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The Mouse's Tail - Tutorial 12

Backups - How to avoid Disaster

There are only two types of people using computers in the world. Those who have experienced a hard drive failure and those who haven't, YET.

Computer failure can be a disaster, or an inconvenience.
The choice is yours.
The difference is how well you back up your files.



What is data?
Data is anything you have created on your computer - pictures, text files, publisher documents, databases etc usually stored in files in folders or directories.
What is software?
Software is the term given to the programs running on your computer. For example Microsoft Word, Irfanview, Adobe Photoshop, Internet Explorer, Outlook, Eudora, etc.
What is hardware?
Hardware is the stuff inside your computer that makes strange noises, overheats, blows up or suddenly stops working. Hardware is often your hard drive where your data is probably stored.
What is a storage medium?
Anything from a floppy disk (1.4mb) to a zip disk (100-250mb), to a CDROM (650+mb) to a hard drive(250mb-80gig). Other types exist. Any and all CAN and do fail sometimes!
What is Backing up?
Simply copying a file from one location to form a duplicate of it in another location.

How can you lose data (or files)?

The easiest way is you are working away on a document and make a major change, say you cut and paste a large block of text. You save the document, and a few minutes later realise you've pasted into the wrong spot and overwritten all your original writing.
Or you save a new document with the same name as an existing document and mistakenly press ok to overwrite the original.
Then you can accidentally delete files or folders.
The file can become corrupted and not function properly, or not even open at all.
Software failure can delete, corrupt or otherwise affect a file.
Hardware failure (faulty floppy disk, crashed hard drive, lightning zapped computer) can make it impossible or next to impossible to retrieve the file.
Then there are the true disasters - computer theft, fire, flood etc.
If you think your work is safe on a computer think again :)


The top reasons to backup are:


Things that can cause your hard drive to * CRASH *:

1. Viruses
2. Wear and Tear
3. Power Surges
4. Improper Ventilation
5. Dust
6. Heat
7. Human Error
8. Holding your mouth the wrong way.

Hard drives, floppy disks and CDs can also be affected by magnetic fields, scratches, dropping, heat, condensation, structural failure and software failure.

Types of backups

Full Backup

Incremental Backup

Selected Backup

Whilst a full backup might be the most convenient when a hard drive crashes (just restore everything, complete with settings right down to the choice of background wallpaper onto the new drive) it is the hardest to accomplish for most users.
In the case of a full hard drive failure the reinstalling of the system, software and settings may be inconvenient,but it's the selected data that is really important to be able to restore, the files you actually created that can't be replaced.

How do you back up?

First ORGANISE your files

If your files are scattered among thousands of others on your hard drive, keeping backup copies is just that much harder. One of the keys to keeping the process of backup simple is to save your documents under one Master folder (like "My Documents").

Look at your Folder options - so you know what files are on your computer.
Windows loves to hide information, so it's important to set your folder options so you know what you are seeing.

Making folders, organising files, setting folder options and navigating your hard drive are all covered in Tutorial 3 at the The Mouse's Tail

Adjust your default folders - even my attachments from my email go into an "attachments" folder in "my documents", so copying my docs will essentially back up almost every bit of important data on my computer.

Organise your files. Always know where you are saving to. make folders, rename files - don't let your computer decide for you, take control.

Personal files can be stored in any number of places. Each application you use will save files in a "default" folder or you can save to any location you choose. It is important to notice where you are saving files and not simply rely on the program's default location. If you know where you are saving files, you will know what folders to back up for safety



By far the easiest way to begin backing up is to simply copy the files you need to another location. Remember - if you have only one physical hard drive in your machine, it won't matter if you save onto drive c:, d: or e: - the files will still be on that hard drive, just on separate partitions. This won't help if the hard drive dies. It is however a good defence against accidental deletion, corruption, etc.
I often keep a copy of a folder I use a lot on another partition/or another hard drive.
Every time make significant changes I just copy and paste the folder from my documents over itself on the e: drive.
I also have a folder called backup, or to CD, for files I want to keep - downloaded programs , driver updates etc. I paste the files in as I get them, then when I do a cd backup, just include that folder onto the cd.
Once you have organised your files then you need to copy them. Certainly the bigger the capacity of the device you choose the better. It is much easier to back up a whole 'my documents folder to a cdrom, than it is to copy a few files at a time to floppy.
Be wary of zipping backed up files. Zipped files can get corrupted too and you need to have the 'unzipper' at the other end to access the file too. If it fits on a disk then put it on without adjusting it.
If you are regularly backing up files that are bigger than a floppy disk then I recommend you invest in a cd writer or a zip drive.
Modern cd writers and programs can mean that you can write to a cd until it is full, unlike early ones where you wrote something onto a cd and that was it, cd closed. This means you can keep a cd for each section of your data - for example, a tasfhs cd, and each month copy the tasfhs folder onto the cd in a dated folder.
Or you can copy all the files you wish to back up onto a cd, date it and put it away.
Consider keeping a copy somewhere else too - if your computer goes up in flames it's unlikely the cd stored beside it will be useable….

