Why Do You Need to Make Frequent Backups? Well, I Found Out Yesterday!

If you have been reading this newsletter for a while, you already know that I am a fanatic about making backup copies of important information, then storing those backed up files in different locations, including off-site. I have heard dozens of stories from genealogists describing how their many years of family tree research were lost due to hard drive crashes, software problems, human error, or distant hackers.

The problem hit home yesterday: My desktop computer encountered an error while performing an operating system update and lost everything. It locked up. Eventually, I powered it off and then powered it back on again. The computer wouldn’t even boot! I soon realized I had lost everything on the computer’s hard drive.

If it happened to me, it could happen to you.

Luckily, my zeal for making backups paid off. I went to one of my backup copies and restored everything on the hard drive within a few hours. I mean everything. The restore process copied back all my data files as well as the operating system, hidden files, all the installed application software, and more. When finished, I rebooted the system and it came up and ran, looking exactly like it had looked a few hours earlier. I lost nothing.

Can you say the same after your computer crashes?

In my case, I am using a Macintosh iMac. However, the same need for backups is true for Windows, Linux, Macintosh, and other operating systems.

I am using three different backup products. (I told you I was a backup fanatic!)

TimeMachine makes a backup of the Mac’s entire hard drive every hour and stores the backups in encrypted form on an external USB drive that connects to a connector on the back of the computer. TimeMachine is a free product included with every Macintosh system.

Arq makes a backup of all data files (not the operating system, hidden files, temporary files, or other unneeded files). It then encrypts the backed up files and stores them (in my case) on Amazon’s S3 very secure file storage service in the cloud.

MEGAsync makes an immediate backup of all my data files that I have stored in my Documents folder as soon as each file is saved, encrypts the backed up files, and stores them on MEGAsync’s super secure file storage service in the cloud at mega.nz.

Is this a perfect system of backups? Probably not, but it certainly worked well yesterday when my primary desktop computer wouldn’t even boot!

I use TimeMachine as my primary backup service for two reasons:

(1.) It uses an external hard drive that is plugged into the back of my computer. Local hardware connections are much faster than remote connections to servers in the cloud. The result is a much faster method of restoring files than storing files in the cloud. I performed a complete restore in about 6 hours. Had I restored everything from a remote server in the cloud, restoring more than 2 terabytes of my files would have required several days to complete. (Some services will copy your files to a flash drive or USB hard drive and send the drive to you via overnight air freight.)

(2.) TimeMachine backups up EVERYTHING: data files, operating system, hidden files, the hard drive’s (hidden) boot record, and every thing else on the computer. When my computer wouldn’t even boot yesterday, TimeMachine put everything back in place. Once the restore was completed, I booted the system up and it looked exactly the same as it had looked a few hours earlier, before the crash. I could not have done that with a backup system that only saves data files.

The other backup products I use, Arq and MEGAsync, are there for insurance purposes. I only back up critical data files with those programs. Also, restoring files from a cloud-based server is slower as it is dependent on the speed of the Internet connection being used. In the case of a computer that won’t boot, using one of these last two products would have required other means to reload the operating system onto the computer again, then re-installing every program I use, one at a time. Having multiple copies of critical data files is (1.) good for insurance purposes and (2.) very useful when upgrading to a new computer or to a new laptop system.

Following the crash of my computer yesterday, I was up and running again in about 6 hours with more than 2 terabytes of files restored properly to my computer’s hard drive. If your computer crashes later today, will you be able to say the same?

For more information on some great backup programs, see my recent article that I published in PrivacyBlog.com at: https://privacyblog.com/2018/01/19/which-backup-products-are-good-ones/

27 Comments

If it didn’t boot how did you command it to restore from the hard drive?

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    —-> If it didn’t boot how did you command it to restore from the hard drive?

    Easy. With a Macintosh, you can force a reboot from the TimeMachine backup copy by turning power off on the Mac, holding down both the COMMAND key and the R key on the keyboard, and then turning power on. That effectively says, “Don’t boot from the hard drive. Instead, boot from the backup.”

    Windows computers can perform similar start-ups by booting from a device plugged into a USB connector, such as from a flash drive or an external USB hard drive or by booting from a CD-ROM disk or a floppy disk. (If your computer contains either a CD drive or a floppy disk drive. Many of today’s computers do not contain either of those.)

