Every few weeks, I see someone else on Facebook realise too late that a laptop is not something you can rely on always being around. Whether it is through theft, hard-drive failure or a knocked-over coffee, information on a laptop is very vulnerable to being made suddenly unavailable. I have a number of ways of backing up important information, and I use them sporadically, when I remember / have time / can be bothered. I used Syncback for a while, which did work well but relied on me remembering to plug in the external hard drive and leave the computer turned on at the time that the backups were meant to happen. I bought wireless network storage to try to make it easier, but still I found that backups were often out of date. I bought a new laptop and didn’t bother installing Syncback so then I was completely unprotected. My partner also bought a new laptop and was loading it up with music and photos and asking “what happens if it breaks”. And all the time, I wondered what good any of these backups would be if my canal-side house flooded or if someone broke in and took it all. In the last few months, though, I have found two methods of protecting my files that just work and both have simplified my life and given me an enormous sense of well-being.
A few months ago I discovered Dropbox as a way of getting miscellaneous files onto my iPhone. It’s free, you install it on all computers you use and it behaves like a normal folder on any all of the computers. The special thing about this folder is that it is always exactly the same on all computers. It’s brilliant. I routinely use 3 different computers, and they all have Dropbox installed. I store any document that I am working on in my Dropbox folder, so wherever I access it I am seeing the latest version. I have recommended it to a friend working on a thesis, who had been emailing copies backwards and forwards, and lost the latest version when her laptop died. She could retrieve a version that was a few days old from her emails, but with Dropbox she could have logged in to the web interface from any computer and found the latest version. The free edition comes with 2GB storage.
I am a longtime listener to the This Week in Tech and This week in Google podcasts from Leo Laporte. One of his sponsors is Carbonite, so each week I get another reminder of how important off-site storage is and a little pitch for the benefits of Carbonite. I finally decided it was worth a try and signed up. They offer 2 weeks for free whilst you check that it works for you, and then it costs $54 a year to back up one computer (same dollar price applied in the UK). It works by securely copying the contents of specified folders to a server somewhere far, far away. If your laptop goes kablooey, you can install Carbonite on a new computer and restore some or all of these folders to your new computer. They warn you that the initial backup can take some time (I backed up 25,000 files making 23GB of data to transfer) and they are not wrong. After a couple of weeks my backup was complete and now it just keeps it up to date in the background. Whilst having a bit of an explore I realised that not only is Carbonite keeping my backup current, it is also keeping an archive of previous versions of files. So this means that when I delete an entire folder of photos by mistake, or overwrite one document with another, I can go to Carbonite and restore the files to how they were before I messed up. And if the house ever floods or I leave my laptop in a pub, I know that the insurance can replace the hardware and Carbonite can restore the really valuable stuff. My partner as now also installed Carbonite and her backup is well underway. It really does take quite a while the first time though, so patience and a little bit of faith is required. Once you see the little green padlock telling you that the backup is complete though, I assure you that you will sleep a little more soundly. Links: