I have been telling people for years that the most important thing you can do with your computer is to back up your data. You don't necessarily need to back up everything on your hard drive, but you need to make frequent and regular backups of the data that you create.
All of us get a little lax in this requirement. When I was at NAS Key West, we would tell the employees that were attending our computer classes, "Now I am going to tell you to do something that you will not do: back up your data!" Many of these "students" would start making backups of their data on a regular basis. Then it would be less regular; then, finally, months, or maybe even years would go by between backups.
Those who have a CD or DVD burner (CD-RW or DVD-RW drive) on their computer have a handy way to make backups of their data. If you have such a system, you may need to purchase backup-specific software to set up automatic backup times for your system. Most of these programs, such as Genie Backup Manager Pro (www.genie-soft.com), allow you to schedule unattended backups to CD-RW and DVD+/-RW drives at whatever time you desire. Just make sure that you have a large enough media in the drive to contain all of the data.
These backup programs allow you to back up files in specified folders or only those files that have changed since the last full backup. This last feature, called an incremental backup, not only saves a great deal of space on your backup media but also speeds up the backup process.
There are those who would tell you to backup EVERYTHING: data AND programs. I personally do not see the need to backup the programs. Programs can always be re-installed after the event that requires you to restore the backup. The data can only be "reinstalled" if it was backed up.
There are some backup services that allow you to make your backup over the Internet to an Internet server at somewhat distant location. This is a good plan, if you are running a business. These services have a subscription fee, usually not too great, and, of course, they do require a broadband connection to the Internet. A business can write off the expense as a business expense. Since home users do not have this option, I recommend that home users do two local backups. Keep one copy at home and put the other copy at some other location such as a safe deposit box or someone else's home. That way, if your house catches fire you will not lose all of your backups.
If you want to use an online backup service, search for "online backups" using your favorite search engine. Two such examples are Carbonite.com and Mozy.com. Carbonite.com ($49.95 per year), automatically backs up new and changed files while your computer is idle and does not slow things down when you are using the computer. Mozy.com offers a service for home users for $4.95 per month ($59.40 per year). With Mozy, you schedule your backups when you like; it then automatically does the backup when you specify. Mozy also offers a free backup service, but it is limited to 2 Gb.
Whichever method you choose, do-it-yourself or online, make sure you do your backups regularly and consistently.
If you have a computer-related problem or question that you would like answered in this column, please send it to the Cedar Key Beacon by email at editor@cedarkeybeacon or PCTech@islandcity.net.