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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Backing Up: Know Your Options

So last week I walked into my computer room and was met by an ominous ticking sound and an even more ominous error message: Operating System not found.

Only two years old, my high-end hard drive had died.  Now, I'm a Geek with a capital G, and I knew just what to do to recover the data from a dead drive.  Problem was, it hadn't just died, it had self-destructed inside.  See, there's a disk inside your hard drive, and it spins.  Well, mine didn't spin anymore. 

My data was gone, and nobody was getting it back. Right about then, a Geek friend of mine offers this on Facebook (where I was bemoaning the passing of said hard drive): 
Don't forget the Primary Directive: "Always Back Up." Alternatively, be more like Jesus. After all, "Jesus Saves."
I told him he was soooooo not helpful.

But fortunately, I'm compulsive about backing up, and all I lost was a few PowerPoint slides I'd edited into an existing (and backed up) presentation.

So...do you back up?  And do you do it regularly?  Let's look at some of your options, including a few Suzy and our readers suggested in a post last fall.

1. The Flash Drive Solution

A lot of people use flash drives.  I, personally, lose them.  Often.  Other people don't lose them...they just accidentally leave them in pockets that go through the wash.  Repeatedly. So I finally attached one to my keychain, and that seems to have taken care of my problem.  I use an 8 GB Verbatim that I love, though a lot of people swear by this Kingston drive or, if you prefer one without a cap you can lose, this one.

The problem with this solution, for me, is that I have to remember to plug my keychain into my computer.  I'm also a little paranoid about the possibility of losing it and having someone steal my manuscript.

The other problem is that I don't just want to back up my writing.  I also do a lot of photography, and 400GB of photos doesn't fit on an itty bitty flash drive.  So I decided to try an external hard drive.

2. The External Hard Drive Solution

Now this is cool. For a mere $80, I got a500GB iPhone-sized drive by a company that knows hard drives and includes sync software that really works: the Seagate FreeAgent Go. You just plug this baby into your hard drive, and it will automatically back everything up every night at a time you designate.

When I tell people about this drive, they often volunteer that you can buy a 1 Terabyte (that's a lot of storage space, folks!) Western Digital myBook at BestBuy for about $100.  What they don't realize is that the myBooks are kind of bulky, and they come in a distant...oh, 50th...in comparison to the Seagate.  I also have a WesternDigital myPassport, which I like, but it really does come in a distant 2nd to my Seagate thanks to inadequate sync software.

So for an easy, inexpensive, reliable all-in-one package, go with the Seagate.

Now I, like you, wonder what that means if there's a fire.  So I bought a second external hard drive, which I keep at work.  I bring it home once a week, back everything up, and take it back to work.

3. Sync Software

Let's say you already have a backup drive, whether it's a flash drive, an external hard drive, or something else, but you don't have good sync software for whatever reason.  Maybe your drive didn't come with it.  Maybe what came with it is confusing, or doesn't work well.

After comparing a bunch of sync programs, including expensive bigger-name applications, I found one that's easy to use...and free: AllwaySync.  If you use it daily, it will eventually prompt you to buy the pro version, but the license isn't expensive, and it's not just for today's version of the program...it's good forever, you'll never have to pay another dime.  This is the route I took to get the most out of my Western Digital myPassport.

4. Email Backups

The nice thing about modern email programs like Gmail is that all of your messages are stored online, rather than on your hard drive (as is usually the case with, for example, Microsoft Outlook).  Gmail also offers an outrageous amount of storage space, so you can email your manuscript to yourself just as often as you like.

5. Online Document Managers

Reader Iapetus999 reminds us that GoogleDocs and OfficeLive let you edit online documents from any computer. These applications even include helpers like spellcheckers, formatting, and sharing, so you can make sure your crit-mates are reading from the most-recent draft!  And as nightsmusic explains, applications like this "can be set to sync periodically while you're working on the document so you don't lose anything."

6. Online Hard Drives

Our readers like Mozy (which offers unlimited backup for $4.95 a month and will do an automatic backup once a day) and iDrive (which offers 2GB of space for free -- plenty for most people's writing).  PC Magazine gave their Editor's Choice Award to SOS Online Backup, and the Wall Street Journal is a customer.  It's more expensive than some, but offers a lot of power and is easy to use. Carbonite is an automatic backup service for $55 a year.  It's a tiny background application that continually looks for things that have changed on your machine and need to be backed up. For automatic backups on the Mac, try Time Capsule. Edit: A number of people recommended DropBox in the comments -- it's free! (Thanks, guys!)

7. The Hard Copy

It's a pain to print out a manuscript and put it in a binder, but if you're really paranoid (or a sci-fi buff who knows what an EMP is), it might be a good idea to do it quarterly and drop it off in a local safe-deposit box.  That way if the computer world ever implodes, all is not lost.

What did I miss? What are your tips for backing up?


Chantal said...

Thanks for all the information. I was recelntly wondering what all my options might be for backing-up. I use gmail religiously to backup individual files, but I like the other ideas of your's...I think I need the hard drive option...now to convince the hubs...

Candyland said...

Ooohhh this is close to my heart after having a computer crash. Thanks for the info!

Portia said...

I've done flash backups, external hard drives, e-mail ... My favorite has been Time Machine for mac, but I've also considered one of those online backup services (not just for my writing, but for all those baby pictures lurking somewhere!)

One note: My iMac failed three weeks ago (because of a hard drive issue) but it wasn't a big deal, because I could access everything on the external hard drive we used as our Time Machine backup. Just my two cents ...

