Why I Take Backups seriously - and why you should, too.

Today it happened again to one of my colleagues. She opened Word and found that she’d lost all her work from the last week. And she couldn’t get it back. It happens to us all, however careful we are. But there are ways we can insure against it.

I lost six chapters from my second book, ‘Devonshire’. This was way back when every household was lucky to have one computer. I copied a blank file over my work instead of the other way around. Back then, that was fatal. And I had no copies of it. I had to write those chapters all over again. Through my tears.

Several years later I found that Word had deleted a day’s work. With Softmaker, the program I replaced it with, it happened again. Twice. If I hadn’t been backing it up to a different place with a different program I would have lost the lot, not just one day’s work, which was bad enough. After a lot of digging, I found out what was happening. Word, and most of its competitors, deletes the original backup file before it copies the new file in its place. So if something happens between the deletion and the new file being put in place, then you are out of luck. If your computer crashes, or the power fails, or you drop your laptop, you can lose all your work.

Some programs do incremental backups, which means they put a new file in place with the changes, but only the changes, not the whole work. You’ll see that as a “version.” So if the original file is lost or corrupted, then you’re stuffed again. And it can delete all the incremental files, leaving only a file that is a week old. At its worst, it can corrupt everything in the backup folder. Don’t trust one program alone to look after your work.

Currently I use Atlantis Word Processor, which copies the whole file to a folder you can put anywhere you like. I have it in my Documents folder, so it gets backed up with everything else. Every now and again I go in and delete the files I don’t need any more, but it doesn’t take up too much space. It hasn’t failed me yet, but even if it does, I have other backups of my work. It doesn’t mean I’m safe, though. You’re never completely safe, however hard you try, and one day, you’ll get that sinking feeling when you realise that a lot of work is missing.

Do your backups. Set up a system. Don’t rely on manual methods, or a flash drive, or emailing the book to yourself.

Once that precious book is with the publisher, or uploaded to a distribution site like Amazon, then there are more copies, and they are kept independently of you, but until then, you alone are responsible for your work.

Backup methods

I’m on a Windows PC, but these tactics are equally valid for a Mac, or a Chromebook, or a Linux system. I describe the Windows system, since that’s what I use, but there are equivalent Mac methods.

Pick three of these methods, and use them. While setting it up will take time, you can save your settings, so you’ll only ever have to do this once. Take a day off to do it. It’s so worth it.

Built-In Backups

Microsoft Windows (not Microsoft Office) and Apple have a similar backup system. In Windows, it’s called File History. It’s really useful and pretty reliable.
Do a search for “File History.” It will direct you to a page that looks like this:

File History 1

Turn it on. Click “more options” and you get this page:

File History 2

You can pick the files you want to back up, and how often you want them backed up. When you’re asked to choose a source for the backups, pick a hard drive that your main data isn’t on. That’s right, buy a new hard drive, or use one that is already inside your computer. I use three old hard drives, smaller ones, and I use Windows Spaces to make them into a RAID array, but you really don’t have to go this far. Just use the program. It saves incrementally, that is, it only saves the changed bits, and adds it to the record, so it’s fast, and you won’t notice it once it’s on and running. If you want to restore the files, it’s easy, too. There’s a wizard to help you. The setting I use, “until space is needed” means that it runs entirely on its own. Once the hard drive has been used, it will delete the oldest ones to make room for the new. So you need to look at the size of your backup, and make sure you get a hard drive large enough to cope with it. I don’t keep really old copies. Every now and again, I’ll save my whole data drive to a drive that I generally keep unplugged, so that if a disaster happens, I have that. I use it mainly for the files that don’t change very much, like my music and videos.

In a Mac, the same service is called the Time Machine. You save to the cloud, or to a separate hard drive. I haven’t used a Mac for a long time, so I’ve not seen this service in action, but it works the same way as File History, and it has a wizard to help you set it up.

Back up your data to the cloud.

