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Don’t Let The Grinch Ruin Your Christmas! Back Up Those Pictures (And Other Files)

The holidays are the time of year when family and friends gather to celebrate, share good times and create memories.

We love to capture those memories in photos and videos. Many then upload them to Facebook and YouTube and other social media sites for others to view.

(I really don’t like having my picture taken. And holidays are the worst. My mother, for some reason, feels compelled to take the holiday photos while the family is sitting around the table. At least we’ll know what we had to eat each year!  But back to the point …)

1000memories blog estimates that 3,500,000,000 photos (yes, TRILLION) have been taken since cameras were invented in the 19th century. That number continues to skyrocket with the ubiquity of digital cameras and cameras built into our smartphones.

It wasn’t all that long ago that cameras used rolls of film that had to be taken to be developed and made into prints. The negatives and prints served as your original and your backup of your photographs.

With the advent of digital cameras, most pictures are now stored on flash memory cards or on the hard drives of your home computer. Many times there’s only ONE copy of that picture – the one stored on your PC or your camera.

Have you ever stopped to think that losing your precious digital pictures or videos could be one keystroke, mouse-click or failed hard drive away?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m also realistic. Hard drives and flash memory cards fail 100% of the time. People do accidentally hit the delete button on the camera or the computer. When this happens, it could mean that the photograph that captured that one special moment this Christmas is forever lost.

That’s why I strongly encourage you to regularly back up your files.

Let me briefly review some important tips regarding data backup – tips that, if you follow them, can keep the Grinch from ruining your happy holidays.

Why should you back up?

As I stated earlier, the first reason you should back up your files is because computer hard drives fail 100 percent of the time. It’s a matter of WHEN not IF. As one person has said, “There are only two types of hard drives – the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail.”

Hard drives, where all of your files are stored on your computer, contain moving parts. Over time, those moving parts wear out and fail. If it is a catastrophic physical failure, it may be impossible for any files to be recovered from the hard drive.

With the recent surge in virus infections attacking computers, a second reason to back up your files is to protect them from being lost due to a nasty virus infection. Sometimes a virus infection is so bad that the only way to remove it is to permanently erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs. Without a backup, all of your important files could be forever lost.

Third, performing regular backups allows you to recover a file that was accidentally deleted. We’ve all done it – erased a file or folder from our computer thinking we didn’t need it any longer. Then a day or so later, we realize we do need that file. A good backup allows you to retrieve the last saved version of that file or folder.

Finally, backups protect your files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or someone stealing your computer. Recently, one of our clients brought in her laptop and had us perform our data backup service. She called us about three weeks later thanking us for backing up her files to DVD because someone had broken into her house and stolen her laptop. Without the backup we performed, she would have forever lost important documents and pictures.

What should you back up?

Although every person uses their computer for different purposes, there are some common things you should regularly back up:

  • Your email addresses – think of how long it would take to gather and re-enter those again
  • Your list of favorite websites stored in your web browser
  • Pictures saved on your computer (typically in the My Pictures folder)
  • All your documents, such as recipes, letters and spreadsheets (typically in the My Documents folder)
  • Your downloaded music files from iTunes (typically in the My Music folder)
  • Financial information from programs like Quicken, Microsoft Money or QuickBooks
  • Family tree information from programs like Family Tree Maker

How should you back up your files?

Backing up your files simply means keeping a copy of them in a separate location in the event of an emergency. It is NOT wise to keep both copies of your files in the same place. It is recommended that you have two backups on two different types of media in two physically different places.

One way to back up your files is to burn them to CD or DVD. Most computers come with a CD/DVD burner installed, as well as software that allows you to copy your files to discs. This method of backup is relatively inexpensive and very reliable. The downside is that it can be time-consuming if you have a large number of files.

Another method of backing up your files is to copy them to an external hard drive. The external hard drive connects to your PC by a USB cable. Then you can manually copy the files from your computer to the external hard drive. You can also purchase and install software that will automate the backup process for you.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, a good method of backing up your files is to use an online backup service. Your important files are automatically and regularly copied from your computer to their secure servers over the Internet.

Although it’s easy and cheap, do not use USB flash drives (also called thumb drives) as your primary backup device. These devices are not designed for long-term storage.

Don’t wait to think about backing up your computer until it’s too late. I’ve had the unpleasant job of breaking the bad news to clients that we are unable to save any of their files because their hard drive had failed, only to learn that they had not performed any backups.

Ask your trusted computer advisor to protect your important files by setting up a reliable, inexpensive backup solution.

In closing, I would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It has been my pleasure to provide you with practical tips and useful information about computers and technology this past year. I look forward to continuing to do so in 2013.