Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Backups Made Easy, Part 2

Last week I wrote about using online services to back up your data. In between that column and this one about local, in-home backups, I discovered an additional, and mostly free service that I hadn't thought of as backup service: Picasa Web Albums can be used to back up your photos. If you use Picasa as your computer's photo organizing program or editor, you can easily and automatically upload your photos to Picasa online every time you add photos from your camera or smartphone. Google recently lowered their price for online storage: 20GB costs $5 a year; 200GB is only $50 a year. Here are a couple of tips about Picasa: If you use Picasa Web Albums to back up your photos, be sure to change the setting to use the photo's original size (the default is to back up at a lower resolution), and make your online albums not automatically viewable to the world (unless you want your photos to be seen by everyone). Sign up and download Google's free photo editing and organizing software at http://picasa.google.com.

If something's good, then two of them may be even better. That's true for cheesecake and backups. Everyone should use at least two backups. Why? Because backups can fail, just as your main drive can fail. And unless you regularly check your backup software's logs, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised one day when you discover that your backup has failed. A second backup helps prevent disaster, and preventing disaster is why we do backups.

I also strongly suggest having at least one remote backup and one local backup. A remote backup for total peace of mind, and a local backup so you can back up and restore files at lightning speed.

Backing up to an external drive is easy and fast, but not without problems. A virus that infects your computer, wiping out files, can easily destroy your external drive's backup, too. External drives aren't immune to fire or theft. External drives wear out and can die a sudden death. And the software you can get to back up your photos, music, emails, wordprocessing documents, spreadsheets and other data can simply decide not to work one day. (A program crashing and burning -- say it ain't so!)

Here's all you need to know to use an external drive as your primary or secondary backup. Buy the largest external drive drive you can afford, but at least double the size of your current hard drive. (Why double? Because that gives you the ability to back up multiple revisions of a document.) Plug the drive into your USB port, run your backup software, and that's it. The process of setting up an external drive backup should take all of 5 minutes.

For backup software, I use SecondCopy, http://www.centered.com. There are lots of other excellent backup programs for PCs and Macs including GFI Backup, http://www.gfi.com , Paragon Drive Backup, http://www.paragon-software.com , and SyncBack, http://www.2brightsparks.com. These programs vary in price and features. In addition to SecondCopy, which is very easy to set up, I've used SyncBack and can recommend it for reliability and ease of use.

Backups can be even easier with hard drives that come with a "one touch" or automatic backup program. These drives will either automatically backup your computer --no extra software needed-- or will back up your computer when you press the backup button on the drive. The TranscendStoreJet 25 Mobile, available on Amazon.com in hot red, is a 500GB drive with one touch backup. If you're a laptop user and always on the go (and don't have that much to backup), you might want to give the SanDisk 8GB Ultra Backup USB 2.0 Flash Drive, a pocketable thumb drive that does automatic backup.

It's easier than ever to back up. If you're taking pictures of your family this holiday season --and you like your family and want to keep those pictures-- then take time now to implement a backup plan.

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