Wednesday, 25 November 2009

TIP - Backup or Synchronise

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Continuing the theme of hunting for a reasonably competent backup tool, and building on the two links I provided in the previous post to some of Gizmo Richards' superb freeware, I have stumbled across a couple more that might be of interest to you. But those will only be revealed to you in the next post.

First, let me put to bed some misconceptions about backups. My whinge in a couple of previous posts was that those dumb-asses at Microsoft appeared to cripple their backup solution by neglecting to backup .EXE, .DLL and .JS files on the grounds that they are executables and that the built-in backup programme is designed to backup only DATA.

Well, yes and no!

Microsoft, in its 'Big Brother' guise chooses to do this, because if you use their built-in proggy that is all you are going to get. Independent manufacturers ALSO choose to do this, for the reasons I shall mention next, but you have a choice of telling the programme that you use (if it isn't a Microsoft offering) that you want EVERYTHING backed-up. An option that would be nice in Windows if M$ allowed the choice!

Here are some reasons why it makes good common sense to exclude 'executables', assuming your installation is a standard one where your C-drive is the one on which you have installed your operating system. And to keep it from getting boring, it is the only drive I shall discuss here ...

  • Drive C:\ has all the Windows system files, 10GB at least. If Windows crashes and has to be reinstalled, all these files will be redone and rewritten by the Windows installer. So it is a pointless exercise backing them up.
  • Drive C:\ has a lot of temporary files, including all the cookies, temp folders, page files, system restore points, prefetch folders and other garbage you've picked up on the Internet. Maybe even some dormant viruses and malware. You want all temporary files to disappear when you reinstall Windows, so backing them up is not only useless, it could be harmful.
  • Boot sector and certain boot-related files ought not to be backed up. Your computer will require the new installation of drivers for its hardware and the old boot files will be of little use.
  • The folder C:\Program Files\ contains executable and graphics files of the programmes you installed. The folders in it are huge and not worth saving, because if you have to reinstall Windows, you have to reinstall all programmes that you installed in the first place (see below).
  • The Registry contains all your programme settings and more. Unfortunately it is a waste of time to back it up either, because the Registry is the first thing that gets irreparably damaged by malware and/or other malfunctions. A Windows reinstall has the specific goal of getting a new uncorrupted Registry.

I have just re-read the preceding 'advice' and I am not surprised that the average user is often confused as to what they should do. Allow me to reiterate: it is pointless backing up the WHOLE of Drive C:\ for the reasons I've laid out above. However, there ARE certain things that are essential to backup on that drive:

  • My Documents
  • My Pictures
  • My Music
  • My Videos
  • e-mail Accounts, Settings and saved Mail

Those are only a few of the things that require your attention, so my advice is to go through Drive C:\, folder by folder, and make sure you manage to identify EVERYTHING on that drive that is of a personal nature that won't be restored by a Windows reinstallation.

If you have more than one drive, or if you have partitioned that large single drive that came with your computer, then it goes without saying that you will need to look at those drives too to ensure you don't forget anything! In the case of multiple drives, the chances are that you needn't worry too much about the drives that don't hold your operating system. On the other hand, if you have partitioned a single drive, please remember that during reinstallation of the OS that there is a very good chance that Windows will require you to reformat the drive, possibly even demanding the deletion of any partitions you may have built. In which case EVERYTHING on that drive will be wiped clean!

There is a great deal more to this subject, but I think that is enough 'first-aid' to get you sorted in case you have to face the inevitable.

Inevitable? Sure!

Take another look at that computer that is sitting quietly by you (some aren't that quiet), and consider this; there are only two or three elements of that computer that are 'mechanical', and the hard drive is one of them. The platters spin at a phenomenal speed, typically 5,400 (desktop) to 10,000 (enterprise) rpm. The two speeds you are most likely to come across are '5400' or '7200'. The latter speed is achieved by using smaller platters, so you can expect the drives to be of a smaller capacity.


Anatomy of a Hard DriveAnatomy of a Hard Drive © Wikipedia 


To achieve the performance demanded of these fragile units they are sealed during manufacture. They all have a filtered 'air hole' to equalise the air pressure when they are spinning at their highest speeds, and the filter is good enough to stop any ingress of dust or debris.


