One of the questions I get asked a lot, usually while I’m standing in the checkout line at the store, is “Jim, quick question, how do I backup my computer?” Unfortunately there is not a quick answer to that. The answer to that question depends a lot on how you use your computer. It depends on which information that resides on your computer matters to you the most. When your hard disk crashes, what information would you not want to lose? Once you determine the answer to that question the backup answer gets much easier.

There are only a few types of data that people really want to backup. Emails and email folders, contacts, calendars, internet “favorites or bookmarks”, documents, music, pictures, and videos. I usually split those data types up into two types of backup scenarios.

The first backup scenario is email folders, contacts, and calendars. The easy answer to this backup question is, put your email in the cloud. Good examples of modern cloud based email systems are Microsoft (formally known as Hotmail), and Google’s Gmail. I am of course a huge fan of Microsoft The transition of moving your stuff over can be a little less painful if you simply forward email from your old email address into your new one. A huge advantage to keeping your email, contacts, and calendars in the cloud is that when you setup these accounts on smartphones and tablets, your information just shows up on the devices without any extra effort really, and that information also stays “in sync”, so when you make a change on one device, that change automatically changes on all your other devices without any extra work.

Ok, you’re done. Now when your hard disk crashes, it doesn’t matter, all that information is safe in the cloud, assuming the cloud doesn’t crash on us; in that case it won’t matter because we will all be screwed alongside you.

The second backup scenario is your documents, music, pictures, and videos. This information is often stored locally on your computer and when your hard disk crashes your stuff goes with it. Someday soon, the easy answer to backing up all this information will also be, “the cloud”. However this part needs just a little bit more explaining.

All of this information takes up a certain amount of space on your computer’s hard disk. Documents don’t consume much space at all. Pictures take up more space than documents, music takes up more space than pictures, and video’s take up more space than music. In order to determine how to back this stuff up and where to back it up to, you need to determine how much space this stuff is taking up, and how much space you have available to back it up to.

In the digital world you always want two copies of your files because when one copy gets lost, you will have another copy to rely on. There are many ways to back up your files, but I will only talk about 3. A USB flash drive, an external USB hard disk, or the Cloud.

USB Flash Drive

USB External Hard Disk

The Cloud


A flash drive is a small cheap ($20 or so) ultra-portable thumb sized device that can contain a certain amount of data. A USB ext. hard disk is a slightly larger device ($50 – $100) that can contain much more data than a flash drive. The cloud exists on “servers”, on the internet that replicate data across to other servers so that if one server goes down the data will still be safe on another.

If you have a few documents and some pictures a USB flash drive is usually fine for backing up data on to. If you have a LOT of data, like years’ worth of pictures, music and videos, then a larger ext. hard disk might be better. The cloud is increasingly becoming a good way to back up your stuff and it also keeps your data off-site in case of a fire. Some people are afraid that keeping your stuff in the cloud means that it is not “secure” and that you cannot trust the cloud. I think as time goes on everything will be kept in the cloud and people really won’t be thinking about it too much as the sheer convenience factor will begin to outweigh any concerns. Time will tell.

Some good examples of cloud storage are ($60/yr), Microsoft SkyDrive comes free with all email accounts (7 gb free), Google has G-drive, and Apple has iCloud.

I of course am a huge fan of Microsoft SkyDrive. I will be creating a post soon detailing SkyDrive.