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Dick,
I had a similar problem with my Windows10 computer. I was having issues, got the help desk from the Manufacturer, did a number of things, but had to reinstall Windows10. I had recently added a 1-Tb External Drive to my computer, as I was running low on my of my external drives AND have my computer, with External Drives backed up to BackBlaze.
I copied my C: drive to the 1Tb external drive, reinstalled Windows8.1, the upgraded to Windows10 and I was back in business.
My Browser, Chrome, is synced so it all restored properly, and I have a password application on my computer and in the cloud.
Besides the monthly prompt about Backing Up, I have a monthly prompt of doing a Restore from Backup. I do that from several of my most important files, just to make sure I have a working Back Up AND Know that I can do a restore.
Not such a thing as too many back ups, but, I encourage others to do a Restore from Backup from time to time. It pays off in the long run.
Thank you,
Russ

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re a Windows backup with only data files on an external drive: How do we get the machine to boot? There is no executable on the external drive. And, where do we go to get Windows reloaded? Thanks.

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    —> re a Windows backup with only data files on an external drive: How do we get the machine to boot?

    At least four different ways:

    1. If you have the original Windows CD or flash drive, insert that into the computer and boot from the CD or the flash drive. Then you can install Windows from that device or, when you first boot, there is an option to restore everything else from some other media (an external hard drive, a Windows backup, etc.)

    2. Many of today’s Windows do not ship with a CD. If that is true of yours, you can find a restorable copy of Windows in a hidden partition on the hard drive. Check your owner’s manual for information on how to restore Windows from the hidden partition on the brand of computer you have. Usually, that is done by holding down some Function Key when you boot. Obviously, this method of restoring from a hidden partition will only work if the hard drive hasn’t been destroyed or replaced.

    3. Download a valid copy of Windows from the Microsoft web site. You will need a different computer in order to do that. Copy that copy of Windows to your defective computer (usually on a CD or DVD disk) you are trying to rebuild. Copies of Windows downloaded from Microsoft’s web site are usually trial versions only, they expire after 30 days. However, once you get them up and running as a 30-day trial, you can enter the installation key from your old copy of Windows to convert it into a permanent copy of Windows. (You did save your installation key from your old copy of Windows, didn’t you?) This method only works if you are re-installing the exact same version of Windows as your original copy, such as Windows Home Edition or Windows Pro.

    4. The better backup programs DO make bootable backups. One that I have used is BounceBack. With that program, you can boot from the BounceBack backup and re-install EVERYTHING, including the operating system, the Windows Registry, hidden files, the hard drive’s boot record, all your applications, and all your data. I know there are a few other backup programs that will do the same thing but I do not have a list of all of them. Any of those programs can save you a lot of time, possibly days, when you need to restore everything.

    In addition, in large corporate offices, most Windows computers can be restored by booting them up from a disk image stored on a network server someplace. However, that method isn’t practical for most home users.

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If the external hard drive is plugged into your computer all the time, do you have to close it before you shut down the computer? I normally shut down my computer every night.

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    —> If the external hard drive is plugged into your computer all the time

    I plugged the external hard drive in when the desktop computer was brand-new. It has remained plugged in ever since. I always have external USB hard drives plugged into all the desktop computers I have owned in recent years and then make backups to those to the external drives (and more backups to the cloud for insurance purposes). I don’t always do that to laptop computers, however. (All my data files are automatically copied from the laptops to the desktops and vice versa anyway.)

    I do not have to manually open or close any disk drives as long as I use the computer’s normal shutdown method to power off. However, I know that many other people simply power off their Windows or Macintosh computers without doing a normal Windows or Macintosh shutdown command first. That’s always high risk. All computer users should always use the operating system’s shut down command in order to avoid potential problems.

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That offsite one is so important as much as possible, I keep thinking about the people in the floods and fires, losing homes & materials.

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What’s the difference between services such as Carbonite and Backblaze and the backups that you did, such as Time Machine?

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The forced security updates for the chips due to Spectre, etc., are causing crashes for many devices including Apple devices. I would check the news for more advice on this issue as your restoration could crash again.

Thanks.

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    —> What’s the difference between services such as Carbonite and Backblaze and the backups that you did, such as Time Machine?

    All three are competitors to each other and perform more or less the same functions but with some significant differences.

    Time Machine is free of charge and is for Macintosh only. It is included free on every Macintosh sold and is very easy to configure. All you have to do is enable it and plug in an external hard drive. It only backs up to local hard drives. Time Machine by itself will not store backed up files in the cloud although there are some “back door methods” of making it store things in the cloud. (I don’t use any of the “back door methods.”) Time Machine can back up EVERYTHING, including data files, the operating system, all installed applications, hidden files, the hard drive’s boot records, and more. If your hard drive ruins everything or if the hard drive is replaced, just boot the computer up in Time Machine and tell it to restore EVERYTHING. It then runs automatically and a few hours later you have an exact copy of the hard drive(s) you were using before the crash. It can also restore files and folders one at a time, if needed. Not bad for a FREE program!

