April 2015 Backups (Again)

Backups, Recovery Disks and Windows 10.

It was a while ago when I last wrote about backups, but I think it is probably time to go into it again. It is scary how often I find myself at someone’s house with a messed up computer, and no backup. It is an easy thing to do these days, and yet frequently people don’t do it. From my point of view it’s just an inconvenience and I can more often than not get those irreplaceable pictures and documents back one way or another, but it always adds to the time needed to sort out the problems. Often, with a good backup, you can ‘Recover’ your messed up PC back to its factory settings, and restore your documents by yourself. If so you will have done most of the time consuming work yourselves. You might not even need to call someone like me for the bells and whistles that bring it up to date, make it safe and to connect to your various other devices and networks. That thought alone ought to be an incentive to do a backup! Sometimes though the hard disk dies completely, and it is all but impossible to get the data back, or, as has become increasing common these days, you find you are a victim of Ransomware. This is very nasty software that encrypts all your valued data so that you can no longer access it, and won’t unlock it or decrypt it for you unless you pay, and don’t believe that they will leave you alone after that! In such cases the only sensible place to get your stuff back from is YOUR backups.

So please, just consider for a moment what you have on your computer. If you have anything that you would be upset about if you were to lose it, then get it backed up so it is in at least 2 places, preferably more, and try to always keep one copy away from your computer.

It is easier to do backups now than ever before, and there are really two main types.

Cloud Backups

Cloud backups are gaining ground. The idea is simple, your files are copied to ‘The Cloud’ automatically and should you ever need to get them back, then you need to know how to access whichever Cloud backup you are using and use their facilities to bring back your data to whatever you want it to be on, be it the same computer or a new one. These systems are often ‘free’ for a while, or until you find you have ‘saved’ more files than the space they give you to get started, and then you have to either reorganise your data, or pay for more space. Cloud backup services have their place, but if you use one, make sure you know what it’s called, what’s being stored, how to get it back again, how much space you have left, and how much it is costing you, or will cost you once you become dependent on it.

Physical Backups

I prefer a good old fashioned backup, something that I can hold in my hand and be in control of. Something I can carry about with me in case I need something in a hurry, and won’t be lost with the computer if a fire ever broke out in my office! Memory sticks and external hard drives are getting both smaller and cheaper all the time. CD’s, DVD’s and Blue-Ray disks are too easily scratched, and not as easy to rewrite (if at all) so you can end up with a mess of optical disks unless you are very well organised.

I don’t want to go into the details of how to do a backup here – there is some more information in my Backup Newsletter from November 2011, most of which is still valid. I just wanted to urge you to make sure you don’t lose your stuff.

Recovery Disks

I mentioned the word “Recover” earlier. Most modern computers allow you to reset it back to its factory settings. It can be quite a straightforward and simple thing to do, but there are a couple of situations when it just isn’t. If your Hard Disk drive dies, or if it gets badly enough corrupted that the place where it stores the Recovery information is lost, then what can you do? Well, then you will need your Recovery Disks. It used to be that you got these in the box with the computer. Now, I may be a sceptic, but it seems to me that the computer companies have decided to save themselves a few pence by not making these for you but instead expect you to make them yourselves. Some of you may well remember being reminded a few times to make these, but were probably too eager to get on with using your nice new PC, so you said “Later” a few times, but didn’t notice that after a few reminders it didn’t nag you anymore, and that usually means that you didn’t make them. Of course should you need them, you can buy them from the manufacturers, but they will cost you a lot more than they would have if you had made them yourself – for which you need just a bit of time and a few blank DVD’s.

OK so I think I have made my point. If you don’t have Recovery Disks, then make them, if your system supports the feature. Look in the manual for instructions, or have a hunt around in the Start Menu for anything that talks about Recovery. By the way, some more modern systems allow you to use a USB Flash Drive instead of DVD’s. That’s fine, but be aware that you probably won’t be able to use the Flash Drive for anything else, and some systems need a large capacity Flash Drive, as big as 32GB. Whatever you use, keep them safe.

Combining Backups and Recovery Disk

It is quite possible now to effectively make your own ‘Recovery Disks’ which are effectively a full snapshot or image of your entire system, which you would realistically need to store on an external drive. This however is not a very practical idea to do regularly, but it’s a great thing to do if have just had to do a Recovery and spent time setting everything up the way you want it. At that point if you made your own ‘Partition Backup’ or ‘Image’ you could use that one rather than the factory reset one, if you ever had to reset your system again as you wouldn’t need to spend so much time getting everything the way you want it as it would already be mostly there.

Windows 10

Microsoft is planning to release Windows 10 this year. Many people had difficulty with Windows 8’s Start Menu, and this is one of the more obvious changes in Windows 10 as it currently stands. The full screen Start Menu will still exist but will only appear by default on smaller devices typically with touch screens. Bigger screened devices will by default use a sort of hybrid between the old twin-columned Start Menu of Windows 7 and earlier, but the right hand side will consist of the Smart Tiles that make up the current Windows 8 Start Menu. This I think gives the best of both worlds, as you can decide what goes onto this section, how big each item is and even if it shows live data or not.

The last I heard it was due out at the end of the summer, and that Microsoft would at some point make it a free upgrade to everyone who was on an up to date version of either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. So look out for it, I don’t know how they will do it but somewhere along the line Windows 7 and 8.1 users will be offered the chance to upgrade for free, and I think that is a great move from Microsoft. And of course if it is going to be a free from Windows 7 or 8.1 then if you do want to buy a new computer now, then you don’t need to worry about waiting till later in the year to get the latest version, you’ll get it anyway.

And finally …

OK that’s it for now, thanks for your time; I hope some of you found some of it useful. Feel free to forward this on to others if you want to.

As usual if your PC / Network / Internet / Email / Backup or whatever isn’t running smoothly at the moment, my number is below, or if you want to ask the odd question or have any suggestions for a topic for another Newsletter or you are finding something particularly frustrating / problematic on the computer front, why not send me an email.