Computer Guide

Don't trip up while backing up
by George Skarbek -21st March 2006

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Q: DOS was the operating system when I retired so when the children finally convinced me to buy a computer so that they could communicate with me, it was a steep learning curve. My question is about back-up. With so much of Windows having been upgraded online and all of my virus protection software downloaded from the net, how do I protect myself in case of a crash? Should I copy the entire hard disk to a stand-alone hard disk, which would then have to be updated periodically, or copy separate pieces of software to CDR or CD-RW?

A. This is a big topic and there is no one definitive answer but I am glad to hear that some readers are concerned about back-ups.
The best method, one that I recommend to my clients, is to have a physically separate hard disk and use some software to create a full image of drive C: using software such as Ghost or Drive Image. This will allow you to restore individual files or to restore the entire hard disk very quickly.

With a separate drive, if you do not want to buy additional software, you can copy all files to the new hard disk by using a simple DOS command. Assuming that your hard disk drive is drive X:, then create a one-line BAT file that reads as follows:

XCOPY C:\*.* X:\ /S /D /H /C /K
The first time this runs it will take a long time as all files will be copied to the new drive but subsequently only the changed or new files will be copied (the /D switch performs this).

However, this method has two disadvantages. One small disadvantage is that open files will not be copied but generally this is not a problem. The other is that if drive C: has to be replaced, you must then reinstall Windows, printers and most of the software. Just copying programs such as Word will not work as the registry entries will not exist on the new computer. Restoring from the image will reinstall everything, including permissions, users, shared folders etc.

Naturally, you can back-up individual files and folder to the other hard disk or CD. The hard part is finding out what is required. As a general rule you cannot easily back-up anti-virus and operating system patches and updates, and these will have to be reinstalled after a reformat.

What must be backed up is your data. Your data files are most likely stored in the folder My Documents and its subfolders, and this is the most obvious folder that should be backed up. However, there are many other important files that you should include in your back-ups such as mail, address books, favourites and your desktop settings.

Financial records are usually stored in locations other than in My Documents. MYOB files are .DAT files that usually reside in the \MYOBx folder where x is the version of MYOB that you are using. Quicken files are .Q* files located in \Programs\Quickenw\ folder or you can copy your back-up Quicken folder. Genealogy data is in folders dependent on the program.

As email is important to most users, you should consider backing up your received and sent mail as well as the address book.
The Address Book used by Outlook Express is a .WAB file. Search the hard disk using the Find command to locate this file. It may be in C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Address Book but it can be elsewhere.

Look at the date when it was last modified to confirm that you have the correct file. Outlook stores all its data in a .PST file.
Eudora's addressbook file is nndbase.txt and is found in the Eudora folder.

Outlook Express stores the mail in files that end in DBX. Favourites should also be considered. Internet Explorer stores them as tiny files, the default location being C:\Documents and Settings\username\Favorites and the subfolders for Windows XP or in C:\Windows\Favorites if you are using Windows 9x.

Note that even with two physical hard disks, you should copy your essential files onto a CD, DVD or USB drive and keep that media off site to protect yourself is case of fire or theft of the computer.

Q. I have inherited a computer that has the hard disk partitioned into six sections (5 x 9.75 GB & 1 x 7.04 GB), I am told that removing the partitions can be dangerous and I could lose some of my programs or data. Could you confirm this and advise the best way of doing it, please.

A. The advice that you have been given is correct. There is no software that comes with any version of the Windows operating system that can remove or resize partitions without destroying ALL data on the hard disk.

However, there are third-party programs that will allow you to remove and resize partitions without loss of data. Partition Magic is one such good program.

To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here