    Carbonite costs a monthly fee, is available for both Windows and Macintosh, and is designed primarily for backing up data files to the cloud. However, there are different versions of Carbonite and each version has different capabilities. The basic (cheapest) versions of Carbonite won’t back up the operating system, hidden files, the disk drive’s boot record, the Windows Registry, or other items needed to perform a COMPLETE RESTORE after a hard drive is replaced or re-formatted. As a result, if you have to replace a disk or re-format the drive. you first must first use other methods (not Carbonite) to re-install the operating system and then all the programs you have been using. (You did keep all your disks, right? Even the operating system disk?) That might take a day or longer. Then you are ready to use Carbonite to restore your data files. Carbonite also sells Carbonite Safe Server Backup which DOES back up more files but it is expensive and I doubt if any home users will purchase that version. Details may be found at: https://www.carbonite.com/backup-software/combined-faq-page/

    Backblaze is an excellent program (in my opinion) for backing up all sorts of things to the cloud. It costs a monthly fee and is available for both Windows and Macintosh. It has many options. If you configure Backblaze properly, it will back up data files, the operating system, all installed applications, hidden files, the hard drive’s boot records, and more. See https://www.digitalcitizen.life/windows-backup-how-it-works-and-how-create-system-image for the details. It is a very powerful program. The only downsides of Backblaze I can think of is that (1.) it costs money and (2.) you probably need to spend some time reading the instructions to select the options that you want. But I like Backblaze (even though I am not using it these days).

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    —> I would check the news for more advice on this issue as your restoration could crash again.

    Apple has already issued an update which solves the problem with the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. See https://www.macrumors.com/2018/01/08/macos-high-sierra-10-13-2-spectre-fix/ for the details. That update was already installed in my iMac before the hard drive problem this weekend. I would always advise all Macintosh owners to do the same: install all the Macintosh updates as soon as they are released.

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I have a Time Machine, purchased with my first desktop Mac, which became overloaded and obsolete about 6 years ago, followed by my MacBook Pro dying about 4 years ago. From that time until this past summer, when I finally bought a new desktop Mac, I had only an iPad and iPhone. Does the Time Machine automatically back up files on these mobile devices?

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    —> Time Machine automatically back up files on these mobile devices?

    Not Time Machine, as it is only for Macintosh systems. However, Apple does supply a similar product for all iPads and iPhones and even the iPod Touch systems. iCloud backs up your iOS devices each night when they’re connected to power and Wi-Fi, so you can easily restore all your information.

    Details may be found at: https://www.apple.com/icloud/

    Liked by 1 person

First, I am surprised, Dick, that you would experience the problem you did on a Mac. I don’t use Windows for much but I have had such a problem more than once with it. My preferred OS is linux but I use my Mac mini for genealogical work because I have been a big fan of Reunion for, I guess, about 20 years (from back in the “old” Mac OS days) and Reunion is Mac-only. One important additional piece of advice (and you, Dick, may already know about this) is to partition your hard drives. It baffles me that, particularly now in the era of terabyte-size hard drives, people are working on computers that have a single partition that has the operating system, installed applications and all personal data on it. That is a recipe for disaster. Partitioning is a habit that you will automatically get into if you have worked with Unix/linux for any length of time. By keeping the operating system and installed applications segregated on their own partition you make it far less likely that you will actually lose your important data on other partitions of the hard drive because, for example, operating system updates or other such issues are generally entirely confined to the partition with the OS. In fact I have a 3 TB external hard drive (so self-powered and connected through USB to my computer) that is partitioned and that is where I keep essentially all of my important material, genealogy on one partition, digital photos on another, scanned photo prints and negatives on another, iTunes on another and so on. I do back up my entire genealogy partition to one or more other external hard drives, and even at times over to one of my linux boxes. There are several unfortunate aspects of my Mac mini and in particular the iMacs and that is that it is an horrific job getting the hard drive (which are the same 2.5″ type used in laptops and computer-powered USB drives) out to possibly do “soft” repairs on the drive itself. I also have a USB dock that allows me to pop in “naked” 3.5″ or 2.5″ SATA drives to permit things like repair work or file transfer/backup if necessary.

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That sounds great, but what would the best substitute be for a Windows laptop?

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    —> what would the best substitute be for a Windows laptop?

    There are many backup programs available for Windows. I haven’t used all of them but do have experience with BounceBack (see https://cmsproducts.com/bounceback-backup-software/ ) and Cloudberry (see https://www.cloudberrylab.com/backup/windows-server.aspx ). I suspect there are other excellent products available also but I cannot vouch for any of them based on my own experience.

