NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2009
Backing Up and Restoring Files
December 2010 issue, Boca Bits,
the monthly magazine of The Boca Raton Computer Society, Inc.
By Ron Hirsch,
Member and Contributing Editor, Boca Raton Computer Society, Florida

Ronhirsch1439 (at) comcast.net (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

If I had to pick a single area where most computer users are extremely lacking, it's in the area of backing up and preserving the documents and other items that they generate during the course of their computer activities. Most people just dismiss the subject with “Oh I don't really have anything of importance, and even if I do, I can always redo it easily.” These people may only use their computer for the Internet and e-mail. But, redoing your address book and bookmark listing can be a task in itself.

And, if you use a program such as Quicken or Money, you have lots of financial info that would be a real job to rebuild if all your files were lost. I reminded a friend about backing up his Quicken stuff, and he said that he really didn't have to, as Quicken always backs things up automatically, which it does. But it backs things up onto the same hard drive, into a different folder. So, about 6 months later when his hard drive failed, his backup was worthless, and he was a very unhappy person.

What Does Backup Realy Mean?
Backup is the generation of duplicate files, often onto a removable medium, for all the things that you have generated on your machine. Generally, these are files that you have produced, not the program files which came on the CD. These duplicate files must be stored on something which can be separated from your machine, and definitely separated from your internal system hard drive.

Since most people have only one hard drive, it does not make good sense to backup onto that same drive. And, if you have your main drive partitioned into say a C and D drive, you will still lose your backup if the drive fails. If however, you have a second hard drive on your computer, you are much safer storing your backups there.

There are online services which offer “online backup” at a small cost, or no cost. This can offer access from another computer, when you might need that data. But I personally don't want my private data et al on an online computer, where it is possibly subject to being hacked or having that operation go out of business.

NOTE: This article is only discussing backup of your personal files and data - it is not addressing a complete backup of your system drive, including your operating system (probably Windows). That is a separate topic which will be covered in another article.

The backup media should be stored in a place where it will not become lost, stolen, or damaged. When I was in business (many years ago), we backed up all our files every day, with a rotating system of seven tapes. Copies were stored in a fireproof safe, and periodically, we placed a current copy in our safety deposit box at the bank. Just putting copies on the shelf doesn't protect against their loss in case of a fire. Obviously, most users don't have to go to such extremes. But, for important information, it's a good idea to periodically put a backup copy into a secure and fireproof place, such as a home safe, or your safety deposit box.

In order to be able to follow and use the material in this article, you must be conversant with using Windows Explorer, or a similar file manager. Earlier this year, I presented several articles on this activity, with several exercises on the subject. If you are not familiar with using a file manager to copy files and add new folders and subfolders, I would suggest that you bone up on this subject first, and then get back to this article.

What Do I Have To Do First?
First of all, the typical user who has programs in which files are saved, generally has no idea where they are. So, the first thing to learn is just that. When you are in a program such as Quicken, your files are generally saved in the same folder as the Quicken program. Other programs may use the My Documents folder, My Files folder, the Documents and Settings folder, or a special folder that the program has set up to store things.

I personally set my own folders for storing things. And, fortunately, most programs allow the user to specify where things are stored. In WordPerfect, I have a master folder set up, name WPWIN. Under that I have about 56 subfolders for all the categories that I have defined. There is a folder named “BocaBits”, which holds all the articles I've written for this publication. One of the main advantages of having your personal files organized in a master folder is that they are easier to copy to a backup medium. Just copy the main folder, specify to include the subfolders (if that is needed), and everything underneath will be copied. This is far easier than having to locate many different folders, and copy from each one individually.

Remember, using subfolders is a must. Some years back, one of my friends stored all his files for all his programs in the same folder, with no subfolders. Finding a file to use was almost like looking for a needle in a haystack. And, name your files using descriptive long filenames which all operating systems since Windows 95 can use. Which is easier to find “Letter to Jack re the new building.doc” or “let2jreb.doc”?

Here are some steps that I would suggest users consider - change the names to suit your desires.

1. Add a new folder on your C: drive, and call it “All My Stuff” (without the quotes.)

2. Add as many subfolders under it as you need. For example, (assuming you have these programs) add one for Word, Quicken, Money, Excel, etc.. Then, add as many subfolders under each of the main subfolders you've added. For example, the “Word” folder can have subfolders named “Letters”, “Faxes”, “IRS correspondence”, etc.. (Don't use the quote marks - they are used here for clarity.)

