Saturday, November 15, 2008

Backup in time.

I worked with this guy in a computer shop a long time ago, we'll call him Dave - an intellectual, a musician, a fellow geek whom I've known for many years as a competent computer technician.  In a comment to one of my previous posts, he directed me to some nice backup software to help cope with the problems we have both experienced with Windows.

I can't see why we need to try and develop or purchase all these work-arounds for the failings of Microsoft's OS. To be fair, WindowsXP has backup software built in but even this guide to using it on Microsoft's own website says most people don't know think about backing up and even if you do, you have to do some digging to find the program to do it.  And then the whole back-up process is totally manual, requiring you to select everything you want to back up, tell it where you want to put the backup - network drive, blank CD - and then you have to set up a schedule and maintain that schedule, which few people are able to do. Also, a complete and regular backup using this method would use an enormous amount of data storage because you back up everything, every time, even the stuff that didn't change since the last backup.

Dave's suggestion was some imaging software - Acronis - which essentially takes a snapshot of the entire system which you'd then burn to a disc or save on an external or network drive. Disk imaging is usually time consuming and best for quickly performing clean installs. I haven't tried Acronis, but their site doesn't give a lot of information about how their software works. It says they have an incremental backup feature suggesting that it can identify your files that have been changed and add them to the backup which saves a lot on data storage.  

Both above methods can be stored on a DVD which makes it hard to accidentally erase the storage which can happen with external hard drives but even DVD are not infallible.

I also had a comment on my last post from an anonymous user - lets call him Mick Frank - who suggested that I back up to the cloud.  While I already keep a lot of information online under my Google account  - Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, Google Video, Picasaweb - I am rather selective about what I upload to these sites.  One should ask: Do I really want to place my information in the hands of another person or business?  I don't think of these Google services as somewhere to store my backups.  They are a place to share ideas with others.  As for anonymous ftp servers, there are serious bandwidth issues for most Australians.  In this country we have limits on how much we can download with nearly every Internet plan, limited either by speed or by the amount of downloaded data.  There are speed issues.  How long does it take to send a modest 35GB backup to an FTP server on the other side of the planet?  There are privacy issues too.  Where is the server located?  Argentina?  Zimbabwe?  China?  USA?  What is to stop someone looking through all my stuff?  More to the point, will that server still be there tomorrow?  No thanks, I prefer to hang on to my data myself.

OS X has a backup feature called Time Machine. First of all, it's included with the OS and not only is it easily found, it's one of the most advertised features. This is what I needed to do to get it going.
  1. Plug in a big external hard drive.
  2. Open Time Machine
  3. Turn On Time Machine
  4. There is no step 4.
Now our Mac is backed up.  A complete backup.  When I import a new CD, it detects that there are new files and adds them to the backup.  When add a riff to my musical composition it is automatically added to the backup.  If the Mac were to suddenly die in a billowing cloud of smoke - touch wood - the last entry I put into the calendar, the last note I jotted on the desktop and the last web page I bookmarked are safely backed up on my external drive.

So how did I end up in the situation I described in my last post?  

No-one backs up until about 10 minutes after they need to.

I had even done step 1. Plug in a big external hard drive. but I still just couldn't be bothered with clicking the mouse a few more times to back up all my data.  At the time it all just seemed too much hassle...

...and then there's that tendency to erase hard drives without thinking...

Apple seem to have put data protection up front.  We all know that computers crash.  Macs and PCs alike, all are susceptible to a hard drive failure, but Apple are actively doing something about it.  Not only with the most easy-to-use backup software in the world, but even the hardware is being re-designed with data protection in mind.  Apple notebooks have the option of shipping with solid-state hard drives that have no moving parts.  Wherever there are moving parts, there is wear and with wear, failure is inevitable.  So if you have anything on your computer that is irreplaceable - back it up.  

Make up a check list.
  1. Documents
  2. Pictures
  3. Music
  4. Videos
  5. Address Book
  7. Financial Records
  8. Downloaded software
  9. Game saves
  10. Whatever else you can think of... and think hard!
Backup now... before it's too late - although, as I showed in my last post, even when it's too late it may not be too late!


Mick Thackray said...

err..that comment from Mick....actually wasnt...unless .. (GASP) know more than 1 of us..

JonDgar said...

lol - I'll change it to Frank!

Anonymous said...

it's a bastardized Linus quote.


JonDgar said...

nice pickup!