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How Not to Lose Your Data -

with special reference to Windows (mostly XP, Vista and Windows 7, but there are many useful general ideas here too).

This page is the result of 20 years experience at teaching computing, and gives advice on how to back up the files on a normal home computer system, so that you don't lose any information.
The one thing which is quite certain is that sooner or later, something will go wrong with your computer.

Things to bear in mind:

  • The biggest danger to your files is you!
  • If you delete something by accident, make sure you have another copy you can restore it from again.
  • A hard disc on which your files are stored is a mechanical device, and has a limited lifespan.
  • Installing a new program, especially a new operating system, can sometimes go wrong, and make it difficult to get access to your data.
  • You cannot always rely on the operating system's facility to roll back the changes to the last known good state.

Set up your computer in a simple way which you understand:
Ideally, you should have two hard discs -

  • one disc for the operating system (e.g. Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or MacOS), and programs.
  • one disc for your data (letters, pictures, music or whatever you keep on your computer)

When (not if) one of your hard discs comes to grief, at least you will have only half the problem that you would otherwise have had.
You will have to buy a new hard disc, but you will only have to reinstall either the operating system and your programs, or your data, but not both!

Managing Digital Pictures on your Computer

Finding pictures from your digital camera could become difficult, so consider this additional advice.

As a very minimum, rename each folder your images are in, with the place and topic of your pictures.

If you want to find pictures which match a search criterion you type in, you will need to rename each picture.
You don't always have to rename each file individually - you could let Adobe Bridge do the work. It can batch rename whole selections of files, e.g. 10 or 20 pictures at once, and is a very useful time-saver.
Always leave the original file number in the picture's filename, then the number from the camera will preserve the order in which you took them.
Always preserve the file type extension, e.g. .jpg or the computer may not recognise the filetype.

Folder management - the most generally useful view for pictures is to display the folder by details. However, don't ignore the thumbnail view, which can also be useful. Probably the least useful are the tiles, icons or list views. View by details allows you to sort the folder's files by date created, date modified, name or type, and you can also add more details to the view, such as the dimensions of the picture.

If you are editing pictures from a digital camera, make sure you make a copy of them before you edit them. That way, you can always go back to the original file from the camera, which you should leave untouched, until you have backed up the copy in the computer. Ideally, reformat the camera's storage card once it is full and your backup is off-site.

Backing Up Your Data

Have at least two of the following three methods of backing up your data - an extra hard disc and one other method, depending on how much data you have, how important it is to you and how often it changes:

An extra hard disc, matched for size to your internal data disc. You can buy these quite cheaply now.
We used to advise people to get a normal IDE or SATA internal hard disc, and put it in a mobile enclosure, such as you can buy at Priceless Computing in Glasgow and at many other local computer shops. You simply plug in this hard disc in its enclosure into a USB port, and copy over all your data files. It is not a difficult process, and provided you do this regularly, you don't really need any backup programs.

Nowadays, it is easier to buy an external hard disc already in a casing. A good source of these in Glasgow is Maplins in Great Western Road.

Keep the extra hard disc in an off-site location (e.g. the house of a friend or relative), and only bring it home when you are actually going to do a backup. That way, if your computer is stolen in a break-in, all your data will not go with it! Put the spare hard disc back in the off-site location as soon as possible after the backup. If you're really nervous about losing data, you could have two off-site backup discs, and swap them round as you back up, so that at least one is always off-site.

In the meantime, do incremental backups on either a USB memory stick, a CD or a DVD, depending on how big your data is and how often it changes. i.e. back up any files which you have changed on to one of these media.

Protecting and Backing Up Your Computer

Set up your computer with a password, so that a thief will not have access to your data, even if your computer does get stolen. In addition, password protect any important data at the file level as well, e.g. Microsoft Word and Excel, in which you might keep sensitive data, both have password protection and encryption for files. If you password protect anything, make sure you remember the password! Choose a password which is easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess - e.g. not your favourite football team! A combination of letters, numbers and unusual characters is best, at least 7 characters long, but the longer, the more difficult to remember, so don't go overboard, as your system must remain usable.

Set up a firewall, to prevent viruses from infecting your hard disc. Windows has a free firewall system which it takes only a few mouseclicks to set up. For example, in Windows XP's control panel, you will find Windows Firewall. Double click this and simply switch it On.

Make sure you have up-to-date virus protection, and set it up to update itself automatically whenever you are on the internet.

Use the junk mail filter provided with most email systems, and don't open any attachments from people you do not recognise. You could consider deleting emails you don't recognise, especially if they have no subject line. If it's really important, they will contact you again!

Windows Vista has a Backup and Restore Centre, located in Start>Control Panel. Make a habit of using this frequently to back up your computer, especially before you make a change such as an upgrade to the operating system, which could go wrong. This option enables you to backup your operating system disc, including the program files, and should allow you to roll back the system to a previous good state using the restore option if things go horribly wrong. To use this backup facility, you will need space on an additional hard drive, (not drive C on which your operating system and programs are installed, which you are trying to back up). You could back up your OS and programs on your internal data disc, which will then get copied to your external data disc, when you back up your data.