Keep Important Files Safe with a Sound Backup Strategy

So what’s a section on data backup doing in an article on system maintenance? Well, the short answer is that far too many users overlook the importance of regularly backing up their critical data files. If (and more realistically when) a system failure of some sort does occur, you’ll want to be sure that you still have access to all of your critical data files such as documents, email messages, and so forth. In a nutshell, the cost (in terms of time) of ensuring that you have all of your data backed up is worth its weight in gold should the unthinkable occur – in fact, without the backup you could be looking at spending hundreds of pounds trying to have your data recovered in cases of hard disk failure.

Thankfully Windows systems since 95 all include a built-in Backup utility. Windows Backup is your primary defense against data loss, so get to know it well. If you happen to be running Windows XP Home, you may need to install the program manually as it isn’t installed as part of the default XP Home installation process. Once the program is installed, it’s accessible from the System Tools menu, and opens in an easy-to-use Wizard interface. The Advanced mode of the program is also accessible from the wizard.

When trying to decide what to back up, take stock of which files on your system are important to you. Key files that should always be backed up include any documents, spreadsheets, important images, email data files, and so forth. The location of these files can differ depending upon the operating system version and applications you’re running, so you’ll need to check where your programs store these files. For example, Outlook Express will store your email in a series of files with a DBX extension in a folder similar to C:\Documents and Settings\Dan\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{CD6E366E-02BB-4051-8271-786CE0E93945}\Microsoft\Outlook Express, which might not be immediately apparent. It would be a shame to lose important email messages, so be sure to keep the fact that some programs store data files in unique locations in mind when planning your backups.

As far as timing is concerned, we’re big proponents of backing up your system at least once per week, with once a month being an absolute (and potentially dangerous) minimum. If your PC includes a writeable CD or DVD drive, backing up to this type of media is probably your most effective option – saving backups to your hard disk is generally a bad idea because you could end up losing both your live data and backup versions in the event of a disk failure.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.