Backups: When and How to Use Them

Back-up Data

At some point, you will most likely have some computer malfunction that causes loss of some or all of your personal files, documents or photos. Maybe you accidentally deleted the wrong file, experienced a hardware failure, or lost your laptop. Even worse, malware may have infected your computer. In times like these, backups are often the only way you can rebuild your digital life or recover critical data.

What to Back Up and When

There are two approaches on deciding what to back up:

  1. Specific data that is important to you
  2. Everything including your operating system

If you are not sure what to back up then the best approach may be backing up everything. You should also consider how often you want to back up. Apple’s Time Machine or Microsoft Backup and Restore allow you to create an automatic “set it and forget it” backup schedule. Other solutions can allow continuous protection in which new or altered files are immediately backed up as soon as there closed.

How to Back Up

You can store your files in two ways:

Physical Media:

Backing up to physical media keeps your files on a physical storage device, such as DVD’s, USB devices or an external hard drive. Whichever media you choose, never back up your files to the device that holds your original files. It’s also smart to label your physical media with info about the backup and the date it was created.

Some disadvantages to storing on physical media is the possibility of disaster or theft. Physical media can be lost, stolen or damaged just as easily as the original files.

Cloud-based solutions:

Cloud-based storage works by installing a program (client) that automatically backs up your files for you. You can pay for cloud storage providers to store your backups. The price is normally determined by the size of the backup.

The advantage of this solution is in the event of a disaster or theft, your files will be virtually stored off-site. Additionally, you can access these files from anywhere. The disadvantages of cloud-based backups are that recovery can be slower especially if you have a large amount of data and you will also need to ensure that the cloud service provider can store this data securely to prevent unauthorized access.

Recovery

After backing up your data, it’s always a good to be certain that you can recover it. Check every month that your backups are working by recovering a file and validating the contents. Additionally, be sure to make a full system backup before a major upgrade such as moving to a new computer or mobile device or before a major repair.

Key Points Summary

  • Automate your backups
  • When rebuilding an entire system from backup be sure to reapply the latest security patches and update before using again
  • Outdated backups may become a liability so it is recommended to delete these backups to prevent unauthorized access and in the case that cloud storage is used, manage your storage capacity and related costs
  • Be sure to verify that cloud backup and storage providers have security measures in place to protect the data by checking the policies and reputation of your cloud provider:
    • Ask if they encrypt your data when it is stored
    • Determine who has access to your backups
    • Verify they support strong authentication, such as two-step verification

New Computer Products from Microsoft and Apple

This past week was indeed a big one for tech news, since two of the most iconic companies of the PC-era, Microsoft and Apple, both had major announcements about multiple products.

MICROSOFT

Microsoft Windows 8 operating system - Windows 8 start screenWindows 8
Microsoft is making one of their biggest operating system changes in the move to Windows 8, which will be officially available tomorrow (October 26). The new OS is a radical departure that some people really love and others… not so much.

CNET’s review of Windows 8 praised its fast boot time, gorgeous apps, Sync feature, security improvements, and affordable $40 upgrade price (only $15 if you bought your PC after June 2 this year). They did warn users about a steep learning curve. Read the full Windows 8 review here. 

Or check out this CNET Windows 8 buying guide for the pros and cons of various product configurations.

Surface
The other big Microsoft news is the Surface, the first ever computer (a tablet) made by Microsoft. Most reviewers praised Microsoft for its bold new ideas for a tablet. Th most common critique was the disappointingly small number of available apps (no Facebook, Instagram, Angry Birds, Spotify, etc.). Surface prices range from $499 – $699 depending on configuration. It will be available in Microsoft Stores tomorrow but you can pre-order the Surface from Microsoft now.  Read a round-up of Microsoft Surface reviews on the Wall Street Journal website or this in-depth review from Wired.com.

 APPLE

Apple’s press event on Tuesday was anticipated as an announcement of a smaller version of the iPad. It was that. But Apple also announced an upgraded version of its full sized iPad, a new all-in-one iMac, a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and a new Mac Mini. You can read the New York Times’ live updates from the Apple product event here. Mashable also has a good round-up of all the new Apple products here.

