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Windows Vista

Maintaining Your Windows Vista System : Backing Up Your Files

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7/14/2011 3:44:23 PM
In theory, theory and practice are the same thing; in practice, they’re not. That old saw applies perfectly to data backups. In theory, backing up data is an important part of everyday computing life. After all, we know that our data is valuable to the point of being irreplaceable, and you saw earlier that there’s no shortage of causes that can result in a hard disk crashing: power surges, rogue applications, virus programs, or just simple wear and tear. In practice, however, backing up our data always seems to be one of those chores we’ll get to “tomorrow.” After all, that old hard disk seems to be humming along just fine, thank you—and anyway, who has time to work through the few dozen floppy disks you need for even a small backup?

When it comes to backups, theory and practice don’t usually converge until that day you start your system and you get an ugly Invalid system configuration or Hard disk failure message. Believe me: Losing a hard disk that’s crammed with unarchived (and now lost) data brings the importance of backing up into focus real quick. To avoid this sorry fate, you have to find a way to take some of the pain out of the practice of backing up.

Unfortunately, in previous versions of Windows, backing up files was never as easy as it should have been. The Microsoft Backup program from the past few versions of Windows seemed, at best, an afterthought, a token thrown in because an operating system should have some kind of backup program. Most users who were serious about backups immediately replaced Microsoft Backup with a more robust third-party alternative.

That might not happen in Windows Vista because the new backup program—now called Windows Backup—is quite an improvement on its predecessors:

  • You can back up to a writeable optical disc, USB Flash drive, external hard disk, or other removable medium.

  • You can back up to a network share.

  • After you set up the program, backing up is completely automated, particularly if you back up to a resource that has plenty of room to hold your files (such as a hard disk or roomy network share).

  • You can create a system image backup—which Microsoft calls a Complete PC backup—that saves the exact state of your computer and thus enables you to completely restore your system if your computer dies or is stolen.

If there’s a downside to Windows Backup, it’s that it’s not very friendly to power users. It’s completely wizard-driven, and there’s no way to configure a backup manually.

As a measure of how important automated backups are in Windows Backup, when you first launch the program (select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Backup Status and Configuration), it displays the page shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. When you first launch Windows Backup, the program prompts you to configure and start the Automatic Backups feature.

Configuring Automatic File Backups

Follow these steps to configure and activate Vista’s Automatic File Backup feature:

1.
Click Set Up Automatic File Backup and then enter your UAC credentials to load the Back Up Files Wizard.

2.
The wizard first wants to know the backup destination. You have two choices (click Next when you’re ready to continue):

On a Hard Disk, CD, or DVD— Select this option if you want to use a disk drive on your computer. If you have multiple drives, use the list to select the one you want to use.

On a Network— Select this option if you want to use a shared network folder. Either type the UNC address of the share or click Browse to use the Browse for Folder dialog box to select the shared network folder.

3.
If your system has multiple hard drives, the wizard asks you to select which of them you want to include in the backup. Deactivate the check box beside any drive you don’t want to include in the backup (you can’t exclude the system drive, however), and then click Next.

4.
The next dialog box provides you with a long list of file types to back up, including documents, pictures, videos, and e-mail, as shown in Figure 2. Leave the check boxes activated for those document types you want to include in the backup and then click Next.

Figure 2. Use this wizard dialog box to specify the file types you want to include in the backup.

5.
The next dialog box asks you to set up a backup schedule:

How Often— Select Daily, Weekly, or Monthly.

What Day— If you chose Weekly, select the day of the week you want the backups to occur; if you chose Monthly, select the day of the month you want the backups to occur.

What Time— Select the time of day you want the backup to run. (Choose a time when you won’t be using your computer.)

6.
Click Save Settings and Start Backup to save your configuration and launch the backup. Windows Backup lets you know that it will perform a full backup of your system now.

7.
Click Yes.

8.
Follow any instructions that appear on screen, particularly if Windows Backup asks you to insert or format a disc. After the backup starts, click the File Backup is Running icon in the notification area to watch the progress.

9.
When the backup is done, click Close.

The next time you run Windows Backup, the initial window shows you the backup status, when your system was last backed up, and when the next backup will occur. The window also sprouts several new options:

Back Up Now— Click this option to rerun the entire backup.

Change Backup Settings— Click this option to change your backup configuration by running through the Back Up Files Wizard’s dialog boxes again.

Automatic Backup is Currently On— Click the Turn Off button to disable the automatic backup feature.

Creating a System Image Backup

The worst-case scenario for PC problems is a system crash that renders your hard disk or system files unusable. Your only recourse in such a case is to start from scratch with either a reformatted hard disk or a new hard disk. This usually means that you have to reinstall Windows Vista and then reinstall and reconfigure all your applications. In other words, you’re looking at the better part of a day or, more likely, a few days, to recover your system. However, Windows Vista has a feature that takes most of the pain out of recovering your system. 

The safety net used by Complete PC Backup is actually a complete backup of your Windows Vista installation; this is a system image. It takes a long time to create a system image (at least several hours, depending on how much stuff you have), but it’s worth it for the peace of mind. Here are the steps to follow to create the system image:

1.
Select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Backup Status and Configuration.

2.
Select Complete PC Backup.

3.
Click Create a Backup Now and enter your UAC credentials to launch the Windows Complete PC Backup Wizard.

4.
The wizard asks you to specify a backup destination. You have two choices (click Next when you’re ready to continue):

On a Hard Disk— Select this option if you want to use a disk drive on your computer. If you have multiple drives, use the list to select the one you want to use.

On One or More DVDs— Select this option if you want to use DVDs to hold the backup.

5.
Windows Complete PC Backup automatically includes your internal hard disk in the system image, and you can’t change that. However, if you also have external hard drives, you can add them to the backup by activating their check boxes. Click Next. Windows Complete PC Backup asks you to confirm your backup settings.

6.
Click Start Backup. Windows Complete PC Backup creates the system image.

7.
When the backup is complete, click Close.
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