I have written time and time again about the need for backups of your critical files. Indeed, I do "practice what I preach." I even keep frequent backups of my backups.
This weekend's failure of my Windows Vista computer turned out to be a minor problem for me. To be sure, I haven't used the Vista system much and didn't have anything very important stored on the computer just yet. What data files I did store there were fully backed up the night before.
I only back up data files, not the entire hard drive. If the entire operating system is lost, it can always be reloaded from the original copy. That's what I did this weekend: I reformatted the hard drive and then re-loaded Windows Vista. Even though I purchased a Macintosh computer immediately after the Windows Vista failure, I didn't want to throw the new Vista computer away. I re-loaded Windows Vista and am now back in operation. I'll never trust it again for anything important, but I can still use the Windows system, if I need to.
The same is true for your backup plan. There's no need to back up all your programs. It may be inconvenient, but you can always reload your operating system, word processor, genealogy program, and other applications. In fact, you cannot count on backup files for most Windows programs; in most cases you have to reinstall programs the same way they got on your computer in the first place. Macintosh and Linux users have it easier: applications on those operating systems are easier to restore.
The only thing you need to back up is your data. You cannot easily replace all that genealogy data, family photographs, checkbook data, income tax returns, and other information that you spent hundreds of hours creating.
Now, I'll ask you a question: if you go to use your computer tomorrow and find that it is dead, how much of a disaster will that be for you?
If you have frequent backups of critical data, the failure will be an inconvenience. If you don't have recent backups… well, you can paint that picture in your own mind.
I can think of perhaps a hundred different ways to make backups. Most are cheap and easy methods. It doesn't really make much difference which backup method you select. The critical thing is to HAVE a backup method and to make backups frequently.
You can read some of my previous articles about backups at http://tinyurl.com/2nuwwd.