Hack 96. Build a Better Backup Strategy
Don't be blindsided by disk crashes and other disasters. Here's how to have a backup ready at any time for any reason.
I used to use 3.5-inch disks for backup; to back up my hard drive using that method today would require approximately 98,000 disks. Granted, we don't use disks for major backup procedures anymore; nonetheless, a lot of the thinking that goes into a backup is still pretty ancient.
I don't believe any users actually set out on a given day to destroy a functional operating system, but you know as well as I do that it happens. A little tweak here, a Registry edit there, a power surge or perhaps a badly behaved application that trashes the computer. We've all been there and when it happens, I can almost guarantee you that if you listen closely you'll hear something approximating, "Darn. I meant to _ _ _ _ _," where the blank is whatever backup task you have been putting off.
In addition to making yourself do the backup, there are a few steps I recommend to make your backup procedure easier, more convenient, and more effective.
10.10.1. Map Out a Backup Plan
I recommend separating the operating system and programs from the data when it's backed up. All three componentsoperating systems, programs, and datahave become huge over the years. In most cases, lumping them into a single, large backup is a waste of time, especially for home users.
Before you actually back up anything you need to ask yourself some questions:
If the thought of losing one day's work makes the hair on the back of your neck stand upright, you'd better have a tightly structured backup plan and ensure that it's adhered to without fail. If you have a computer full of spam and Freecell stats, it doesn't make much difference when, or even if, you back up.
10.10.2. System Organization Aids the Backup Process
How you organize your system can make backup a relatively painless process. Structuring the system so that your datafiles are organized in one area facilitates pointing the backup program to one area instead of having to gather files from widespread locations. In Windows XP, the My Documents folder is an excellent choice for this purpose. Many programs default to saving created files in this location, including Office XP.
Many power users don't use My Documents because of its corny name; however, some of us have realized it's a nice shortcut to have (along with My Pictures); because the applications default to these locations, you have less chance of spreading your documents and photos around the computer trying to find your chosen folder. If you don't like the name, change it [Hack #12] . Or, if you'd rather use your own organization structure but want to designate one of your folders as "My Documents," you can do that, too [Hack #8].
Whatever location you choose, the important point is to use it for all the data you create and work with or modify on a regular basis that will be a part of the backup.
10.10.3. The Backup Utilities in Windows XP
While it isn't absolutely essential to have a utility specifically designed for backing up a computer system, it can make life easier. Both Windows XP Home and Professional come with what Microsoft calls the Backup and Restore Utility, better known as NTBackup. Unfortunately for XP Home users, Backup and Restore is not installed by default, nor is it as fully functional as the version installed by default in XP Professional. Supposedly, the reason it's not installed by default in XP Home is because XP Home does not support Automated System Recovery (ASR), which is a part of Backup and Restore. This in no way prevents you from making a full backup in Home Edition, but it does limit the recovery or restore options. Bottom line: if you have XP Professional, you're ready to go. If you have XP Home, follow these directions to install the Backup Utility manually:
Here are a few things every hacker should know about NTBackup.
10.10.3.1 I want my CDs!
This really should go under the "you've got to be kidding me" category, but NTBackup does not allow you to back up directly to a CD-R or CD-RW drive. Allegedly the best, most stable, and advanced operating system Microsoft has offered, XP, has no CD burner support in backup. The solution is to back up to an alternative drive and then copy it to CD. Many alternative backup programs are available that do support direct backups to CD-R and CD-RW. Microsoft says it's by design. I say it's from a lack of design. Considering how popular CD-Rs and CD-RWs have become as backup mediaand how inexpensive they arethis lack of design presents a major problem for most people.
However, there is a way to store your backups on CDs (or DVDs, if you're in the early-adopter wave and already have a DVD burner). First, back up as you would normally, and then copy the resulting file to a CD-R or CD-RW. If you have to restore a backup from the CD-R or CD-RW, you'll be able to do that directly; you won't have to copy the file to another medium first.
One problem you'll run across is that your backup might be larger than the 650MB or 700MB that CDs hold. To solve the problem, create two or more backup sets, each smaller than 650MB or 700MB (depending on your CD's capacity). Separating data from programs or operating system files as suggested earlier will help you do this. Then copy each resulting set individually to a different CD.
10.10.3.2 Restoring a backup
When a backup is created the data is not saved in the same way you see it in the backup window where you select the files and folders. A backup is a single file that has to be broken apart during the restore process. To do so, it's necessary to use the same program that created the backup file to restore it to your system. Normally this is not a problem, except in one special circumstance. Restore will want to return your data to the location it occupied during the original backup. For example, if you backed up data from D:\ and no longer have a drive D:\ when you want to restore, the process will fail.
10.10.3.3 XP Home, NTBackup, and ASR
Windows XP Home Edition does not support ASR. I've been told this is why NTBackup is not installed by default in Home, but if that's the case, why include the item on the Home CD in the value-added directory? Whatever the reason, it's something you need to be aware of, in spite of the option for ASR that appears in NTBackup when installed on an XP Home machine. XP Professional users are good to go with ASR.
10.10.4. Get a Better Backup Program
XP's built-in backup program leaves a lot to be desired. But there are downloadable try-before-you-buy backup programs that offer you more features. Two of the best are Backup Plus and NTI Backup NOW! Deluxe:
Jim Foley and Preston Gralla