Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Technology for Writers, Part Three: 
Backups, They Don't Just Save Data

By Mary Winter
Mary Winter

As you stare at the computer, the blood drains from your face.  Several frantic calls to friends, family, and even tech support yield the terrible verdict: your computer has died.  It's every writer's worst nightmare.  As a technology professional with a large corporation, I deal with the effects of dead computers on a weekly basis, and when people don't have a backup, it's not a pretty event.   But you can avoid having your work dissolve into the abyss of dead hard drives and crashed operating systems.

How do you avoid this trauma?  Back up your files.

If you haven't backed up there are services out there that will try to recover your data for you, but those services aren't cheap.  It's far more economical to ensure you don't need their expertise.  But, if you have the money and don't mind waiting, you can pay for the service.  Most of us, however, don't have that kind of disposable income.  So, how can we back up?

The important part of backing up is to ensure your backup is separate from your computer.  After all, it makes no sense to put an extra copy of your files on your hard drive, because when your computer "crashes" you won't be able to access those either.  Secondly, store your backup in a safe place.  A locked fire safe in your house might not be a bad idea (that's my biggest fear: what if I should back up and the house burns down with both my pc and my backup?).

Depending on the amount of data to back up, there are a few common methods.


1)     Uploading the data to an online source, such as Yahoo! Briefcase or extra space on your web hosting plan

2)     Using a tape backup such as Iomega Zip Disks

3)     Using a flash (pen) drive

4)     Burning the data to a CD

5)     Using an external hard drive

Let's work our way down the list.  Our first option is utilizing an online storage service for our data.  At first glance this solution appears ideal.  Not only do you not have to worry about keeping some kind of backup media, but it's as easy as completing a form on a website.  The drawbacks, however, are many.  First, especially with free services, you might be limited in the amount of information you can store.  Also, some companies may have privacy policies that impact how you can use the data, or how they can use the data you upload.  And, filling out that form, especially for someone with a lot of files, can be a pain.  Then, with online companies, what happens when the company goes out of business?  Can you access your backup then?  If you have only a few files, or aren't picky about who, or what, has access to your files, online services might work.

Tape backups, such as Iomega Zip Drives, are another method of storing data.  The new Iomega 750 drives hold nearly as much as a CD.  Older models are limited to only 100 or 250 MB.  Media costs are much larger for zip drives as well.  Plus, like any "floppy" media, the archival quality isn't perfect, and the initial cost of a zip drive is more than that of other methods of backing up.

The new flash, or pen, drives make transporting data easier than before.  Literally the size of a pen or smaller, these tiny drives can hold up to 1 GB of data, more than enough space for the most prolific of authors.  Plus, the smaller drives start at $20-$30, making them affordable.  

Of all the methods, burning the data to CD is the best option.  Most computers come with CD-RW (CD Rewritable) drives, and purchasing one for those that don't, internal or external, is fairly inexpensive.  Blank CDs are also inexpensive, and each CD holds quite a bit of information.  As long as a CD is kept safe, it can last forever.  This makes CDs a great way to back up computer files.

An external hard drive can also be used for backing up files.  While these devices offer vast amounts of storage, they do have a few drawbacks.  Like any electronic device, an external hard drive runs the risk of corruption and failure.  Otherwise, an external hard drive offers a lot of storage for a moderate price. 

With all methods, simply copying the files or folders to the backup device will ensure a copy is kept in case of computer failure.

I've only listed the five most popular means of backing up files.  Other people may have other methods, and like anything, if it works for them there is probably no reason to change it.  However, for those who haven't made a habit of backing up, I hope this article provides an overview of backup methods and encourages them to begin backing up.  As I tell my customers at work, it's like car insurance: we all hate to pay the premiums, but when we need it, we're glad it's there.  Just think of backups as insurance for your computer.