[bct] Backups

  • From: "Kelly Pierce" <kellyjosef@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 19 May 2006 18:25:47 -0500

After a good friend's hard drive crashed, which was recoverable, I got scared about my system and worked really hard to piece together a backup solution in the spring of 2005. last summer I wrote it all up in an article below. enjoy.


My Backup System

by Kelly Pierce

For years now I have been searching for a method to backup important data on my system automatically, seamlessly without me needing to remember to do anything. The trouble with burning all my data on a CD is remembering to do it and scheduling a time for burning when I am not using my computer. As a consequence, I end up saving my e-mail only weekly on Cd and overall data about monthly. My audio projects are too large to burn onto CD and the uncompressed audio files aren't transferred to CD until they are in final form, weeks or months from original file creation. If a hard drive crashed, yeiks! A lot of good work would be lost.

For me, backup nirvana would be a totally passive system. Once installed, it backups and saves new files, updates changes to existing files, and removes deleted files on a daily basis. It would not be in the computer case but outside, connected by a cable, so it can be removed instantly and safeguarded in the event of an emergency or evacuation.

My inspiration came after I read a Walter Mossberg column in the Wall Street Journal, which I will share below.

   The Wall Street Journal

   October 7, 2004; Page B1

   PC Backup Is a Must Now

   This Method Is Simple, Automated

   by Walter Mossberg

Backing up your PC is one of those things, like eating right or changing your oil on time, that everybody knows they're supposed to do, but too few people actually carry off well. For years, computer experts have warned users to back up their hard disks regularly, and for years, most people have ignored them.

That's because making such copies traditionally has been boring, laborious or expensive, depending on the method. I can still remember how, in my early days with computers, I'd sit for what seemed like hours during backups , feeding dozens of floppy disks into the machine. Later, I would fumble with balky tape drives and complex backup software.

But backing up your precious data is more important today than ever. Computers always have been fragile, subject to crashes and failures. Now, they are also the target of massive attacks by hackers, virus writers and other digital criminals. These assaults can corrupt or destroy your files -- including digital photos and music -- or force you to reformat your hard disk, which also wipes out files.

So what backup system will protect against such losses and still is easy enough to use so that people will do so regularly? I recommend buying an add-on hard disk, and using automated backup software to copy data from your main hard disk to this backup drive on a regular schedule.

To overcome user resistance, any backup method must be simple, unlikely to run out of space and automated. It also should operate unattended, on a schedule, without requiring any manual action by the user.

   [maxtor's onetouch ii] Maxtor's OneTouch II

That rules out manually copying files to blank CDs, DVDs or other types of removable discs. This method may work for some fastidious folks, but for most people, it requires too much manual effort to be effective. And you easily can run out of space, or blank discs.

Another method, subscribing to a service that backs up your data automatically over the Internet, has the advantage of being automated. But it can be expensive, and the Web-based services rarely offer enough space to back up most of the stuff on today's huge hard disks, unless you want to pay through the nose.

But the extra hard-disk method, if done right, provides plenty of space, and it can be completely automated and surprisingly economical. You don't even have to open up your computer or install anything internally. It's easy today to buy an external hard disk that plugs into a Windows or Macintosh computer via the USB 2.0 or FireWire ports and is instantly recognized by current operating systems.

Here's how I back up my own Windows hard disk: I purchased a 40-gigabyte hard disk -- the external plug-in variety -- for less than $100 after rebates. I keep it plugged into my computer. I also purchased online, for $35, a small program called SmartSync Pro from a company called SmartSync Software at www.smsync.com.

Every night at 2 a.m., the software springs to life and synchronizes key folders I designated on my hard disk with identical folders on the backup drive. After the first backup procedure, the program copies only new or changed files. If I accidentally delete a file or folder, I can easily retrieve it from the backup drive.

My method works well for me, but it may not be right for everyone. I did have to buy the drive and software separately. And the SmartSync Pro program isn't as simple as it could be. Plus, I am only backing up selected files and folders, while others may prefer to back up their entire hard disks, which might require a larger, costlier backup drive.

So I recently tested a simpler, all-in-one hard-disk backup solution, the OneTouch II, from Maxtor. This product consists of an external plug-and-play hard disk, which can be connected to either a Windows or Macintosh computer via USB 2.0 or FireWire. It includes simple, effective backup software that can be launched with the touch of a button on the hard disk. The software also can be run automatically, on a schedule.