It is when dust, measured in microns, manages to infiltrate the defences that things go dramatically wrong. The most miniscule of particles is capable of dislodging the super-light read/write head resulting in a 'head crash', almost the equivalent of a family car hitting a huge boulder at 100 mph, head-on!

No contest!

The next post will discuss a couple of FREE backup solutions.

Until then, take care ...


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Friday, 20 November 2009

Win, WIN7 …

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Windows 7 installed. Windows 7 working without a hitch. Windows 7 is a winner as far as I am concerned!

If you are still hesitant about taking the plunge, agonising about moving from XP or Vista to Windows 7, let me encourage you to do it now.

You will NOT regret it.

This is a brief update on my trials and tribulations concerning the disk failures I suffered, something that is of really no great importance to you. However, there are a few 'discoveries' I've made during this disaster (why is it that all personal problems appear to be disasters?) that might warn you about following a similar line of laissez-faire (French for 'leave it alone'). The old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is fine under most circumstances. I am here to tell you that adopting that attitude with your computer is bound to eventually give you grief.

A lot of it!

You are probably totally bored with the advice about backing up your system, and I don't blame you. It is a chore that I find mind-numbing in the extreme, although I follow the experts' advice and do a regular weekly backup. Usually on a Sunday. Scheduled for the time I feel I will not be using the computer, which allows the system to backup without any hindrance from me. And without the backup process slowing the computer down to a crawl when I am trying to use it. Makes sense, huh?

Oh, don't forget to backup to an external drive that isn't going to go TU if, or rather when, your hard drive fails. It is a pointless exercise backing up your disk to a partition on the SAME disk. Laughable? You might think so, but I recently read a tech newsletter where a 'professional' confessed rather shamefacedly that he did just that (a temporary measure, he said) and lost everything when his hard drive failed. Huge capacity drives, 1TB or more, are very reasonably priced these days, but it really depends on what value you attach to your personal data. Hiring a commercial company to retrieve your lost data would cost you five or six times the price of an external hard drive. No-brainer!

Next step in the backup process, equally boring, is to make sure that the system is actually doing what you asked it to do. How do you do that? Easy. Select one of the backups and 'Restore' it. I did that with my last computer.


Yep, a huge gotcha! I really didn't pay close enough attention as to HOW Microsoft does its backups. They tell you all the good stuff like how you can restore backups from an old computer to a new one with their built-in functionality, or transfer all your data and settings with one click, or how they have anticipated what you the idiot-user might need. But they don't tell you sufficiently clearly enough that the backup is less than complete. In some respects a total waste of time and space.


They consider these as 'executables', although they DO tell you that the backup is for your DATA only. Sadly, to my simple mind, the promise of a backup and the ability to restore it to how it was was, speaks volumes as to my ability to do just that, expecting my programmes to run seamlessly. Unforunately that isn't so!

Bummer! Had to find that out the hard way!

So in my case it became a 'double-whammy'! I managed to claw back bits of the backups from the unaffected backup disk (Maria doing the hard work of unzipping them), but they were less than complete, missing the executables. My earlier 'tests' to check that the backups could restore worked fine, because the backups reinstalled themselves into the folders that already had those executables in the folder. In those 'test' circumstances, running a programme after restoring a backup doesn't flag up any irregularities. So a dumb-cluck like me is happy that everything is working as it should!

When my web hosts had their concurrent RAID failure and advised all users of the server to reinstall their programmes, I didn't flinch too much. Even when they dismissed my attempts to get them to restore the backups that they ostensibly make on a daily basis. They took delight in informing me (at least, that is how it seemed!) that backups of my sites and databases was my responsibility (read the small print, Sir!). I quickly uploaded all the folders I had retrieved from my own backups to the server using FTP.


And I didn't know it until I started to see evidence of broken scripts on my website and blogs. Things that worked perfectly before the double failures suddenly didn't want to do what they were asked to. Graphics, which were unaffected, wouldn't display because the scripts that ran them weren't available. Mouseovers and pop-up boxes behaved similarly.

It has been a long, tedious process tracking down all these little devils, but I think most have been restored.

Moral of the story? Use a backup programme that backs up ALL your information. Here are a couple of links so that you can take a look for yourself.

Did I mention they are all FREE?

I shall be trying out some of these little gems to see which suits me best, but you needn't wait to go get one that appeals to you if you feel it is an absolute necessity to get into the backup habit.

And you should, you know! So, off you go ...

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