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Backing Up Your Data

by Steve Kunnecke

When the inevitable comes, and it will, and your computer dies, or gets a virus so bad all files have to be deleted, you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, because you know there's important stuff on your computer that isn't backed up. Someone said that a hard disk is like a light bulb, it's not a matter of if it's going to go out, just a matter of when!

There are a few reasons that most of us don't have up-to-date back ups. First, there's the Media problem. To what do you save your files?

Floppy disks used to be one solution, but now, it's not a reasonable solution because of the size and number of today's files. If you're depending of floppy's, then you're probably not backing up. You have to be prepared to spend some money to get a good solution. The reasonable choices are,), MO drive, Zip drive, another hard disk or a writable CD drive (CD R/RW).

MO drives are a popular solution in Japan, but are hardly used anywhere else in the world. They're expensive, and it you want to take files to another computer, then that computer has to have a MO drive as well. Zip drives were a good choice a few years ago, but the media is expensive, and again, if you want to transfer files to another computer, then that computer has to have a zip drive as well.

A second hard drive might be the way to go for some people. Lots of times I have helped people upgrade to a larger hard drive, and if there's room in the case (desktops only) then you can leave the old drive in, and back your files up there. It's cheap because your old drive was probably working fine, but you needed more space, but it won't work for laptops, and it's not portable. Also, if you get a virus on one hard disk, it probably will spread to the second drive as well.

My favorite is the CDR/RW drive. You probably know that this is like a normal CD drive, except it can write to blank CD's. It can even re-write (hence the RW part of the name) to certain kinds of blank disks. The beauty of this solution is that the media is cheap (about Y50 or less per disk), and it's very portable because almost every computer has a CD Rom drive now.

For your laptop, you'll have to get the external kind that usually hooks into the USB port (if your computer is more than 3 or 4 years old, you probably don't have a USB port, or if you're running Windows95, you can't use it anyway, even though there are some patches for Win95, they're pretty kludgy).

The internal CDR/RW drives can be had for less than 10,000 now, and the external drives are about twice that. One problem you'll have when you buy the drive in Japan is that the bundled software will be in Japanese. You'll probably have to have someone in the US buy Nero, Click and Burn, Roxio EZ CD, or any of the other popular software for this purpose (about $20-$40) and send it to you.

Putting in a drive is not too difficult, usually you can take out the existing drive and plug in the new one, or if the case has room, you can leave the old drive in, along with the new one. There are also services that offer back up space on-line. Don't know much about that, but perhaps another article can review these.

Now that you've got a practical way to save your files, you have to determine what to save. This sounds easy, but it isn't. It's impractical to save everything on the hard disk, so you have to determine where your data files are. For most of us, word processing docs, spreadsheets etc. are stored in the "My Documents" folder. If that's your situation, then the first thing to save is the whole folder.

If you decided to put them somewhere else, then you better figure out where they are. Just as important if not more, are your e-mail files. This is where it gets tricky. If you're using Outlook Express version 5 or newer, you can open Outlook Express, click on the "Tools" tab, click on "Options" tab, click on "Maintenance" tab, and finally click on "Store Folder". You'll probably see a horrific string of folders that will finally point you to where your e-mail files are stored. The main files all end with "DBX" (like index.dbx or outbox.dbx) so make sure you save everything that ends in "dbx", but just to be sure, you can just save the whole folder. Now beware that your precious address book is probably stored somewhere else. To find it, do a file search for "*.wab". The asterisk is a wild card that will find any file that ends with "wab" (wab stands for windows address book). If you have more than one "wab" file, find that one that's changed most recently, or is the biggest. You might also want to save your "favorites" file which has all those useful web sites you've been saving through the years (again do a file search for "favorites" to find where it is). One more that I usually forget is the "custom.dic" file.

This is the list of words that you've saved to your spell checker which probably include proper names of friends, and Japanese words we use commonly in English, like "eki" or "tai hen". If you're not using Outlook Express, then you need to do a little searching around to find where your files are stored. Every program is different, but it's something you should know.

Finally, you need to decide How to backup, meaning which program will you use. There's a backup program included with windows (Start-Programs-Accessories-System Tools) that might work for you. In a recent discussion on the Tokyo User's Group newsgroup two people recommended the program "Second Copy" but I don't know anything about it. I'm looking for a better program to use myself. You can go to any shareware site ( for instance) and find scads of shareware or freeware programs. What you want to do is tell the program which files to back up, and when to back them up. Do this once, and you shouldn't have to bother again.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January, 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN