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Don't Lose Those Pictures!

Updated on March 14, 2018
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Robin Olsen holds a B.Sc In Computer Systems and has over 20 years of IT Experience.

Now what?
Now what?

Backups - the new 'shoebox in the closest'

Today millions of computer owners have thousands of pictures and thousands of songs stored on their computer hard drives. Add to that resumes, love letters, tax returns and whole host of other pieces of personal data we really don't want to lose and clearly the personal computer has become the proverbial 'shoebox in the desk drawer' of the 21st century. It is our filing cabinet, our photo album, our record collection and our portable recreation center and it is down right inconvenient when it doesn't work.

These are what your virtual 'shoe box' full of old photos will look like in the digital age. The USB device is the better option for the most part.
These are what your virtual 'shoe box' full of old photos will look like in the digital age. The USB device is the better option for the most part.

Ask yourself this question, what would you rather lose? Your car for a day or your computer for a day. If you answered 'your car' then read on, this article is for you.

Backing up your data does not have to be intimidating but it does involve making some choices. What is the best way to backup your data? Is there more than one way to do this? Do we use a DVD drive, a USB drive or good old fashion tape backup drives? The answer is ... it depends.

This is not us! Now you can breath again.
This is not us! Now you can breath again.

The good, The Bad and the ... out of date

OK, ok so no one uses a tape drive anymore except very large corporations so except for the fact that you would probably never want to do that, it depends.

First let's get the bad out of the way, hand held flash drives are for temporary file storage for the purposes of transfer and should not be used for long term backups in my opinion. There is a reason these are only 10 bucks, they are not very durable.

DVDs are a good choice, they can hold a lot of pictures and documents and the software that makes use of the DVD as a backup drive is usually shipped with the OS itself so there is not a lot of extra expense except to purchase blank DVDs. The software is relatively straight forward and easy to use. You can write on the DVDs and as long as the storage is right, the data will keep it's integrity on a DVD for a long time.

Good ole' standby, this way always works but has it's limitations.
Good ole' standby, this way always works but has it's limitations.

The downside is that DVDs can usually only be written to once and then they are sealed. This means you will need separate DVDs for each time you backup. In the end you wind up with a bunch of old backups you no longer need as you really only need to keep you latest good backup (and sometimes the one before that but at home you really need to go no further than this). Another down side is that the software that ships with the OS, while usually easy to use, is limited in it's capability. Sometimes you either have to backup everything, which is redundant, or you can back up nothing. The software does not give you much choice in the matter. To get robust backup options you will need to buy separate software. Backing up everything is time consuming and will chew up a lot of DVDs depending on what is on your system. Most of us only need to backup our profile and data directories and so, in order to do this, most of us will wind up purchasing software with more robust options.

You can always back things up manually, selecting one file or directory at a time and physically copying into the DVD burn folder. This will ensure you only get what you want and you need only purchase blank DVDs to do it but it is a time consuming process that you will have to repeat every time you backup your data.

This is a very robust solution for the average home user. Just plug it in and start copying.
This is a very robust solution for the average home user. Just plug it in and start copying.

The other option is USB external hard drives. These generally cost more than DVDs for sure but are much much larger, in the terabyte range now - which is really lots of space, more robust and can be easily and repeatedly reused over and over again as much as you want. When the backup is done you can simply remove the USB external Hard Drive and store it someplace safe til you need it again. You can pick up a USB terabyte sized external hard drive from Walmart for roughly $100.

So what's the down side? Well, that backup software that ships with the OS will probably not even recognize the USB drive as a legitimate backup drive so you either have to do manual backups or purchase backup software that allows you to designate customized backup locations and devices.

I suppose the computer savvy among us could create a batch script to backup certain directories but for most of us it is either manual of purchase some software. Fortunately a GUI interface helps the manual process along quite nicely and depending on how you store your pictures and music, you can simply drag entire folders over quite easily.

The Virtual World
The Virtual World

Backing up over the icloud (or just 'cloud' for the non-Apple users out there) is not a bad solution but given all the hype recently over data snooping, the NSA etc, I prefer to keep my backups local. If you do wish to use the icloud then I implore you to read any agreements very carefully to ensure you keep ownership of your photos and music and other personal files. Many of these sites take ownership from you and some won't allow you to delete these backup files at a later date. Also consider what would happen if your computer goes down and you cannot get access to the internet. All of a sudden your critical backups are not even accessible by you.

Better back that up!

Do you care about the data on your computer?

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Local vs. Offsite

Would you prefer to keep your backups local or in the icloud?

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poor Jim
poor Jim

What's your Preference?

What type of backup do you prefer?

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Well, that's it... backing up is pretty easy really

In the end, how you decide to backup your data is up to you DVD or USB drive, or something else but you really should backup your data on a regular basis. Too many times I have had friends and customers alike come to me after the crash and wonder if I can get anything back as they have no backups and it is only after the crash they realize that the home computer has become the photo albums and encyclopedias of the 21st century. Don't let this be you.

My personal preference is to do manual backups to USB External devices as robust backup software is too much money for me to want to spend on something like that at home and I do not want a bunch of DVDs with dates written on them that I have to sort through when I need to recover a file.

This is not a good idea for a permanent backup option.
This is not a good idea for a permanent backup option.

I would like to end it with a quick word on those handy dandy cheap little flash drives we see all over the place at trade shows etc. These make for very poor permanent backup solutions. They are not robust enough and tend to have a much shorter life span than a external USB drive. These small devices are good for moving data around but not for permanent storage.

© 2012 Robin Olsen


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