Windows 7 : Backing Up Your Files

11/25/2010 4:37:17 PM
In theory, theory and practice are the same thing; in practice, they’re not. That old saw applies perfectly to data backups. In theory, backing up data is an important part of everyday computing life. After all, we know that our data is valuable to the point of being irreplaceable, and you saw earlier that there’s no shortage of causes that can result in a hard disk crashing: power surges, rogue applications, virus programs, or just simple wear and tear. In practice, however, backing up our data always seems to be one of those chores we’ll get to “tomorrow.” After all, that old hard disk seems to be humming along just fine, thank you.

When it comes to backups, theory and practice don’t usually converge until that day you start your system and you get an ugly Invalid system configuration or Hard disk failure message. Believe me: Losing a hard disk that’s crammed with unarchived (and now lost) data brings the importance of backing up into focus real quick. To avoid this sorry fate, you have to find a way to take some of the pain out of the practice of backing up.

In versions of Windows prior to Vista, backing up files was never as easy as it should have been. The old Microsoft Backup program seemed, at best, an afterthought, a token thrown in because an operating system should have some kind of backup program. Most users who were serious about backups immediately replaced Microsoft Backup with a more robust third-party alternative.

The Windows Backup that debuted in Vista was an improvement on its predecessors:

  • You could back up to a writeable optical disc, USB flash drive, external hard disk, or other removable medium.

  • You could back up to a network share.

  • After you set up the program, backing up was completely automated, particularly if you backed up to a resource that has plenty of room to hold your files (such as a hard disk or roomy network share).

  • You could create a system image backup that saves the exact state of your computer and thus enables you to completely restore your system if your computer dies or is stolen.

The downside was that Windows Backup was not very friendly to power users: It was completely wizard driven, and there was no way to configure a backup manually.

The version of Windows Backup that comes with Windows 7 improves upon the Vista version by giving you quite a bit more control over what gets backed up. Also, the lame Backup and Restore Center is gone, and the revamped Backup and Restore window is a big improvement.

You launch Windows Backup by selecting Start, typing backup, and then clicking Backup and Restore in the search results. Figure 1 shows the initial version of the window.

Figure 1. When you first launch Windows Backup, you see this version of the Backup and Restore window.

Configuring Automatic File Backups

Follow these steps to configure and activate Windows 7’s automatic file backup feature:

Click Set Up Backup to start the Set Up Backup Wizard.

The wizard first wants to know the backup destination. You have two choices. (Click Next when you’re ready to continue.)

  • Local hard disk or optical drive— The Save Backup On list shows the available drives on your system, and you use this list to select the drive you want to use.

  • Network share— This is the way to go if you want to use a shared network folder to store the backup. Click Save On a Network, then either type the UNC address of the share or click Browse to use the Browse for Folder dialog box to select the shared network folder. Type a username and password for accessing the share, and then click OK. Make sure the network share is selected in the Save Backup On list.

In the What Do You Want to Back Up dialog box, you have two choices. (Click Next when you’ve made your choice.)

  • Let Windows Choose— Select this option to leave it up to Windows 7 to select what gets backed up. This includes everything in your user profile, including your documents, pictures, videos, and email.

  • Let Me Choose— This is the way to go if you want more control over what gets backed up (and who wouldn’t want more control over such a crucial procedure?). This is a big improvement over the Windows Vista backup program, which gave you very little control. When you click Next, you see the dialog box shown in Figure 2. The folders in your user profile are all selected by default. If you want to include any other folder, open the Computer branch, drill down to the folder, and then activate its check box. Click Next when you’re done.

    Figure 2. Activate the check box beside each folder on your system that you want to include in the backup.

In the Review Your Backup Settings dialog box, click Change Schedule to open up the How Often Do You Want to Back Up dialog box.

Make sure the Run Backup On a Schedule check box is activated, and then set up your preferred backup schedule. (Click OK when you’re done.)

  • How Often— Select Daily, Weekly, or Monthly.

  • What Day— If you chose Weekly, select the day of the week you want the backups to occur; if you chose Monthly, select the day of the month you want the backups to occur.

  • What Time— Select the time of day you want the backup to run. (Choose a time when you won’t be using your computer.)

Click Save Settings and Run Backup to save your configuration and launch the backup. Windows 7 returns you to the Backup and Restore and shows the progress of the backup.

When the backup is done, the Backup and Restore window looks something like the one shown in Figure 3. As you can see, there’s now all kinds of useful information here, including the backup size, the free space on the backup drive, the previous and next backup dates, and the schedule. The window also sprouts three new options:

  • Back Up Now— Click this option to rerun the entire backup.

  • Change Settings— Click this option to change your backup configuration by running through the Configure Backup Wizard’s dialog boxes again.

  • Turn Off Schedule— Click this link to disable the automatic backup feature. (Click the Turn On Schedule link to reinstate automatic backups.)

Figure 3. The Backup and Restore window after performing at least one backup.

Creating a System Image Backup

The worst-case scenario for PC problems is a system crash that renders your hard disk or system files unusable. Your only recourse in such a case is to start from scratch with either a reformatted hard disk or a new hard disk. This usually means that you have to reinstall Windows 7 and then reinstall and reconfigure all your applications. In other words, you’re looking at the better part of a day or, more likely, a few days, to recover your system. However, Windows 7 has a feature that takes most of the pain out of recovering your system.

The system image backup is actually a complete backup of your Windows 7 installation. It takes a long time to create a system image (at least several hours, depending on how much stuff you have), but it’s worth it for the peace of mind. Here are the steps to follow to create the system image:
Select Start, type backup, and then click Backup and Restore in the search results.

Click Create an Image. The Create a System Image Wizard appears.

The wizard asks you to specify a backup destination. You have three choices. (Click Next when you’re ready to continue.)

  • On a Hard Disk— Select this option if you want to use a disk drive on your computer. If you have multiple drives, use the list to select the one you want to use.

  • On One or More DVDs— Select this option if you want to use DVDs to hold the backup.

  • On a Network— Select this option if you want to use a shared network folder. Either type the UNC address of the share or click Select, and then either type the UNC address of the share or click Browse to use the Browse for Folder dialog box to select the shared network folder. Type a username and password for accessing the share, and then click OK.

The system image backup automatically includes your internal hard disk in the system image, and you can’t change that. However, if you also have external hard drives, you can add them to the backup by activating their check boxes. Click Next. Windows Backup asks you to confirm your backup settings.

Click Start Backup. Windows Backup creates the system image.

When the backup is complete, click Close.
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