    I use multiple backup products simultaneously and store them in different places, locally and in the cloud, to make sure that I always have at least one good backup at any time. I always use at least one backup product that saves and restores the entire operating system, all installed applications, and (on Windows systems) the Windows Registry, all hidden files, and the hard drive’s boot record. Lots of backup programs will store your data files but fewer of them will store and restore the entire operating system, all installed applications, and (on Windows systems) the Windows Registry, all hidden files, and the hard drive’s boot record. If you ever have the hard drive replaced or reformatted, you will quickly learn why you should be using a program that backs up EVERYTHING, not just data files.

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I have two questions. Do I need to backup my Chromebook? If so, how?
I use the old Microsoft Works program for data, such as making lists of music, movies, etc. Do you know of a program like that for the Chromebook?
Thank you.

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    —> Do I need to backup my Chromebook? If so, how?

    A Chromebook makes backups all the time without user involvement. The Chrome operating system was written by Google. Assuming you leave all the default settings the way Google expected you to leave them, your documents are automatically backed up to Google Drive, your Chrome web browser settings are backed up to your Google account within seconds, your user name and password are encrypted and then backed up to your Google account, and so on. It is possible to mess things up if you go changing things, however. Google cannot anticipate all the changes that you might make. But, if you leave the settings the way Google expects, there is no need to worry about backups as they are done for you automatically at no charge.

    —> I use the old Microsoft Works program for data, such as making lists of music, movies, etc. Do you know of a program like that for the Chromebook?

    There are several of them available. If it was me, I would use Google Docs, and Google Sheets. Both are available free of charge. However, there are many other such programs to choose from also and most of them are also available free of charge. Start at https://play.google.com/store to see all the programs available for Chromebooks.

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This happened to me about 2 weeks ago. It’s like the blue screen of death (bsod) of days gone by. You get up in the morning, your computer has shut down itself overnight so you know updates were downloaded. Next you turn it on to install updates and it never reboots from the “do not turn off your computer, preparing to install updates”. I left mine for hours and it never changed. I restarted several times, same result. Finally called Costco (additional 1-yr warranty and Concierge service. Had to do a “soft” restore. My documents were saved but all software and updates from my purchase date were deleted and need to be reinstalled. Now I am afraid to turn my computer off again in case the same thinh happens again. I did change settings so I can choose when to download and install any updates. I am going to buy an external hard drive today!

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    Microsoft has attempted at least 12 upgrades for Windows 10 to v1709 since Dec 23rd, failing to install and reverted to my previous version 1607. There was no stopping this, even uninstalling Windows Upgrading assistant. It just reinstalled it without permission! Microsoft support could not give me a solution. Yesterday, my hp pc crashed and cannot start, reboot, cannot Refresh PC and keep files. A supervisor was to call me back today and have not heard back. Poor service. My files are backed up to an external hard drive. At least the hp support website offered some steps to check the system. Seems like original install of windows 8 and upgrading to windows 10 is another issue for recovery.

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Dick, I have been creating system images ( I.e everything) for my (win 7 ) Pc using the backup program that comes with Windows, for decades. If I had to trust my memory to put together partial or incremental backups, I’d be in a heap of trouble. That said, do you know of any problems with Windows backup/restore? How does it’s system image differ from ones created by specialty software, if at all?

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    —> That said, do you know of any problems with Windows backup/restore?

    I don’t know of any problems but I also am not familiar with the capabilities of each version of the program.

    The Windows backup/restore program has been changed and improved with each major new release of Windows. In addition, the backup/restore program sometimes is different in Windows Home from what it is in Windows Pro. I am afraid I have not used all the different versions and cannot quote from memory the capabilities or drawbacks of each.

    I am hoping someone with more experience with Windows backup/restore can jump in here and give a good answer.

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I am now sufficiently scared. I have an older (3-4 years) Toshiba laptop updated to Win 10 last year, which contains my life – genealogy, finances, media, etc. At the moment I back my RootsMagic (plus pictures) to Dropbox. I also have a Carbonite Personal Plus subscription. I’ve been advised to add Backup Plus and also Acronis. I understand Acronis will back up software, os, … Are they both necessary? Not being tech savvy, I’m stumped as to what to do and how to get it done.

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    —> Are they both necessary?

    The quick answer is that “there is no easy and quick answer.” Perhaps the second answer is, “there is no wrong answer.”

