Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 by Reed Hoffmann
They say that people facing death find religion very quickly. After a couple of system near-deaths in the last few weeks, I've become a believer in system backups.
For years now I’ve preached the value of backing up all your important data. Every one of my best images, as well as the key pieces of my digital life, are backed up several times, on DVD and hard drive, with at least one set off-site at all times. That helps me sleep well at night. But my systems hadn’t been backed up that way. Now they are.
In the last month I’ve had to rebuild both a Windows 7 system and a Mac OSX system. Not pretty, but not as hard as it used to be. The pain is in all the loading of applications, updates, and plugging in the serial numbers. I’m hoping to never do it that way again.
Both Microsoft and Apple make it pretty easy these days to backup not just your documents, but your system and applications as well. In fact, they each have that built in, without even having to buy more software. Windows uses Backup and Restore, a utility in the System and Security Control Panel. I have it set to backup both to my HP MediaSmart server as well as a small external USB drive I travel with. And every time I plug that drive in, the Autoplay asks if I want to use it for a backup (which is really just an update to what’s already there). In addition to that, I’ve also taken advantage of Windows’ ability to help me create a System Repair Disc. That utility is in the “Maintenance” folder in your Program Files folder. The disc it creates can be used to boot the computer and try to repair problems, or if all else fails to reinstall the system image made with Backup and Restore, right off that USB drive if need be. That disc also travels with me.
On the Mac side there’s Time Machine. With it you get a spare drive (larger the better) and attach it to your computer, then set the TIme Machine preferences to use it. From that point on, as long as it’s turned on, it will keep your system imaged as well as update any changes you make to your documents. Since I get tired of it running so much, I usually have it turned off, and occasionally turn it on to update. Of course, when I had my problems, it hadn’t been run in ten days :) Won’t do that again! If I have problems (like I did when trying to update to Leopard), I can boot the Mac from a system disc and tell it I want to restore from the Time Machine volume. In the morning it was all restored, and I just had to update my documents. Thankfully I have those set to backup automatically, daily, to my MediaSmart server, so I lost nothing there. Whew!
So what have I learned through all this? It’s not enough to just have your photos and key documents backed up. You need a system image as well, and that’s easy to accomplish these days. And, doing that will help you sleep more soundly!