New Apple iPad MiniiPad Mini
The mini is, not surprisingly, a mini version of the regular iPad. More specifically, it’s 7.87 in. x 5.3 in., and .68 pounds. If you held off getting an iPad because it was just too big, the mini may be perfect for you. It costs less, too. Though at a starting price of $329, the expense of the mini has generated the most negative comments. Read a review of the iPad mini on techradar.com.

iPad 4
The previous version of the iPad came out just last spring, so some recent buyers are miffed that Apple decided to release the new iPad 4. That said, it’s not that much different than the last one. The processor is faster, the Wi-Fi connectivity is more reliable, and there’s a new Lightning connector. But then again, the IPad 3 was already considered a pretty great tablet, so a few additional improvements make it that much better. Read a review of the iPad 4 on techradar.com.

iMac
Apple’s all-in-one desktop is getting a major refresh. Most notably, the new iMacs are now a lot thinner. Inside, they’re faster. There are some new hard drive options, including a hybrid SSD/traditional hard drive called Fusion Drive. And the displays are better than ever. They’re still available in 21.5-inch (from $1299) and 27-inch (from $1799). See a video demo of the new iMac on theVerge.com.

13-Inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
The new 13-inch is thinner and lighter than the current 13-inch model. But the headline feature is the stunning Retina display, with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, which Apple introduced on the 15-inch MacBook last spring. DigitalTrends.com compares the Retina MacBook Pro with Sony’s Vaio Z and the old MacBook Pro.

Mac Mini
Mini is Apple’s only PC without a display. The new one is faster, has more memory, new hard drive options, and other upgrades. See CNET’s video review of the new Mac Mini.

New Products from Apple & Microsoft In the News

The two iconic companies that have long represented the personal computer industry to most consumers – Microsoft and Apple – have been making big news in the past couple of weeks, with major computer and mobile product announcements and updates. Lets take a look at what’s new and what it means for you.

Apple – New Laptops, OS X, iOS

New Macbook laptops, OS X, and iOS 6

New Mac Products Unveiled

On June 11, Apple announced updates across its line of laptops. Updates to the base Macbook Pro and Macbook Air were considered good but relatively minor. Most notably, they all got bumped up to the new third-generation Intel “Ivy Bridge” Core processors, which deliver improvements in computer speed, battery life, and graphics performance. The biggest news, however, was the introduction of the very expensive (but some say worth every penny ) Macbook Pro with Retina Display. The laptop is considerably thinner and lighter than other Macbooks (not called Air), but the headline new feature is the high-resolution 2,880×1,800 pixel “retina” display found on the latest iPads.

Read CNET’s reviews of the new Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, and Macbook Pro with Retina Display.

If you’re looking to purchase an Apple computer, prices have already gone down for the previous generation. Here’s a CNET article on how to get the best deal on a previous-generation Macbook.

Deals on the next-gen computers may take a while to materialize.

Apple also announced the July release of its next OS X operating system, called Mountain Lion  (continuing Apple’s big-cat naming convention). The new OS is supposed to be more intuitive, operating more like an iPhone. It will also have much better social network (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) integration, increased iCloud online storage integration (allowing you to seamlessly sync information from computer to phone or tablet), enhanced type-as-you-talk dictation capabilities, and other new features and enhancements. The new OS X will be available for download at $19.99 (or free if you buy a Mac between now and the July release).

Details were also confirmed about Apple’s fall release of iOS 6 for iPhones and iPads. The new mobile OS will boast many improvements to Siri (including iPad support and integration in some cars), greater Facebook integration, a totally new 3-D maps app with turn-by-turn navigation, FaceTime calls over cell networks (not just Wi-Fi), game and photo enhancements, and more. Read all about the coming new iOS 6 here.

Microsoft – New Tablet/Laptop, New Mobile OS

New Microsoft Surface tablet

This Monday, Microsoft did something it had never done before: it showcased a Microsoft branded computer, a versatile tablet called the Surface. On the surface, the Surface may look a bit like the market leader, the iPad. It is similar in size and weight. But a couple of things make the Surface stand out: it has a built-in stand and a cover that converts into a keyboard. The two features – plus the fact that it will run full productivity tools like Microsoft Office – position the Surface more as a laptop replacement than other tablets. The new Microsoft product is expected to launch along with the new Windows 8 operating system  later in the year. Read a review of the Surface by the Wall Street Journal.

And just yesterday, Microsoft a new version of its Windows Phone OS for mobile devices: Windows Phone 8. The new mobile phone OS is expected to give Microsoft a better chance to compete against rivals Android and Apple in the red-hot mobile device marketplace. The new OS is expected to be both more robust and intuitive to use, with attractive features like Live Tiles, which automatically update various kinds of information based on user customization. Another headline feature is a new mobile wallet app that will let users pay for things with their phones and also track and use coupons, loyalty cards, and other shopping information.

While these next-gen phones are getting good initial reviews, they do present one big problem: the current Windows 7 phones will not be able to be upgraded to Windows 8 when it comes out. So if you think you might want a Windows phone, you should probably wait until later in the year when Windows Phone 8 comes out.