This is going to be a boring article. It can't be helped because I'm writing about the single most boring aspect of personal computing - backing up your data. But it can also be a lifesaver.
If you don't have reliable backups, and your hard drive crashes or your computer is damaged by lightning, fire, flood, theft or sabotage, you could lose hundreds of hours of work.
Backing up is a specific type of "save" procedure. You save your word processing, spreadsheets, graphics and other data to another medium so you can recover them quickly if you can no longer access them from your hard drive.
Because backing up is so boring, many people don't bother to do it. But there are some innovations in the technology that make backing up easier.
As with just about everything else having to do with personal computing these days, the Internet now plays a role in backup strategizing. A number of companies have begun providing services where you can back up data on your hard drive to an FTP (file transfer protocol) server on the Internet using specialized software.
Backing up this way can be slow and relatively expensive compared to other backup solutions. But if you do a lot of traveling, or don't otherwise have a backup that you store off premises, it can be a workable solution.
Internet backup services with good reputations include Connected Online Backup, at www. connected.com, and Atrieva, at www.atrieva.com
Another new backup option is the super floppy drive. It has always been possible to back up your data to a conventional 1.44 megabyte floppy disk, but with the files of today's programs mushrooming exponentially, you might need hundreds of disks.
Sony, at www.ita.sel.sony.com/ products/storage/, is preparing to market a HiFD (high-capacity floppy drive) that can replace your existing floppy drive. It will not only be able to read and write to conventional floppies, but also to floppies that hold a whopping 200 megabytes of data. It wasn't long ago when storage space like that was considered to be expansive for a hard drive.
To back up your programs along with your data, and to avoid having to shuffle even super floppies in and out of your computer, you'll need an even- higher-capacity backup medium. The single most convenient option here is a removable hard drive.
Iomega, at www.iomega.com, has new Jaz2GB removable hard drives. These drives can hold two gigabytes of data, and like their one-gigabyte predecessors, they can be used, not only as a backup medium, but also as extra storage space for the programs or data you use every day.
The old standby in backups is the tape drive. These drives aren't as fast or as flexible as removable hard drives, but offer even larger capacities and are less expensive. The HP Colorado line of tape drives has a long-standing reputation for reasonably priced reliability. Check out www.hp.com/tape for more information.
Regardless of how you back up your data, you should do so regularly. Determine how much data you can afford to lose in terms of the time you spent creating it, whether it's one hour or one week. Then do backups no less frequently than that.
Consider storing at least one set of backups off-site, particularly if the data on them are vital for business purposes. Fires, floods and other natural disasters can destroy, not only the data on your hard drive, but also your backup disks or tapes.
Disaster recovery experts recommend that you practice recovering from a disaster before one occurs. The thinking here is to make sure the system works and you know exactly what to do ahead of time.
According to those who've been through it, there's nothing worse than learning how a backup system works - or does not work - under pressure.
What's my backup strategy? I use an Iomega Jaz drive for monthly backups of both data and programs, and I copy data from current projects to conventional floppies on a daily basis. For off-site storage of crucial projects I'm currently working on, I stick the backup floppy in my shirt pocket when I'm out of the office.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. Goldsborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.voice net.com/~reidgold