Computer Backups are Worthless

Has this ever happened to you?

Your computer crashes and you take it to a techie who gets it working again but needs to reformat (erase) the hard drive.  You get your computer back with nothing on it.  No problem you think, you have a backup of your important data on Disk, either CD/DVDs or a USB hard drive.  But when you try to restore you find:

  1. there is something wrong with the backup disks, either the data is corrupted or there simply is no data on the disk(s)
  2. the backup was made with software that you don’t remember or don’t have.  You need that software in order to restore.

If you can’t restore … your backups are worthless.

To prevent this happening to you, here are a few suggestions.

  1. When you do your backups, *always* check the results
    If you backup to CD/DVD, take that disk to another computer, put it in the drive and see what happens.  Does it come up to a ‘Do you want to restore’ prompt?  Are the files on the disk that you expect?  If you backup to a USB external hard drive, explore the results.  Are the files where you expect them to be?  Do you know how to restore them?
  2. Periodically test your restore capability
    Pretend to lose a file that you want to recover from your backups.  The easiest way to do this is to rename it.  For example, let’s say you have an Excel spreadsheet called TaxRecords.xls.  Rename that file to zzzTaxRecords.xls.  That way you still have the file, but your computer sees that the file TaxRecords.xls is gone.  Now try to restore that file from your backups.  For an example of this, see the Geeks on Tour Show Me Video on Backup to an External Hard Drive.
  3. Use a backup procedure that creates file by file copies of your data rather than backup ‘packages.’ 
    There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of different ways to make backups.  Every USB hard drive comes with software to make backups, there are lots of free backup programs you can download, and there are many backup programs you can buy. They all work a little differently.  I like the ones that result in file copies rather than backup ‘packages.’  If I can see a file, I can copy it.  If I only see a backup ‘package’ I need the original software to restore it.

I am currently using Windows 7 backup utility to backup my entire computer to a USB hard drive.  When I look a the USB drive, I see a folder labeled with the name of my computer.  When I click, I get options to Restore (and it works just fine), but I can’t look inside and see all the files.  All I see is this one ‘package’ that somehow contains all my files.  What if I changed computers and no longer had Windows 7?  How would I get my files?  I don’t know. 

I am also trying out the online backup service called Carbonite.  If I want to restore a file, I can browse all my online backed up files and pick the one I want.  True, this is using the Carbonite software, but it’s a service … with support … that I’m paying $50/year for.  I can trust that when I want to restore files to any computer in the future – I can.

My favorite backup program is still a freeware package called Karen’s Replicator.  You can set it up to copy whatever folders/files you want on any schedule you want, and you can see the results.  You will see the actual files – not a backup ‘package.’  For more information on this program see this past Geeks on Tour Newsletter.

Use Picasa to backup your photos.
Picasa gives you the best of both worlds.  First of all, it is SO simple to make backups of your pictures to CD/DVD – Picasa even burns the disk.  It will backup all the special Picasa features (edits, albums, face recognition) along with your pictures so you can restore to another computer, but it also is making file by file copies of your photos.  You don’t have to use the Picasa restore process to get your pictures back.  I have 10 years worth of photos backed up with Picasa.  I have no intention of using the restore feature to put all those on another computer.  But I know that, if I want a particular picture from 2002, I can find it on my backup CD.  Here’s a Geeks on Tour Show Me Video on How to restore a single picture from a Picasa Backup.

A happy computer user has good backups that they know how to restore.


Happy Computing!
Chris Guld,
Computer Education for Travelers

This entry was posted in General Computer, Picasa, Safe Computing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Computer Backups are Worthless

  1. Jim Weise says:

    I’ve given up on backup programs. The latest one to let me down is Genie-soft. A previous dud was Acronis.
    You can do a test restore with a backup program, but that doesn’t tell you if it will work in a few months when you need it.
    I now backup manually to 2 external hard drives – documents, Quicken, e-mail, favorites, music, pictures, software downloads, etc. I backup every day or two, using synchronization software. This is the only way I know to have a reliable backup.

  2. I like the online option the best. There are so many places to backup your file for free online. Another website to store your photos is facebook. You do not have to share them either. I also have two external hard drives for double backup. Not everthing gets doubled backed up though…Only the really important files.

  3. albert komin says:

    chris i read every article you publish.
    i think my pictures are most important to me (and my family)
    i use a WD external with it’s synchronization software and it works great until you add another folder within a folder. i find that the new folder within a folder is not backed up until it is selected to be backed up….you have to review the back up option from time to time.
    keep the articles coming. hope to see you again sometime.

    al komin, baltimore, md.

  4. John Schroeder says:

    I use Carbonite for backup. This is handy because it runs unattended. But this may cause problems also. It is important to check folders and files from time to time to make certain they are marked for backup. Folders and files not marked for backup will not be in the Restore files, if needed. As a precaution, in the event of a Restore, I put all my application files in one folder. Carbonite will not automatically backup an .exe file so each .exe file must be marked for backup. If it is necessary to do a Restore, all your application files will be restored along with other files. Saves a lot of searching and you know every application that must be reinstalled.

  5. Chris,

    I found that I “got burned”. The auto backup program that comes with Window Vista Home Preium saves the docs,photos, & MS Office Outlook Email in WinZip files. That makes you have to have the WinZip program to “see your stuff”.

    I am experimenting with Karens Replicator. Having a “photo immage” of “your stuff” is just so much easier! I, too, use a 1 Tbyt USB external hard drive to store my backups. For business purposes, Carbonite is safe?

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