WHAT to backup

" What you do need to backup is what you have created:
o your assignments
o your word processing files
o your spreadsheets
o your graphics
o your databases
o your e-mail and address book
o your calendar
o your bookmarks/favorites
You'll also need to back up your settings for some programs (sometimes it is easier to just go in and make a note of what settings you have than to try and back it up as a file. For example your internet connection. Go in, click properties and write down wether area code is on, the number you dial, etc. Then if the worst happens you can reinstall it from scratch with the same settings. (book).
Also go through the Program files folder on your computer and see what programs you may want to keep settings from. Sometimes saving the ini file can be enough. Sometimes you need more. Searching "how to back up xxxx" on the internet can often turn up a step by step instruction sheet on how to back up a particular program.

What do you need to back up and when?


Making backing up even easier

Use "Save As"


Whenever you're working on a sizable, important document, the safest bet is to save the document not just once, but twice, each time to a different location. To do this, click on FILE, then SAVE AS. The "save as" command allows you to specify a different name and/or location. If you've been saving your work to your C: drive (the "hard drive"), then change the location to a floppy and save there. If you've been saving to a floppy diskette, use "save as" to save a duplicate copy to the C: drive, a Zip drive, or a network drive.
The disadvantage of using "save as" are that you'll have to remember to do it whenever you've made significant changes, and you'll have to keep track of two documents, keeping both of them current. Check to make sure you are working on the right document regularly ;)

Use Word's Automated Backup Features

MS Word provides two levels of automatic backup protection. Neither is perfect, but both are highly recommended. Click on TOOLS, then OPTIONS, then click on the SAVE tab to check these settings.
" First, be sure that you have checked Always Create Backup Copy. This way, each time you change and then save your file, a backup of the previous version will be created.
" Second, be sure that the option for Save Autorecover info every __ minutes is checked, and that a reasonable value (like 10 minutes) is filled in. Autorecover helps you only when the computer freezes or loses power while you have the document open. When you restart the computer and open MS Word, the document you had open will be recovered, up to the point of the last "autosave."


Back up checklist.

Use this list as a guide. Create your own list Make a note of where to find files/settings for the next time.

Backing up Files and Preferences
Have you backed up all your documents?
Have you backed up all your family tree files?
Have you backed up any bookmarks and favorites in Netscape and Internet Explorer?
Do you use Dreamweaver? If so, have you backed up any special settings?
Do you have any custom dictionaries in Word, or other software?
What about specific preferences in Word/Works/Excel etc? Macros? Templates?
Anything else that has been customized?
Do you use an email program (Outlook (97, 2002, or Express), Eudora) If so, have you backed up the associated mailboxes
Email address books?

Making Sure Data is Secure
How many copies of your backup do you have? Where are they? We recommend making and keeping at least two copies on separate disks or locations.
Have you checked to make sure your files were really copied over to a disk by checking your disks on another computer? [Strongly recommended. It is very easy to copy over shortcuts or aliases instead of the actual files.]
Are you using zip disks or floppies? How old are the disks you use to back up or save files on? [If they are over a year old, consider purchasing new disks.] What size are they? Where will you need to use this disk? (100MB zip disks are better than 250 MB disks since 250MB drives will read both if you are moving between different size drives.)

Hardware, Special Applications, & Drivers

Do you have a copy of your internet settings, your passwords and your account names?
Do you have the original disks and files for your software?
Do you have the updates or upgrades for your software?
Do you have any peripheral hardware such as scanners, printers, etc? If so, make sure you have any supplemental software needed to operate them AND any upgraded driver files etc.
Do you have a note of network settings, special files, internet passwords and other things that may be stored on your computer and lost?


For information on how to find and back up outlook, settings, and other specific folders and files see

OR do a search for "how to back up ......"

The instructions are usually out there.



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