How to choose the right Windows backup software to suit your budget and requirements
Copy the files yourself
Use a file synchronization tool
Use the included Windows backup software
Use full disk backup software
Use file level backup software
Use time capsule backup software
In this article we will be investigating Windows backup software. In our previous two articles, we discussed what files you need to backup and where to back them up to. Now, we’ll take a look at how you can start backing your files up. As with selecting backup media, there are dozens of choices and choosing the correct one depends largely on your needs and budget. Let’s explore a few of the advantages and disadvantages of some of the options.
Copy the files yourself, using Windows Explorer
Yes, there is plenty of Windows backup software around that can help you backup your files and folders and backup software even comes bundled with Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, if you have only a small amount of important files, this option may be worth considering. Basically, if you take this approach to backup, you simply copy your important files by hand, using Windows explorer, to another location, such as a second hard drive or a recordable CD/DVD. This is the least secure of all the options but sadly is the route most users take, if they bother to make backup copies at all.
Yes, copying files yourself can count as backup, but make sure you are disciplined!
Advantages:- Most users are already familiar with copying files, requires no investment in new software.
Disadvantages:- Relies on the user to remember to periodically copy the data. The user must remember which copy of the data is the most recent and this can quickly become difficult to manage for modest sized file collections. Human error can easily result in a file being omitted or incorrectly backed up.
Use an automatic file synchronization tool
This is a similar approach to using a third-party backup tool but this option may be more desirable for some users. Installing a tool like this can automatically synchronise files in one location with files stored in another. Perhaps you regularly take your work to school or the office on a USB stick drive. Using a utility like this, you can automatically synchronise your work between your home computer, your USB stick and your network area at school or the office.
Free applications like Toucan can automatically synchronise and encrypt your data.
Advantages:- Backup is handled automatically after initial configuration, making this a good solution for those on the move. Many good quality free file synchronization tools exist.
Disadvantages:- May not be an adequate solution for large amounts of data. Some of the more advanced file synchronization tools have a steep learning curve. May require software to be installed on computer(s) at your place of work, which may be in violation of your workplaces IT policy (it is worth discussing this with your IT department, however).
Use the Windows backup software provided with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 ship with backup utilities of their own. Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions and all editions of Windows 7 except home basic also include a whole drive backup utility. These backup utilities provide a reasonable range of options and being included with the operating system, require no additional investment to use.
Windows backup software comes bundled free with Vista XP and Windows 7, but it might not be up to the job.
Advantages:- Enables automatic backup of files, folders and even whole drives (on certain versions of Windows). Suitable for large amounts of data. Requires no additional investment if you already own a copy of the operating system.
Disadvantages:- The Windows backup software bundled with Windows does not have all the advanced options available in third party backup software packages. Both the XP and Vista backup utilities have been poorly received by critics. The Windows 7 backup utility was a little better received, but still lacks many of the advanced features available in commercial packages.
Use full disk backup software
Full disk backup software like Nero’s excellent BackItUp provide the most comprehensive backup solutions
Full disk backup software is special backup software designed to create backups of the entire contents of a computers hard drive. The backups can be copied directly to another hard drive, or stored in image files. Image files are single files which contain the entire contents of the hard drive backup. Because they are typically very large, most full disk backup software will apply compression to the files in order to try to reduce their size.
Full disk backup software is sometimes called “bare metal recovery software”. This is because it has the facility to recover your computer even when no operating system is available, for example, when your computers hard drive fails completely. After replacing the hard drive you can use a full disk backup program to restore from a backup you created earlier.
Advantages:- The most thorough backup solution possible. Everything on your computer is preserved at the time of taking the drive image.
Disadvantages:- Drive image backups require a significant amount of storage space. Creating a full drive image can take a considerable amount of time, especially across a network connection or to a slower backup medium.
We recently reviewed and bench tested five popular full disk backup packages. Click here to read the review and find out which program was the best.
Use file level backup software
Unlike full disk backup software, which aims to capture everything on your hard drive, file level backup software allows the end user to specify which files require backup. File level backup software cannot usually restore your computer in the event of a total hard drive failure. However, you can still restore your computer from your operating system recovery disks and then copy your important files from your backup.
Advantages:- By allowing the user to choose which files to backup, backup sets are significantly smaller and do not contain unimportant data. Less unnecessary data also means quicker backups.
Disadvantages:- The user must be careful to select all the data which requires backup. Recovering from a complete hard drive failure will take significantly longer with this approach.
We recently reviewed several file and time capsule style backup programs. Click here to read the review and find out which program was the best.
Use time capsule style backup software
This is a relatively new type of backup software that works in a similar fashion to file level backup software. The difference is that every time you change a file, the software will save the old version. This is particularly handy if you accidentally overwrite a file or edit a document and then later wish you hadn’t.
Advantages:- All the advantages of file level backup, but with the added security of knowing that older versions of files can be recovered. Backup process is usually “set and forget” and does not require scheduling.
Disadvantages:- All the disadvantages of file level backup software, plus saving multiple versions of files can take up more disk space.
You can find out what we thought of two popular time capsule backup packages by reading our file backup software review.
That is all for our introductory guide to Windows backup software and it is also the last part of this Windows backup guide. We hope this guide has been useful to you and has inspired you to take action if you were one of the many users who never got around to backing up their data. If you are still confused or feel overwhelmed by all the information you just read, don’t worry. We plan to completely overhaul our backup tutorials and articles and bring you case studies and advice on the best practices for you.
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