It's 10 A.M. Do You Know Where Your Backups Are?
I thought I could go at least a year between writing "remember to back up your data" blog posts after a friend or family member loses their files in a computer crash, but I couldn't manage that.
Last October, it was my mother-in-law; this time around, it's her daughter, who just had her MacBook's hard drive die.
I blame Apple first: No hard drive should suffer a complete failure less than 11 months into its service life. It's fitting that this company will have to eat the cost of a drive replacement under its warranty.
But... you can't assume that things will work as they should. Like Lou Reed sings: "You can depend on the worst always happening / You need a busload of faith to get by."
That was my sister-in-law's mistake. She bought her MacBook just in time to have it ship with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard -- which features the easiest, most effective, automatic backup software I've seen, Time Machine. All she needed to do was plug in an extra hard drive to have every single file, setting and application safeguarded.
But Time Machine can't buy that hard drive or connect it for you. If you don't take those steps, it's nothing more than a pretty icon in the Dock.
(Got an older Mac? Try the free iBackup.)
With Windows machines, you're in worse shape. The backup utility in some copies of Windows XP is a joke, and Windows Vista's backup tool is little better (in some respects, like the ability to select particular files, it's worse).
In last year's post, I noted a couple of Windows alternatives I'd suggested in a tip-of-the-week e-mail written for PostPoints members:
If you use rewritable CDs or DVDs and use only Microsoft's Internet software, the free RightBackup Lite (http://rightbackup.systweak.com/download.php) comes preset to safeguard all your important files and settings.
Otherwise, try SyncBack Freeware (http://www.2brightsparks.com/freeware), but remember to tell this program to copy all your data, not just what's in your My Documents folder. Click the folder icon at the end of the "Source" line, then navigate to the folder inside the C: drive's "Documents and Settings" folder that's either named after you or, if not that, called "Administrator."
I need to revisit this category of Windows software. I want to be able to suggest an application that, by default, backs up your entire Documents and Settings (in XP) or Users (in Vista) folder to ensure that you can't lose things like browser bookmarks or e-mail messages saved in sub-folders that Windows keeps invisible. (Hiding some of the user's most important data this way has to rank as one of Microsoft's stupidest design decisions of all time.)
If the backup tool can't do that, it should at least protect all the visible folders in your Documents and Settings or Users directory -- My Documents, My Pictures, My Music and so on -- and then offer applications-specific presets to cover particular programs' data and settings. These presets would have to include all major non-Microsoft applications, like Mozilla Firefox and iTunes.
(I'm not sold on utilities that duplicate your entire hard drive, like Norton Ghost. That approach vastly increases the size of the required backup volume and also copies a lot of stuff you don't need backed up, like programs you can reinstall. Or viruses you don't want to reinstall.)
This ideal application would allow a choice of backup media -- CDs, DVDs, hard drives, flash drives, maybe even online (though for many users, the math argues against uploading gigabytes upon gigabytes of data). Oh, and I'd like this application to be free, so people can't whine about the startup cost.
Unfortunately, all of the tools that I've tried, from the freebies mentioned earlier to such commercial alternatives as the backup utilities in system-security suites like Norton 360, McAfee Total Protection and Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare, fall short.
So help me out here: Does such a program exist in the Windows universe? If not, can you please write one? Say, by Monday?
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