Monday, January 24, 2011

B is for Backup

     In the old days of the 20th century, computer users relied on floppy disks to move information from one computer to another.  Pre-web, pre-broadband, pre-dialup...it was all floppy disks.  Now, it really wasn't as bad as it sounds because we didn't have that much information to move around.  It was conceivable that you would do all of your computing on one computer.  That is until you got another machine and moved all your stuff over to the smokin' hot 486.  Again, it didn't matter because there wasn't that much stuff to move.  A floppy disk might not have a enough space on it to save one mp3 track but you could still store lots of text and that's mostly what we had.  You made a backup copy of all your papers or saved games of Flight Simulator and that was it.  Everything else was loaded from stacks of floppy disks or maybe a dual speed CD-Rom.  Not so any more.

     Now we have lots and lots more data.  My daughter is not even a year old yet but I bet she's had more pictures taken of her than I had in the first ten years of my existence.  They are all digital.  In addition to those photos I have movies, music, family videos, gobs and gobs of photos, lots of source code and database scripts.  Lots of people have this problem and they don't have a backup of that data because...it's impossible.  Households can easily have a 1 terabyte of data spread across phones, laptops, desktops, digital cameras and mp3 players.  It would take 728,177 floppy disks to back up one terabyte.  And you'd have to label them too...

     Now imagine that your hard drive crashed(they all have a MTBF rating), or your laptop got stolen.  What then?  All that music, all those movies you bought on iTunes are gone.  All those photos...

     Here's what I recommend.

  1. Get a big external hard drive.  I use a two terabyte external drive from Western Digital.  You can buy it off Amazon for a little over $100.  Here's the link.
    1. Make a folder on it called "Backup".
    2. Under that you can make folders for music, videos, photos, office documents...whatever you want.
    3. Put everything that's important in there.  
    4. Point your iTunes library to that location if you have one.
    5. I suggest connecting the external drive to a desktop or some machine that's usually on or at the very least, doesn't move around much.
  2. Get an account with an online backup company.  There are several out there.  I use Mozy.com.  For $4.95/month you get unlimited backups.
    1. After you've downloaded the Mozy client, you can set it to backup certain directories.   Set it to backup the "Backup" directory on your big external drive.  It'll take a long time (as in days) to do the first backup, but once that first one is done, you are set.  Leave your computer on over night and it will backup all the new things you add.
    2. I recommend Mozy because on two different occasions I've had hardware crashes and I did not lose a thing.  It took a while to copy all that stuff back down to a new machine, but that's way better than losing everything.
  3. For Office type files or things that are mostly text, I suggest using a free account from DropBox in addition to having an online backup.  Dropbox is incredibly convenient and it serves as a quick and easy way to keep things backed up and accessible.  
         You may be saying to yourself, "Jon, I'm not going to spend $100 for a big hard drive and $60 a year for online backups."  Well, okay, but think about this. If you lost all your data, how much would you be willing to pay to get it back?  Sure it's another bill to pay.  I don't like adding bills to my monthly payment list, but it provides peace of mind.  I sound like an insurance salesperson but that's exactly what this is. Except this is insurance you will need because, while your house might not flood or burn down, your hard drive will crash one day.  That day might bring a momentary inconvenience or a catastrophe.  And by the way, if you are a freelancer of any kind, you have to have an offsite backup.  If people are paying you to produce something,  you can't just turn around and say you lost all the work because your Mac Book crashed and you don't have a backup.  It's a cost of doing business.

    ...

         So that's my online backup rant.  Now let's talk about saving a little money.  Are you still using the anti-virus software that came with your computer?  Norton Anti-Virus or MacAfee or something like that?  Well, those things expire and if you don't pay up each year, you quit getting the latest virus signatures which is what allows anti-virus software to protect your machine.  Without the latest updates, you're are not getting any protection.  Those full disk scans that slow your computer down are all for naught because they won't know if a new virus is there or not.  

         In the past I have recommended the free anti-virus software from AVG.  I still think they provide a great product, but they really want you to sign up for their pay service.  Every so often you have to download a new client and install and it's a headache.  It's easy to click ignore or to mistake it for an annoying popup from some web page and you can wind up back in the same boat.  I have a new recommendation.  It's only for the Microsoft platform but I really like it.  It'll work with anything from XP service pack 2 all the way up to  Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit.  It's called Microsoft Security Essentials.  Download it, install it and uninstall all that useless, out of date, anti-virus software that's just taking up system resources.

    ...

         Lastly, if you hate the bloat ware that is Adobe Acrobat Reader but you still need to be able to read PDF files, then download Expert PDF Reader from Visagesoft.  Great PDF viewer, nowhere near the headaches of Adobe Acrobat REader.  It's free.

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