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Newbie Guide To Windows Backups

Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining.
So its Thursday and your computer just exploded – no, its not your fault, this time – what do you do? backup

If this your reaction to “Do you backup?”, this is the guide for you. Some of you might have tried Googling how to backup and restore & gotten plenty confused in the process. The world of backup software is as vast and pothole ridden as the world of anti-virus/anti-spyware/anti-malware software. What kind of backup do you need? Which software will you pick? Paid or free? are just some of the questions you will have to face. Fortunately for you, I’ve written this guide to help you through it all.

What kind of backup do you need?
Basically there are 3 kinds of backups -
  1. System Images
  2. Backup & Restore
  3. Online & Offsite
System images simply mean that the software takes a snapshot of your entire system (one or all partitions) so that if you ever need to, you can just restore your computer to that image. Think of it as a sort of time machine for computers. Anytime something goes wrong – there are plenty ways it can happen – you simply go back in time to when everything was working! These images can be saved to an external drive or DVDs.

The Catch: Any & all changes you made to your data/apps since that time is lost.

Backup & Restore is what most users are familiar with. Some version of it ships with every OS. Just point the software at your data partition & it will compress those files and save them as a backup set. While the first backup can take a lot of time (hours, if you have lots of media files), subsequent ones are faster since only the files that have changed since then are backed up. These programs can also save to external hard drive or DVDs.

The Catch: Wading through all your backups to find the one file you want is a time sucker.

Online backups are often painless and easy to setup. You download the software and it uploads a copy of your most important data ‘in the cloud’, so in the event of a crash, you can just download them and start working. Your backups are also away form your home/office, so in case of disasters like fire or flood, your backup is safe on servers located far, far away.

The Catch: Storage space is expensive & you have to trust someone else to keep your backups safe & secure.

As you can see, each has its pros and cons. The safest option is to use a combination of all 3 kinds of backups. Now I know you’re thinking “Oh crap. That is going to take a lot of time/energy.” Never mind, there are plenty of software that are ‘set & forget.’

There are several options in each category – some are free while others are not.
System Imaging Acronis True Image, Paragon Backup & Recovery, Windows 7
Backup & Restore Genie Timeline, Norton Ghost, PCBackup
Online Syncplicity, Dropbox, Sugarsync

All of the above programs are reliable and get the job done. I’ve tried all of them at some point & I personally use 1 from each category. I use Windows 7 to create my system images, Genie Timeline for data backups to an external hard drive and Syncplicity for my most important files (I can access them anywhere I have Internet).

In my next post I’ll explain how and why I use each one of these applications. All 3 are free and I feel there is no reason to drop hundreds of bucks for the advanced versions. Most importantly, they ‘just work’ and don’t require any interference once the initial setup is done.

Users who don’t have lots of media/data can just use Syncplicity (which gives 2GB of space for free). Those who have movies/pictures/music etc can use a combination of Syncplicity and Genie Timeline and the paranoid ones – like me -  can use all 3 options!

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