    Obviously, your data is the most important thing. Without backups, data usually cannot easily be replaced. Many people are very happy to have a backup that contains only their data files. They know that if a disaster strikes to their hard drive, they can always obtain a copy of the operating system again and all their applications. They either saved the original disks or they can download them again or they are prepared to go purchase them again, if necessary. Those people are very contented to only back up their data files and I will suggest that is a good solution for them, although not for me.

    Other people, myself included, don’t want to suffer be without their computers for several days while rebuilding a corrupt disk. It easily could require several days to find and then to load the operating system again and all the applications as well and then to restore your data. The better way for those people is to make backups of EVERYTHING with a program that is capable of restoring the operating system, applications, hidden files, the disk drive’s boot record, and more.

    I don’t see anything wrong with either approach.

    However, I absolutely refuse to make only ONE BACKUP. I have seen too many cases where a hard drive failed and then the owner found that his or her backup also was no good. (I used to have a job fixing computers and I have fixed many computers with scrambled or defective hard drives.) It strikes me as cheap insurance to make multiple copies of the backups and then to store them in different locations to protect against in-home disasters, such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, burst water pipes, and other things that can simultaneously damage both a computer and its backups.

    Like

Thank you, Dick, for your excellent article and discussion.
For Macintosh, you made no mention of cloning software such as SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC). Please give us your comments.

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    —> For Macintosh, you made no mention of cloning software such as SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC). Please give us your comments.

    My understanding is that SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner and 2 or 3 other, similar programs all are good products. I have used SuperDuper a few times and it seemed to work well. I have not used Carbon Copy Clone but understand it has a good reputation. If any of those programs meet your needs and desires, I’d say “use them.”

    However, those coning software programs all require stopping your computer from running most tasks, then devoting an amount of time to make the backup, then restarting your applications after the backup has completed. That probably is OK if you are happy with making backups once a day or once a week or on some similar schedule. While that is very effective, I prefer a program that makes backups all the time while the computer is still in use for every-day tasks.

    Also, the programs you mentioned only make backups of CURRENT files, they do not save copies of files they way they were earlier. If I have a file that gets corrupted, I might want to retrieve a copy of the way it was an hour earlier or six hours earlier or maybe 36 hours earlier. The more sophisticated backup programs all can do that while the simpler ones only take a snapshot of each file as it exists at the time of the backup.

    TimeMachine ships with the Mac free of charge and works well. It makes backups AUTOMATICALLY once an hour (or even more often if you change the setup parameters). So any file that is 60 minutes old or less is backed up automatically without interrupting the every-day use of the computer. I can continue to work on email or write a newsletter article or play space invader games while the backups are being made invisibly behind the scenes. More likely, I am simply sleeping at 3 AM.

    TimeMachine also backs up EVERYTHING, including programs, the operating system, system files, hidden files, and the disk boot record. If you swap out a disk drive and replace it with a new drive, doing a “bare metal restore” is very easy. (SuperDuper does the same and I suspect that Carbon Copy Cloner probably does the same as well. But the simpler programs that only back up data files cannot do that.)

    My biggest complaint with TimeMachine is that it doesn’t back up files within a few seconds when they are saved. The backup might wait for up to an hour before being copied to the backup drive. My second biggest complaint is that TimeMachine doesn’t copy files to a safe, secure, encrypted space on file storage service across the Internet. It only backs up files to a local disk drive, such as a hard drive connected to a USB port on the computer. It can be made to back up to the cloud by using some rather awkward kludges but that isn’t built into the product from Apple.

    I also would never depend on only one backup anyway so-o-o-o-o…

    I also use an online backup service offered by Mega.nz and I love it. It makes a backup of every new or modified data file within 5 or 10 seconds after the file is saved to the hard drive, encrypts each file, and then sends it to Mega.nz’s file servers in New Zealand. It also saves all previous versions of each file if you are changing things which I often do in writing articles and in some other tasks. Mega doesn’t back up program files, operating system files, hidden files, or the disk boot record, however. It typically only backs up data files unless you tell it other wise in the setup.

    Then, just for security, I also use a THIRD backup program called Arq than makes once-an-hour backups automatically, encrypts them, and stores them on any of a number of files storage servers in the cloud. I store my files on Amazon S3 but Arq can use a bunch of other services as well. Again, Arq doesn’t back up system files, hidden files, or the disk boot record, however. It typically only backs up data files unless you tell it other wise in the setup.

    So, in short, my recommendation is “different strokes for different folks.” I suggest you decide what functions are important to you and then select the program(s) that meet those requirements. I also recommend making AT LEAST TWO DIFFERENT BACKUPS and storing them in at least two different places. Three backups stored in three different places is better, four backups stored in four different places is even better still, five is not a bad idea…

    Like

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