the stuff I have “made”. You know, things like documents, web pages, pictures, graphics, etc. If I had to take time to make it and save it, I’ll back it up.

If it’s a program I can reinstall, then I don’t back it up. After all, if I lose it, I can always reinstall Besides, many programs have files in locations other than their own directory – so it makes it hard to find everything.

Oh, and if you’re backing up because you’re doing a reformat of your hard drive and a reinstall of Windows here’s something else to consider –

If the reason for the reinstall is poor system performance, you don’t necessarily want to copy old files to the newly formatted hard drive. Sure, most of them would probably be OK, but what if you’re transferring a file that was causing some of your bad performance? It’s kind of like getting a new car and putting used parts on it.

Of course, there’s not any kind of “fixed” rule for backing up or not backing up your program files, so use your best judgment (i.e. if you mess it up, and lose a program, don’t come cryin’ to me).

One final idea for our more advanced users:

If you find yourself doing the re-format thing fairly often, you may want to partition off a section of your hard drive for your data. If you keep all your information on a separate drive, you can re-format your Windows drive all you want and your data stays safe on the other drive partition.

A word of warning though. If you decide to do this, only keep data (documents, spreadsheets, pictures, etc) or downloads on the drive. If you install programs to it, you may find that when you re-format you need to re-install those programs anyway because they had DLL files that were living in the Windows System folder.

~ Steve

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