Compare & Contrast
Back Up With Ease
By Anthony Paonita
BACKING up your computer is something like buying life insurance or writing a will: No one likes to think about it, but it buys you peace of mind. With the terrorist attacks of September, as well as continuing jitters, it's nice to know that you can have some control over an essential part of your life -- your digital existence.
A sample of what's out there in backup devices.
Portable External Hard Drives
Response No. 228
M2 QuadSlim 2.5" Firewire Hard Drive
$280 Features: 30 GB capacity, no external power supply needed, fits in pocket, both Windows and Mac.
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SmartDisk VST Hard Drive
Response No. 229
$430 Features: Has both USB and Firewire connections, comes with Aladdin backup software, for both Windows and Mac.
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Response No. 230
$150 Features: 250 MB removable cartridges, USB connection, works with both Macs and Windows computers.
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Response No. 231
Features: 65 MB for $4.95 a month, 150 MB storage space for $9.95 a month, file sharing, file synchronization.
Response No. 232
Features: $9.95 monthly for 100 MB, $24.95 for 1 GB, Web browser access to files, integration with Windows 95/98/Me desktop.
Like E-Z insurance plans, backing up is less complicated than it used to be. In a former life as a computer systems type, I had to deal with cranky peripheral devices, weird connection methods and often incompatible media. But it's now easier to buy, connect and configure. And if you're still not satisfied and want to steer clear of connecting anything to your PC, you can just ship your files over the Internet.
The key to all of this is to analyze your needs are, make a plan, and most importantly, stick to it. Feel like procrastinating? Imagine if you lost the documents because your computer went on the fritz or was lost in a disaster, natural or otherwise.
What About Your Needs?
One of the benefits of life in a modern, networked office with platoons of information technology people attending to our every need is that should this Mac I'm using right now decide not to work, I could get another one and carry on. I store my files on a shared network server, and if this goes down, I could go over to any other computer in the office and pick up right where I left off.
But not everyone's so lucky.
So do you have another computer besides that neat desktop with a big monitor, perfect for spreadsheets, Web pages, and the Sims? I thought not. Buy one, and keep it somewhere else, like home, or a friend or colleague's home or office. Have it set up like you need to, with the right software -- check those licenses and make sure you're covered -- as well as whatever settings you need to connect to your Internet service provider. Remember, duplication in computing life is good. This should be your computer mantra.
I was stranded at home for a few days when the World Trade Center was hit. With a deadline approaching, it looked as though I and my editor were out of luck. But I'd maintained my home computer's link to the office network, kept a copy of our editorial software on it, and was able to log on and do my job.
You don't have to spend a fortune, either. Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Toshiba, Sony and Apple, just to name a few, make competent or better inexpensive portables.
Keep all your active work files in an easy-to-find place on your main work computer. That makes copying later on easier -- and mistakes more difficult. I can't stress enough the need to be neat and systematic about how your organize your digital life.
Make this a ritual: Every so often, bring your laptop to meet your desktop. Run the file synchronization program. That way, you'll have a reasonably current "mirror" of your work.
Buy Your PC a Gift
Back in the innocent, carefree days of, say, 1999, it almost seemed as though the point of life was to buy presents for my computers. I couldn't get enough of nifty programs, cool peripherals to copy my files, more RAM, etc.
But now some gifts are more necessary than others. (If you're lucky, though, your PC or Mac already has these things.)
I'm talking about external media, whether they're CD-based, or are hard-drive substitutes, like Zip drives and the like. If you're in the market for a new computer, make sure your new baby has either a rewriteable drive, or a Zip--or both, for the truly obsessive. In the bad old days before the universal serial bus (USB), you had to decide between serial port or SCSI connections, installing balky drivers, etc.
Now most PCs and Macs have the drivers built into the operating system, and it's really close to plug and play.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. CDs have a greater capacity and the disks tend to be more durable. There are no moving parts. And every computer has a CD-ROM drive, so you could theoretically make a mirror of your hard drive, go to another computer and you're good to go. On the other hand, it takes longer to "burn" a CD.
Zips have lower capacity (250 MB versus about 650) and used to be fragile. Fewer people use them, unless you happen to deal with artsy types and service bureaus. But they're easy to use, and you can delete files and add them easily, just like using an external hard drive.
Speaking of which, if you're a Mac user, or have a PC made by an enlightened manufacturer that has graciously supplied you with an IE 1394, or Firewire port, consider buying an external hard drive. They cost a few hundred dollars, are about the size of a pack of cigarettes (remember them?) and give you gigabytes of reusable space for your precious files.
Whatever you choose, follow a regular routine. Back up your files every day or two. And then, and this is important, take your Zip or CD somewhere else.
Take it home, take it to a friend or colleague, whatever. Get it off site. That way should disaster strike, you'll have a copy of your important files.
Send Your Files To Camp
There's still another option, and it's a variant on what the big boys do: Backup your files to a remote server. In corporate law departments and big law firms, they do it over a T1 line to another office. But using your Internet connection--having a DSL line, or cable connection helps--you can backup remotely, too.
There are a couple of services, such as FreeDrive and DataPeer, that let you do this. They usually offer a tiny bit of storage space for free, with a sliding scale for those with heavier-duty needs (this means you).
For Mac users on the latest systems (OS 9 and X), support for the company's iDisk service is built into the OS. It's free for an admittedly paltry 20 megabytes, and for a fee above that.
But whichever way you choose to backup your files and your computing setup, just remember to do it. It may be a little annoying to follow a backup routine, but think of the alternative.
Anthony Paonita is a senior editor at The American Lawyer and Corporate Counsel magazines, and a contributing editor to Law Technology News.