Windows Vista Backup Strategies For Home Users
"Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency!" - Foghorn Leghorn
This article is intended to introduce the average home user to the various backup methods available and to provide a brief overview of these methods. By doing so I hope to show that backing up a computer is a quick and easy process. Backing up your Operating System and data is an essential step in computing. The number of users I have come across that have had to reinstall their Operating System losing all settings, or lost data such as documents, music, and pictures is truly sad. The reasons for this loss are varied but include viruses, hardware failure, and user error.
You can take the process of backing up as far as you want it to go. A successful and complete backup strategy should incorporate multiple backup methods and redundancies. IMHO, the only complete backup method for an Operating System is to use a disk image. A disk image is an exact copy of a hard drive or partition. It can be stored on another hard drive or partition, on another computer, or on removable media like a DVD or CD. Time and time again I've seen other backup methods permanently fail. Not always, but enough so that I don't rely I them. Other backup methods are not without their uses and again, a successful and complete backup strategy should incorporate multiple backup methods and redundancies. Backups for your backups you might say.
The XP version of this article contained some references to software that I do not actually use on my own computers. Some of these were very good options and I included them out of 'fairness'. I got a lot of feedback from people who said they just wanted to know the "easiest way" or the "most reliable way" or "the way you do it", so this version will not contain references to these programs. I'm going to discuss what I use either on my own computers, or in the case of Vista's built-in backups, that I set up for others who do not want to or cannot afford to pay for better 3rd party options (many of the options I'll show you are free though). The reason for this is simple. The programs I use are what I believe in. I'm using them because I've found they are the best and most reliable at what they do.
Before someone gets on my back about this: It will become very clear while reading this article that I do not like Vista's built-in backup programs for home users. While they are vastly improved over previous NT versions and a good option for the enterprise, far better options exist for those not in that environment (I'll try to explain as you come across each section). Vista's built-in backup programs have the advantage of requiring almost no interaction or computer knowledge. This comes at the expense of performance, memory, disk space, and customization. They are also slower to backup and restore than many third party programs. The use or non-use of Vista's built-in backup programs is entirely up to you.
These are the basic steps you should take to enable reliable, redundant backups:
1 - Partition your hard drives and/or add a second hard drive.
This allows for the next step.
2 - Separate your data from your operating system.
In this context, data refers to anything not part of Vista and the programs installed on it. This may include; pictures, music, documents, downloaded programs. Separating your data from the operating system keeps your data safer, allows for varying backup methods, speeds up the backup/restore process, and can increase drive performance (by reducing fragmentation).
Please note: This does not mean installing programs on a separate partition. This practice is outdated, unnecessary, and makes backup and restoration complicated.
3 - Create at least one source outside of your computer to store data (2 is better).
This can be an external hard drive, CD/DVD's, or another computer.
4 - Choose a method or methods to backup your OS and data.
The methods are detailed below. It's up to you to choose which is best for you.
5 - Store the important stuff somewhere else.
If your data is truly important (finances?, documents?) or irreplaceable (pictures?, music?, video?), consider storing that data in a secure (and preferably fireproof) location that isn't in the same location as your computer. For instance you may want to store DVD's or an old hard drive with that data in a safety deposit box at a bank, or a safe at a relatives house.
6 - Check your backups periodically.
Nothing lasts forever folks. Hard drives die, DVD's and CD's may become unreadable over time.
Vista Backup Strategies For Home Users
I. Main Page
B. The Basics
II. Partitioning And Organizing Your Files
A. Move Your Documents Folder
B. Partitioning using Vista’s Built-In Tool
C. Partitioning using Acronis Disk Director
III. Creating Disk Images
A. Vista's Windows Complete PC Backup And Restore
B. Acronis True Image
IV. Backing Up And Restoring Parts Of The System
A. Windows Vista System Restore
B. Driver Rollback
C. Passwords and Software Keys
V. Backing Up Data - Vista's Built-In Tools
A. Windows Vista Backup And Restore Center
B. Shadow Copies
VI. Backing Up Data - 3rd Party Tools
A. SyncToy v2.0 Beta
B. Second Copy 7
VI. Program Specific Backups
C. Internet Explorer & Firefox favorites
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