- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Even the best of computer systems can break down, and when they do you might reap an unexpected benefit: the chance to start over.

Of course, that’s less appealing if you’ve lost critical files or applications along the way. But there are ways of mitigating that situation, as we’ll see.

The main thing to remember — and one week into 2008 is still a good time to do so — is that computer breakdowns and problems happen to just about all users, sooner or later. Sometimes the reasons are visible; sometimes it just seems that the operating system gets overloaded. Either way, your computer isn’t working the way it should, or isn’t working at all, and you need help.

The first thing you should do — or, more precisely, should have done — is make sure that a backup of your data and/or applications is handy. A current backup of data and other files will mean you deploy the first, and generally most successful, tactic in the war against computer foul-ups: Reformat your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. Then, restore the applications and data, and you should be in good shape.

There are some variables here. Few backups are up to the second, so you may lose this morning’s work if you are unable to save it separately, perhaps, on a USB drive. But even a morning’s work isn’t as much, generally, as the entire contents of a disk drive, so count your blessings. More on backups in a moment.

The other chief variable is if there’s a genuine hardware failure.

Detecting such can range from an audible indication, such as excessive noise from a hard disk drive, to other signs of malfunction. Programs such as Norton SystemWorks, $70, include utilities to detect and repair many problems; Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system also has some useful utilities.

The Apple Macintosh operating system has its own raft of disk and other hardware utilities; Micromat offers the $98 Tech Tool Pro, which is now compatible with Mac OS X 10.5, more popularly known as Leopard. Tech Tool Pro can handle several hardware diagnostic tasks.

Both Leopard and Windows Vista offer their own file backup utilities, and I’d start with either to create a “basic” backup of my system and its data. Having a complete backup of everything is a good start, and might be worth doing on an annual basis, say in the month of January.

At the same time, it’s important to have more incremental backups, monthly and weekly, if not daily. You can do these with the supplied software in the operating system: both Mac and Windows users are able to tap their operating systems for such backup technologies.

Where should you store backups? That’s a good question, made more complex by the increasingly large size of our computer hard drives.

A growing number of online services offer remote backup. Carbonite, $49.95 a year, www.carbonite.com, has gotten some good buzz, although the service is currently only for Microsoft Windows users. A Mac version is in development, the firm says. The other solution, which will be explored in fut is to have an external hard disk drive for use as a backup device. Whatever you do, here is one thing you must avoid: hubris. Computer problems will strike just about everyone, so being proactive is, I believe, good common sense.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech blog at www3.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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