3. Then in each of those programs go into “preferences” or “settings”, or wherever is appropriate, and set your new path and folder name there as the place to keep stuff. In something like Quicken, it wants its files where it specifies, but when you call for a backup in Quicken, you can specify the path/folder. So this folder you set up will always have duplicates of Quicken's files, ready to be copied out to the removable media you choose.

4. For programs such as Outlook Express or AOL, it's a good idea to save your address book, and your bookmarks. Finding the names of these files, and where they are located will be a good exercise for you in using Windows Explorer, and learning more about your browser.

NOTE: It is not absolutely necessary to do all of these previous steps if you're willing to do your backup work with all your files where they are now. These steps are just offered to make your job of backing up easier. If this is the case, you can skip to the section entitled “WHAT MEDIUM SHOULD I USE TO BACK THINGS UP.”

How Do I Get My Existing Files Into These New Folders?
If you don't know or can't find where the program stores the files you create, go into the program, generate a new document, and do a save on it. When the “save” window comes up, it may well show you the path/folder that the program uses. So you can now go to that folder, and find all the stuff you have done previously. While you're in the “save” window, you can now specify your new repository for your files in this program, assuming it will cooperate.

If this does not happen, do a search in Windows (START>SEARCH) to find that file, and the location path will be available there. Rather than move the existing files, I'd copy them into the new folder you set up. That way, if there are any “goofs” (perish forbid), nothing has really been lost. In the case of a program like Quicken, just open Quicken, and press CTRL+B. This should open the backup window, and you can type in the path/folder you've just made.

Later on, when you know that everything has been safely copied into your new folder tree, you can safely delete the files in their original locations if you want to do so.

When you've done this for all your important stuff, you will now have a new “filing cabinet” with “drawers” for all your important files.

What Medium Should I Use To Back Things Up?
In the “olden days”, the choices were fairly limited. Floppy disks and tapes were about it. These days, those two media are not the ones of choice. Floppies have limited storage space, and most people don't have a tape drive, nor should they bother to get one these days.

The two choices that I would recommend are external USB drives, which many people have or flash drives which many people also may have. If you're not familiar with these devices, you should become familiar - they are very inexpensive now and are the perfect media for backing up purposes, transporting, and archiving files.. Or you can use a ZIP disk, if you have a ZIP drive, or use a CD rewritable disk.

To “burn” a CD, you must be familiar with this process. If you have a recordable or rewriteable drive on your machine, there should be a software utility to handle copying files. Usually this utility is on the CD that came with your hardware. But, it's possible that the utility wasn't loaded on at the factory. Check through the manual or help files to learn more about this.

Remember, once you get into the habit of backing things up, you can feel more comfortable about not losing lots of time and effort trying to reconstruct things. And, when you get a new computer, your new machine can take the backup medium you used, and copy it all (as desired) onto the hard drive of the new machine.

One Further Recommendation To Save Your "Stuff"
One area that most users don't bother to consider, is the use of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). These units plug into your wall outlet, and then the computer and monitor plug into it. Many don't feel that this is of any value to them, but I'll bet that they've had a crash during a power blink. The primary use of such a device is to keep your computer and monitor running when there is a power failure, either an extended one, or momentary power blink. The purpose of a UPS is not to allow you to keep working for an extended period when the power goes off, but to allow you to save your work, and shut down in an orderly fashion. Or, when the power “blinks”, your system doesn't crash, and you lose the work that you have on screen. Even a one tenth of a second blink can wipe out what you're working on. And, if you haven't just saved it, you've lost it.

Furthermore, all computers should be connected via a high end surge protector to protect against line fluctuations and power surges. A UPS is also just about the best protection that you can use here. And, these days, UPS units are available for not much more than the cost of a good surge protector. Check Costo for some good values here. A capacity of 300-500 VA is a reasonable range for most home computers. Remember, as a minimum, you need to have your computer and monitor connected via the UPS. Without a monitor, your computer isn't good for much.

So, HAPPY backing up - try it. The day will definitely come when you'll be glad you did. And once you get to be an expert at it, you can impress your friends by teaching them. If you find this material useful, you may want to download this article in PDF format, from our web site http://www.brcs.org. This allows readers to keep the material either as a PDF file, and/or print it out, and place it in a looseleaf notebook for future reference.

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