The OneTouch II currently comes in only two relatively large and expensive versions, a 250-gigabyte model for $329 and a 300-gigabyte model for $379. They are bigger than most average users need, but the company says it will offer smaller OneTouch II models, at lower prices, early next year.

The key to the OneTouch II is the included backup software -- a special, simplified version of Retrospect, a well-regarded backup program from Dantz Development. The program can automatically back up your whole hard disk, or only selected folders and files.

In my tests, on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion PC, the OneTouch II installed quickly and easily, and the software worked fine. My only complaint was that the initial backup was very slow. Backing up 51 gigabytes took more than 12 hours. Subsequent backups , which only copied new or changed files, were much quicker. I deleted a couple of test files and was able to restore them rapidly from the backup disk, using the backup program's "Restore" function.

OneTouch II is a good product. But whether you buy this all-in-one solution or get an add-on hard disk and separate software, backing up your data to a second hard disk makes great sense.

   Write to Walter S. Mossberg at

the article mentions two programs: retrospect and SmartSync Pro. Posters on various blindness-related online mailing lists report that Retrospect is not accessible to the blind, working quite poorly with screen readers. What about SmartSync Pro? Well, I am please to report that I have found accessible backup paradise that allows me to sleep easy at night.

I used a SimpleTech 120-gigabyte hard drive connected to a windows XP home computer using USB 2.0 and the SmartSync Pro software described in the article. The SimpleTech drive runs quietly with no cooling fan. Users of Amazon and Cnet had no problems and loved the drive. I saw a great deal on techbargains.com at:


For a $30 rebate from buy.com and free shipping. This website is a great resource for finding the lowest prices on computer equipment. The drive came pre-formatted in FAT32, which was acceptable as it allows me to connect it to a windows 98 machine if necessary. The native file system for windows 98 is FAT32 and the native system for Windows XP is NTFS. Windows XP can accommodate both but Windows 98 can only run FAT32. Leaving the drive formatted in FAT32 gives me the flexibility to connect the drive in any computer produced during the past eight years, in the event that my system fails entirely. Included in the box was a USB cable and power supply. Installation took 60 seconds and totally consisted of plugging the power supply into a wall socket and connecting the drive to a USB port on my computer. My computer instantly recognized it as a separate hard drive and automatically assigned it a drive letter.

The big uncertainty was the accessibility of SmartSync Pro. The program is shareware, so I could try it for 30 days without buying it. Within hours of installing it, I loved it. It is really accessible, although some use of the JAWS cursor is needed though. The interface could be a little more straightforward, but I figured it out easily enough in a couple of hours. The software is incredibly flexible, performing backups on a schedule, in real time, or at certain time intervals, such as every two hours. A group of folders can be backed up at the same time on the same schedule or each folder can be configured to be backed up on its own terms. Unlike other programs, SmartSync Pro doesn't produce its backup in a proprietary file format. It copies exactly what is on your computer's hard drive to the external drive. New files are copied automatically. Files that have been changed are updated automatically on a schedule specified in the folder configuration. Deleted files are also deleted. However, SmartSync Pro confirms each deletion from the external drive in the event of an accidental deletion from your computer. The program also offers a second chance for deleted items, placing them in a special folder on your computer's hard drive for possible future retrieval.

Personally, I backup only my data files and folders. I don't backup my entire hard drive. I have heard of too many instances where a file became corrupted and re-installing the entire hard drive was not possible. Rather than add complexity and risk, I back up only my irreplaceable data that has taken many hours to create over the years. Windows, Winamp, Duxbury, JAWS, Microsoft Office, and sound Forge can easily be installed again and again. I do save customizable files from these programs, such as Real Player and Winamp bookmarks, word's customized dictionary, and similar files.

My schedule is so erratic that I can't commit to a set backup schedule as I don't leave my computer on 24 hours a day. I do though backup the "My Documents" folder every two hours and other folders every three hours. Some folders are backed up in real time while others used for archival purposes are backed up manually.

Finally, I can sleep easily at night knowing that if my computer's hard drive crashed at any moment and the data was completely unrecoverable I would loose nothing and instantly be able to take my USB drive and plug it into any PC produced during the last eight years or so and be back in business with little disruption to my life, work, or my projects.

Kelly Pierce

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