You can use Drop Box, or One Drive, or Carbonite, Gdrive or any other service. I have 30gb in my One Drive cloud storage space, which is perfectly adequate to back up my essential documents. But I don’t let One Drive into my original files because if the sync goes wrong, yes, you guessed it, you’ve lost the lot. Or maybe I’m just super-paranoid.
I set a schedule in Syncback (see below) to copy what I want backed up to a separate folder on my computer. Then I point One Drive at that. It’s a bit more complicated, but since I just schedule the copy, it just does it. OneDrive has a wizard that I find really confusing, so I keep it as simple as possible. And sometimes it goes down just because it feels like it. Plus, I’m using space owned by somebody else, which is always a worry.
I also use Gdrive, which I find more straightforward. First you log on to your Google account. I’d recommend setting up a gmail account specifically for Gdrive, and then you’re not eating into your email space. Gmail allows you 5gb of space for everything per account. Open the account, and navigate to Gdrive. At the bottom left of the screen, you’ll see a “Download to desktop” link. Click on that, and save to your computer, then install it. Follow the wizard to back up the files and folders you want. It also has a folder called “Gdrive,” which you can put anywhere you want.
Gdrive has one killer function. You can save all your pictures for free. You have to choose the “high quality” option, which is fine for most purposes, point it at your Pictures folder, and it will do the rest. If you install it on your phone, too, it will backup all your photos as you take them. Life saver!
You can also use more than one Gdrive account, if you set up an email for them. At present you can use up to three, so you can get up to 15gb.
I back up my pictures to my main account, because it’s free, and the other three accounts hold my vital documents, the books I’m working on, and a few other things. Like OneDrive you can copy the files you want it to backup to a separate folder, and point Gdrive at that (apart from your pictures!) I use Syncback on a schedule to do that.
You should back your full size pictures up elsewhere, but Gdrive is such a good way of instantly copying your pictures, that it should be part of your strategy. Ensure Gdrive opens with Windows, and you’re good to go.

Commercial backup programs.

I used to write my own backup scripts, but with such great software available, it’s really not worth it, unless you’re a geek. I use a program called Syncback. I’ve used it for years, and it’s fantastic. And I use the free version, because that’s all I need. The paid version will save your work continuously, or incrementally, but I don’t really need that.
I’m recommending Windows programs that I’ve used and I’m happy with. I’ve never used a Mac, so I have no personal experience of using the programs recommended for it, but the ones I looked at were well reviewed. Don’t think that just because you own a Mac and you have Time Machine, that it’s all you need to do. Your computer is just as vulnerable as a PC in this instance.  

Easeus ToDo

(Windows only, though it does offer Mac tools for recovery). The interface looks like this:

Easeus ToDo
https://www.easeus.com/backup-software/tb-free.html
It has a wizard, and all you need to do is follow it to be up and running. 

Aomei Backupper

Strange name, good program. A little trickier to get the hang of, and I found it ran quite slow, but since you’re doing all this in the background, it doesn’t matter a great deal. (Windows and iphone). It will do incremental backups if you want.

Aomei Backupper

https://www.aomeitech.com/aomei-backupper.html 

SyncBack

I always, always go back to this one. It has a far better control of details, so you’re not saving your temp folders, for instance, and it will do continuous backups. But it’s not as straightforward to set up as the other three. On the other hand, once you’ve set it up the way you like it, you can save your settings to a file, and then you never have to fiddle with it again, you just restore everything from the backup settings folder.

SyncBack
https://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html  

5. Since I don’t use a Mac, I haven’t used any of the programs mentioned in the article below, but Lifewire is a good site, and all the programs it mentions look good. As with Windows, pick more than one, i.e. use Time Machine and at least one of the others to back up your precious stuff.
https://macdaddy.io/mac-backup-software/

 

Strategy

It’s called the 3-2-1 rule.

Back up your important stuff at least three ways, using at least two different programs to three different places. I use File History and SyncBack for this.

I have a File History hard drive in my computer. Then I have a 4tb external hard drive, and a 2tb portable hard drive, as well as two drives that I mostly keep unplugged. Because if you make a mistake, when your backups are permanently plugged in, you could replicate that mistake, and then what good are the backups? I also have folders in the cloud, on OneDrive and Gdrive.

File History backs up every hour. SyncBack backs up continuously to the 4tb hard drive. I use Syncback to copy folders and files to my OneDrive and Gdrive folders, which are backed up every four hours.

I back up the same set of folders to my portable hard drive once a week, again using Syncback. However, I unplug the portable drive between backups, as insurance against the propogation of errors. Then at least, if something disastrous happens, I have a week old copy of my data. The portable hard drive is also handy for when I travel. It means I don’t have to copy data to my laptop, or my tablet, because I can just plug in the small drive. That also means that I’m not dependent on the internet, so I can take a long plane journey and take all my stuff with me. 

That’s how paranoid I am. And it doesn’t count the backups offered by programs like Word and Atlantis, which you should of course utilise, but don’t depend on them.

One last thing. To be safe, it’s advisable to partition your hard drive, or use separate hard drives for your operating system and your data. So Documents, Pictures, Videos and Downloads should go into another part of your computer. Then, if your operating system crashes, you won’t have to faff around restoring your data.

Now do your backups. Don’t put it off another day, because tomorrow you could open that empty file, where your masterpiece used to be.

The initial setting up can take some time, so set aside a day for setting them. Follow the instructions carefully, do a test run, and then save those settings. That way you don’t ever have to do the setup ever again. If you get a new computer, or you refresh your system, all you have to do is reinstall the program (Syncback for me), and then restore the settings.