Kristi said...

I had the same issue happen to my old laptop that you did and my IT guy couldn't get anything back. I lost some family pictures but had most backed up on a flash drive.

I use my flash drive every night to back up my ms and email myself updated copies. I've looked into Mozy but haven't set it up yet. I have books on both my Dell and my MacBook so I'll have to check out Time Capsule too. Thanks for the info!

Edie Ramer said...

I use Dropbox, which I can access from the Internet and from my Files. So if my computer self-destructs, I've got that. The version I use is free, which makes me happy.

Being slightly paranoid, I also send myself attachments, which I keep in my Gmail. And I use my flash drive.

lale said...

Amen to the seagate comment. I love my seagate- I have a larger one with an orange strip down the side that pulses in a very reassuring manner as it's backing up. Plus, I ordered the 250GB drive and Amazon sent me... the 500GB one. At no extra cost. I can't complain about that! :)

Jan Buck said...

I'm another DropBox fan. Saved my manuscripts from a recent computer crash. And you can't beat the free price and ease of use. Just drop your manuscript in. It keeps it updated automatically and is accessible from other computers if you want to set that up. It's a great app available on the web.

ClothDragon said...

I got the Mybook a few weeks ago -- not because anything catastrophic happened, but because Hubbies computer occasionally makes an odd sound that makes me worry it will. (And most of our older photos are stored only on his harddrive).

The reason for the Mybook rather than the others... Network accessible. And all-in-one. I didn't have to buy the harddrive separate from the network accessible box.

I can plug it into our router and set up automatic software on each machine in the house to back everything up. I don't have to plug it into each computer or remember to use it.

Now we should be safe from an odd one-computer breakdown. The house fire thing though -- that's a worry we're entirely unprepared for. And every time I think of that I think that I need to get a doggie door. Because losing our computers and our stories would hurt, but not nearly so bad as knowing ...

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

I'm always terrified of losing something. I back up regularly but probably not regularly enough. Just bought an external harddrive and I am a Carbonite subscriber. Love it.

ikmar said...

There are services that can restore data even from broken hard drives, but the cost is quite high. So unless you REALLY need the data, it isn't worth it.

Or you can be like these guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddCVayZX8hk
and spin the drive yourself :)

Diana said...

In addition to saving on my hard drive, I e-mail FROM one e-mail address provider TO another e-mail address provider. I figure that if my computer, the gmail servers and hotmail servers all die, it's because the planet has been hit by an asteroid and there won't be anyone left to read my manuscript anyway.

Dolly said...

I mostly use flash drive, and also save things on 2 pcs - occasionally if I am feeling more organised, I save them on 3. But flash drives work for me.

Falen said...

i used to use a flashdrive and email but now i just use dropbox. It's free and easy to use

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

My hard drive died just last night. I'm not diligent about backing stuff up, but I did a lot of work on my MS this weekend, so, just yesterday, I backed it up. Thank God. Now my computer if face surgery or execution, but my MS is baked up, in fact it's all backed up on an external, but my MS is the most important piece of data on my computer.

My computers never last more than two years, so I've decided to buy cheep. I have a netbook that cost next to nothing. I'll travel with that and leave my big laptop home.
Thanks for sharing

Kristi said...

If you have your own website somewhere (your own domain, not just a blog), you probably have storage space on a server for your web media files. Make yourself a little folder there that's password protected and drop a copy of whatever you're working on in it (vi FTP, or however you would otherwise update your website).

The upside here is that you can also pull the files back off to another computer, as long as you have a network connection. This is important for me, cause I have 2 computers I regularly write on (a laptop and a netbook), and I don't always remember which I was last working on.

Also, anytime you have a major milestone in a manuscript (finish a major draft, feel like shelving it for a couple of months, etc), burn it to a CD (with a few hundred meg of other important stuff) and stick it in a firesafe in your house or safe deposit box at a bank.

Melissa Sarno said...

I'm all about the e-mail and flash drive backups. In thinking long term, hard copy has its benefits (at least for the major drafts, not every single day of saving work). I still have some hard copies of stories from when I was a kid. All of the 'backups' of that writing, floppy and hard disk, are obsolete...

Cheree said...

Great post. This is great stuff to know, especially after I learned my lesson when my computer crashed and I only had the latest version on the computer.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I learned to back up the hard way too. I now have a flash drive, external hard drive and send emails to myself with my work of the day.

Mary McDonald said...

I used google docs for my first manuscript. I did it for the convenience of being able to edit while I was at work without having to constantly email docs, plus I didn't want to chance leaving anything on the work computer. However, I thank god I did that, because my computer died in August. I was 80% done with the book, but luckily, I had everything uploaded on google.

With my new one, I was just using my computer but thanks to this reminder, I just uploaded my re-polished manuscript and my wip to google. Thanks!

Sarah N Fisk said...

Also, remember that backing up isn't just for the case when your computer poops out. About a month ago, someone broke into my friends' house and stole all their computers and external hard drives (among other things). They had a baby about 2 months before this and lost ALL of their baby pictures because they were backed up on the hard drives.

I use SkyDrive (skydrive.live.com) to back up my MSs when I want to preserve formatting (Google Docs isn't so great at that part).

Icy Sedgwick said...

I email things to myself, I back them up onto CDs AND external hard drives, but I also save files on Box.net - like an online file storage thing. Very handy - and accessible wherever you have a web connection.

Katy said...

This made me laugh! If the computer world implodes, we will have a lot more problems than losing my half-finished YA novel!