I use several computers, including Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems. I use a Macintosh desktop system most of the time, but I also use other systems when performing specific tasks, such as reviewing Windows genealogy software.
I went on a business trip this week and visited a number of newsletter readers in their homes. One lady I visited described how a recent hard drive crash had destroyed all her genealogy data as well as scanned photographs and everything else stored on the computer. She had never made a backup copy of anything on her system. She had hard copies of most of the data but was missing many source citations. Those were gone forever. She had her original photographs but now needed to re-scan all of them. Her multimedia scrapbooks and much or her work had disappeared in the hard drive crash. I shook my head in sympathy as I listened to her story.
I returned home Friday evening and used the Macintosh briefly to check e-mail. The e-mail program worked for a while and then stopped. I thought that was strange, but I was tired; so, I shut the computer off and went to bed.
Saturday morning I turned the Mac on and discovered it wouldn’t boot. I experimented with a number of things but could not make it operate. The hard drive was dead. I quickly reviewed my options. I knew I had plenty of backups:
- I have an external hard drive plugged into the Mac’s USB ports and use OS X Leopard’s excellent backup program, called Time Machine. This program automatically makes full backups of the entire Macintosh hard drive(s) and updates the backups every hour. Not only can I perform a restore of anything and everything on the Macintosh’s hard drive, but I can even restore to any date in the past since I started using “Time Machine.”
- All my documents, including my genealogy data, have a second backup made every few hours with Mozy, an online backup service. I do not back up the entire hard drive to Mozy’s servers, only my documents. I have written about Mozy several times; see my past articles at http://tinyurl.com/ywzm42 for details.
- I have a DVD disk sitting in a desk drawer at the office that contains backup copies of my documents. That disk is now three or four weeks old, but it could serve as a “last resort,” if needed.
In short, I wasn’t worried about the loss of data. While the loss of a computer can be inconvenient and perhaps a financial hardship, it isn’t the end of the world for anyone with current backups.
I inserted the original Macintosh operating system DVD disk into my dead Macintosh, booted from the DVD, and told the software to re-install the Macintosh operating system. The installer quickly died: it could not find the Macintosh’s internal hard drive.
I went to a local computer store and purchased a new hard drive. Since hard drives have become relatively cheap in the past few years, I purchased a drive with much more capacity. I returned home and opened the tiny Mac Mini’s case. I used jeweler’s screwdrivers to replace the defective 80-gigabyte drive with a new 250-gigabyte Toshiba hard drive.
I then reassembled everything, booted from the OS X DVD disk, reloaded the software, and performed a full restore of everything from the external hard drive, using Time Machine. Everything worked as expected; my system is now back to normal operation, and it looks like it didn’t lose a single byte. All my documents, e-mail messages, and system settings are exactly the same as before.
Computer experts tell us that it is not a matter of “if your hard drive crashes.” It is a question of “when.” All hard drives will crash eventually. I can vouch for that. The operating system is irrelevant; Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems alike will eventually suffer hardware problems.
Now, let me ask you a question: when your system dies, what will you do?
If you have a fresh backup, you will suffer some inconvenience. If you do not have a backup or if your only backup is out of date, your losses and inconvenience will be much worse.
There are many different backup programs and methodologies available. The exact choice of backup method is not important. The critical thing is to have some sort of backup system in place and to use it regularly. I used the free Macintosh Time Machine which makes backups hourly. You should use software that performs backups at least daily, if not more often.
Macintosh users running the latest OS X Leopard operating system have the advantage of Time Machine being included at no extra charge. If you are a Windows user and don't know what to use, take a look at Karen's Replicator at http://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptreplicator.asp. It isn't the most sophisticated tool available but it works well, is easy to use and is free. There are many other Windows backup programs as well.
Again, it is not a matter of “if your hard drive crashes.” It is only a question of “when.”