This past Monday, the author of the Securosis blog recommended computer backup systems as “The best gift for non-geeks that isn’t on their list (and they won’t appreciate, but really need.” This followed a post from November 16th about why backups are a pain and what he(?) thinks would make them better. (I’m only assuming that “rmogull” is a “he,” but it is statistically more likely.)
Both posts are well worth reading. Rmogull is a Mac user, so a likely sort for those of you who want to know more about Macs than I can tell you. (My last Mac ran System 7.1 and my experience with OSX comes from brief interactions with clients’ computers.) The basic concerns he(?) raises apply to both Mac and Windows machines, and I’d guess to Linux as well, though I’d rather hear more on that from a Linux expert.
So why are backups a pain?
As it is I own AT LEAST one external hard drive for every PC/Mac, not counting my small NAS. That’s a lot of drives and a lot of manual backups, and I don’t backup on the road. Eventually I’d like to have all my home systems automagically backup on the network every night, but that has to wait I can move to gig Ethernet and get a bigger, faster NAS.
This is well beyond the average home user’s capabilities. As our entire lives and family histories move to fairly unreliable PCs (and Macs; they lose hard drives too) we could be destroying our social records. Despite constant warnings I still can’t get ANY of my family members to reliably backup their digital photos.
Hence his(?) inspiration to write an article recommending backups as a holiday present. (Or birthday present. Or un-birthday present. There’s no time like the present for a good backup system.)
But if really effective backups are beyond the average home user’s skills (or budget), how do we go about giving the gift of backup?
First, as with oxygen masks on airplanes, make sure you have a backup system for yourself first. If it works for you and you don’t think of yourself as a geek, then it will probably work for your less-technical friends and family members. (You might persuade your more-technical family members to help out.)
In many cases your best bet is to get an external hard drive and some basic backup software (I use SuperDuper on my Mac). […] A bunch of the external drives now include basic software for free, and you can plug in the drive, install the software, and just check up on it every now and then.
I would tend to agree with that. It may not fit your budget (or their needs) to give you nearest and dearest NAS drives like the Maxtor Shared Storage II that Seagate’s clever PR department sent me, but I have to say that its automatic backup works quite well and it’s a practical solution for the young parents taking digital video of their offspring’s every step, or a family which owns several computers. I actually like the fairly basic file-oriented backup on the Shared Storage II better than Retrospect, which comes with many of the One-Touch backup drives.
Unless you’re buying for a geek (who should already have a backup system), simplicity is the key. You want it to be easy to use, and preferably automatic, so it doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t remember to back up. The Ur-Guru recommends Acronis True Image 9 for complete system backups (you can also recover individual files). I haven’t gotten his verdict on the just-released True Image 10 (US$49.99). But you should still be able to get True Image 9 cheaply online if you want to stick to the tried and true (er, sorry about the pun) version.
If money is tight this holiday season (or you just know dozens of people without backups), you can donate some of your time to help them set up free software like Karen’s Replicator or SyncBack Freeware, or an online system like Mozy. You’ll need to sit down and do some prioritizing before signing up with an online backup system, because of size limits. And, of course, online backup won’t work for anyone who is still using dial-up, which is about 40% of the U.S.
You can also hire someone else to set up a family member’s backups. The Geek Squad charges $229 to come to your house and set up an automated backup system. That seems a trifle high to me, but it depends a lot on the individual circumstance. Setting up Mozy takes about 10 minutes, though the actual time to run the first backup depends on your upstream Internet speed. The last time I did this for a client, the whole process, including uploading and checking the status of the backups, took less than an hour.
Even if you don’t choose to give your family a backup system, give them a little backup awareness. Send them a copy of the newsletter or point them here to the FileSlinger™ Backup Blog.