It’s 11:00 pm. You’ve been working for a month on that term paper that’s due tomorrow and it’s almost finished. Suddenly, the music you’ve been playing in the background starts screeching and your screen is filled with blue and white text. Doubt and panic set in. You restart and pray to the god of zeroes and ones that the computer starts. Fingers are crossed. Breath is held.


Your computer crashed and decided that it was going to take your term paper with it.

Halloween is coming, but that’s not why I’m trying to scare you with the above scenario. Does it sound familiar? Hopefully not. If it does, you have my condolences. However, I hope you learned your lesson the first time around and are now backing up your files.

Forget about backing up everything. There’s no need to do that. It only wastes time and space. Computers can be fixed, applications can be reinstalled—but the only picture you have of someone important to you can’t simply be retaken. Therefore, your first priority should be to back up those files that you can’t easily recreate, like pictures and documents. Your second priority should be items like your music or video collection that can be replaced, but not easily.

Windows Vista and 7 have a built in backup program that’s pretty easy to use. You can even create a schedule for it to automatically back up your files for you. Users of Windows XP have a bit more work involved, because even though there is a built in program, you’ll probably find it not too user friendly. Instead, you best option is to go through an outside program such as Ace Backup or DeltaCopy—both available for free download.

On the Apple side, OS X has a program called Time Machine which will automatically back up your files to an external hard drive.

The general rule of performing backups is the “grandfather” rule. You should have three copies of your files–one for you, one for your father, and one for your grandfather. The idea is that each of these backups should exist in a different location.

If you only backup to an external hard drive next to your computer and your apartment goes up in flames, your backup goes with it. If you follow the rule though, you’ll have another backup in another location. Because let’s face it; if something happens to all three locations at once, you have bigger things to worry about than your data.

Backups can be made in through a variety of different routes, including software, external hard drives, and online storage. In an upcoming column, we’ll take a look at how you can develop a routine to keep appropriate backups using a combination of all three methods.

This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse

A variation of this post also appeared on in the Univeristy and College section:

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