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Are you backed up? No, this isn't an advertisement for laxatives; I'm talking about your data (computer). Unless everything you care about is stored "in the cloud" and being backed up by them, then you should make sure to go out and buy a drive and back your data up. In fact, you should to it even if you have a cloud account and keep your own copy. Unless you don't care about losing all your data and pictures.


It is often talked about that you should "back up" your data; which is to copy your files to another place in case your hard drive dies, your computer is stolen, or some other catastrophe that would result in your information going to that big trashcan in the sky.

The reason that backing up is talked about so often, is because it is so important. You only have to lose everything you ever had on your computer a couple of times before you realize how critical this is. I don't want to hear your vocabulary expanding expletives when you fully learn this lesson the hard way. So if you aren't backing up, then it is time you started thinking about it.

I tell people to factor in some sort of "backup" media as part of the cost of the computer. Buy a lesser model of a computer, or give up something else, if it means you can add in a backup-storage device to keep a copy of all your data. You may never need the backups, but it is inexpensive and important insurance; especially compared to the alternative.

The easiest, fastest and least safe way to keep a copy of your data, is just to buy a second hard disk drive. They are cheap, and they are fast; so every now and then you just copy from your primary drive to your secondary one (either manually or with special backup software), and a coffee break later, you're back at work. But the reason it isn't safe is usually because that drive is in the same computer, so if something happens to the computer, it's gone.

Better methods are to make copies onto removable media; like writable CD or DVD players, special backup tape drives, or little removable hard drives (like ZIP or JAZ disks), or at least have one or more "external" drives that you can move the data to. Now days, I tend to lean towards optical drives (CD or DVD writers or rewriters), since you can use those same drives to make your own CD's or DVD's as well. But sometimes economics push you towards other alternatives; any is better than none.


The safest way to live is to make regular backups; daily or weekly depending on how often you use your computer or how much you can afford to lose, and rotate that media and keep multiple backups in different places. Send one in every few backups to a friend or relative or keep it "off site" in case of theft, flood or fire. The latest trend is network backups (copying to someone else's computer/storage across a network). Remember, there is no "Cloud", there's just someone else's computer. If you trust them with your data, then sure, that's a good way to backup. If you don't, then I suggest you find a service you do trust. But you should still probably have you own copies, if you value your data.

I even organize my files in ways that make it easier and faster to backup. I put all my important work files in one folder (organized in sub-folders of course); then to backup, I can just pick that one parent folder, and all that stuff will be saved. It is quicker because it doesn't have to backup the rest of the hard drive, which I don't need to backup as frequently.

I have other folders for things that I don't change or I don't want to back up often, like my music collection, or weird little files that other people sent me (and I could get from them again if I really needed).

Even less frequently do I backup everything (my entire hard drive). I own the programs and Operating System, so if things crashed, I could reinstall everything. It would be a pain to do all that configuration and installation stuff, so I backup this every now and again, just in case.

If you haven't bought into the dogma of backing up your data religiously, I suspect it just a matter of time and experience before you see the light.

Written 2002.03.11