A while ago I wrote about The importance of being backed up.  Since then I still haven’t sorted out an automated backup, although I have been better at manually backing up my important files on a regular basis.

I’ve also read what some others have written on this subject and picked up a couple of interesting thoughts from this article:

The easiest and most inexpensive way to backup data such as pictures, home movies, or financial data is to burn the files to a DVD. […] I can’t stress enough though, once the data is backed up please move the discs off site from your home. If there is a fire you will lose the data on both the computer and your backups. If you cannot find a place to put them away from home, buy a DATA fire safe. [… The] price is well worth the investment.

Another solution which makes it easy to save data offsite is by using an online backup solution. These sites can be found by searching for a remote offsite backup solution. They will charge you a monthly fee typically and can be very expensive depending on how much data you have. There is also the argument of them having access to your data […]

Back to the idea of an automated backup, and why I haven’t yet sorted it out.  Apart from the usual excuse (time) I have been researching the software available for automated backup and wanted to be able to present some options with this article.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I have looked at a few programs that claim to backup data.  Here are my findings, which you may or may not agree with:

  • Areca Backup

    This looks promising, perhaps for a future release.  At the moment, although everything appears to be in place, I felt that there wasn’t enough help for a new user.  I couldn’t find the simple information needed to set up a backup routine quickly.  I’m sure it’s possible, but I was trying to find something that would allow me to schedule backups with the minimum of fuss.

  • Windows Backup

    • XP: Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Backup

      For a simple, scheduled backup, this will do the job.

      However, it doesn’t support ordinary compressed files, this would mean that you would have to use Windows restore to get your files back.  Although it appears that there is an option to compress, I couldn’t get it to work on my test computer (so the backup files would be bigger than necesssary).

      Some of the programs below let you get your files back using an ordinary archive program, on any computer.

    • Vista: Start > All Programs > Accessories > Maintenance > Backup and Restore Centre

      This is an easy to use way to schedule the backup of some specific data, but it does not allow you to configure files and complete folders to be backed up, and you can’t back up any executable files.

      If your Hard Disk isn’t very organized, it might be worth using this at least to do a one off backup of documents, photos, videos etc. as this should find them for you wherever they are on your computer.

  • Backup and Shutdown

    This is “almost there”.  It uses standard compression methods and is very configurable.

    There are lots of features, including easy to read progress bars during backup and the facility to send an email with a log of a completed backup.

    The “schedule” works in a slightly different way to others I’ve seen.  Rather than set specific days/times to backup automatically, the program is configured to “expect” a backup every X days.  If you don’t run the backup within that time period an email reminder is sent (provided the program is opened).

    On the down side:

    Although it is highly configurable, and the controls are reasonably intuitive, some aspects of the program do appear to be overly complicated.

    There isn’t an automated schedule.  This isn’t a program you can “set up and forget” you have to run the backup yourself, although as mentioned above you can set it to remind you to run the backup (if you set the program to start when the computer is switched on).

    The program choices are: Backup and Shutdown, Backup and Restart, Backup and Log Off, Backup, Shutdown, Restart, Log Off.  This suggests to me this would be a good program to run instead of just shutting down your computer.

    It isn’t possible to set up an incremental – or differential – backup (as far as I can tell).

    When running the wizard the program encountered an error – it didn’t crash the program but I couldn’t get the wizard to complete.

  • Cobian Backup

    This is the best program I could find and seems to do everything you could want from a backup utility.


    • Supports Incremental and other types of backup
    • Fully configurable scheduler
    • Support for multiple backup profiles
    • Support for standard compression types (zip and 7zip)
    • Configurable emails e.g. on success or on failure
    • Configure events to run before and/or after the backup runs (e.g. shutdown, or stop a program and restart it)
    • Can be run as a service, or as an application
    • FTP support
    • More features…

    In short, I couldn’t think of anything I would want a backup program to do that this couldn’t!  I will be using it and will report if I encounter any programs.  The only thing that didn’t work for me was “drag and drop” of files/folders, but I don’t know if this was a problem with the program or something to do with Vista (which I was testing on).

Of course you must use whichever backup program you choose entirely at your own risk, and I’d still recommend doing a manual copy of data once in a while (as recommended in the quotes above).

The other thing you can do is synchronize data in 2 locations, which does give some protection to your data. I will cover this in another post in the future, as there are other programs that specialise in synchronization. However, synchronizing should never be used as an alternative to backup – if a problem occurs with one of your files, synchronizing would then duplicate the problem, and destroy the good copy!

If you know of any other backup programs, or have experience using any of those above, please post a comment.