While you may sometimes feel like your personal computer (PC) is possessed, an exorcism would be of little help for most computer problems. It may be of little consolation to you, but even so-called computer experts, who work with PCs on a daily basis, get just as frustrated with PC related problems as you do—probably more so.
PC usage has grown to such a point that it is uncommon for the average family to not have a PC. Our reliance and dependence on them to shop, bank and communicate continuously grows. As such, they have become a necessity for many, even for merely personal use. Unfortunately, despite the evolution of the PC and its related software, their operation has yet to be simplified and they are still not as reliable as our other tools and appliances. This article will provide a few suggestions on how to prepare for when problems with your PC arise.
While the Information Technology department of Henssler Financial does not and cannot provide individual computer support, we will provide some general advice and commentary on personal and small-business computer usage. What may work for some, will not work for all; therefore, please no e-mails saying “But, you forgot about this,” as we cannot cover all situations.
First and foremost, always remember it is not a question of IF your computer will crash, just a matter of WHEN. Computers are electro-mechanical devices made up of numerous components of varying quality and reliability. Eventually, one or more of those components will fail. Additionally, PCs are one of the most often stolen devices in home burglaries, and should you have a fire, it is likely that your PC and all contents will be totally destroyed. As a precaution, you should ensure that you have a reliable backup of your important information. When trying to identify what important information could be affected, think of what information or files are stored on your PC that you would pay money to get back if lost. Odds are if you are willing to pay to replace it, it should be more cost effective to make a copy of it. Backups are insurance—like insurance, we hope we never need it, but are glad we have it when we do.
For the average home user, files such as digital photos, e-mails, e-mail addresses, banking and financial software, and passwords to the different websites we visit would be considered backup worthy. Some people back-up their data to removable media like CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, tape drives or removable hard drives. Others may “offsite” their data, relying on a third party to store copies of their data for them. Many people use a combination of both, and you may even do so already.
E-mail and E-mail Addresses
If you use a browser based e-mail service (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) you already trust your e-mail and e-mail addresses to a third party. Generally, these services are completely free and highly reliable.
Digital Photos and Movies
Digital photo sites like Flickr, Snapfish, Shutterfly, etc., do not charge you to store photos on their site; however, they do charge to print photos. Some require you to order prints periodically to maintain your storage of photos. While utilizing one of these services is good, you may also consider burning a copy of your digital images to DVD and storing them in a fireproof safe. Considering that your photos are items that are irreplaceable, the cost of the DVD burner and recordable media works out to be very cheap insurance. A good, free option is Picasa from Google, where you can upload your digital photos to the Picasa Web Album. Currently, you can store 2GB for free and purchase additional space from Google as needed. