You should backup your data, right now

No seriously, Wal-Mart is still open so go buy an external drive and start backing up your data if you aren’t already. Once that backup is done, verify that it worked.

I dunno about you but I value a good portion of the data I keep tucked away on my computers. I have documents, old college work, contacts, music and most importantly, pictures and videos of my kids. To lose any of it because I didn’t take the time to make copies of it would be devastating. Especially when you consider just how many options are available today and how easy they are to use. There really is no excuse not to be backing up your important data.

Before I get into just how you backup your data, lets take a look at a few of the reasons why you should:

  • Hard drives fail. They all will eventually. This cannot be stressed enough. You should always consider your hard drive to be on the verge of failure and be delighted that it hasn’t yet.
  • Mistakes happen. Ever deleted something you didn’t mean to delete?
  • Corruption happens. Maybe you’re a huge iTunes fan but somehow you’ve lost all of your ratings
  • Acts of God like fire, flood and lightening are always well tolerated by computers
  • Theft. Laptops especially are a target for theft. Unlike your data, the laptop can be replaced readily

The latest versions of the two major operating systems*, Mac OS X 10.5+ and Windows 7, include backup tools right out of the box are simple to setup and require nothing more than an external hard drive be attached to the computer. If you want to get more advanced or want a second method of backup rest assured there is no shortage of available backup solutions available on the market. Many of them will cost some amount of money but there are a good number of free ones as well. I’m only going to touch on what Mac OS X and Windows 7 provides as well as one other alternative.

Mac OS X since 10.5 (Leopard) includes Apple’s approach to backup called Time Machine. There simply is not a product out there on any other platform that is as integrated and easy to use as Time Machine. To use Time Machine you attach an new external hard drive and when prompted by OS X if you’d like to use the drive as a Time Machine drive, click yes. OS X will then format the drive, if needed, and begin the initial backup. From there OS X will perform a backup every hour that your computer is on. If you ever need to restore a file you can do so using the Time Machine interface available right off the menu bar. If you ever need to restore your entire system you boot off your install CD and use the “Restore from Time Machine” function. Done deal.

Windows has long included a backup tool but it was never as well thought out as the one in Windows 7. If your computer is running Windows Vista it is well worth your money to upgrade to Windows 7. To enable backups on Windows 7 click the start menu and search for backup. You will see an entry for Backup and Restore. Click it and follow the resulting Wizard. Windows 7 will create a system restore image that you burn to disc and then creates backups from that point on. Windows 7 isn’t my primary operating system and I really can’t comment on how or how well the restore system works.

If you don’t like the baked in solutions in either operating system, don’t have a newer version of Mac OS X or Windows, run Linux or simply want a different solution than what is provided, have a serious look at CrashPlan. I’m in no way affiliated with the folks at CrashPlan but I can confirm with first hand experience that CrashPlan just works. CrashPlan allows you to backup certain portions of your computer running any version of Windows since XP, Linux and Mac to multiple different locations. These locations include another computer, a friends computer using a special code, a folder on an external drive and if you want to keep your data at an off-site location on the internet, you can do so for a small fee. All other destinations are completely free.

For my Mac systems I use Time Machine and on top of that CrashPlan for the pictures and videos of my children. At any given moment there are four copies of the pictures and videos, one copy on my MacBook, one in the Time Machine backup, one on my work computer and one more copy on my home Linux server. My work computer acts as my off-site backup in the event some disaster strikes our home.

I hope this post strikes a cord with at least a few people who might read it. I’ve helped a number of people repair their computer after an OS or hard drive crash where something important was lost. I hate seeing the look on the person’s face when I tell them their data is simply gone, or possibly recoverable at a hefty price.

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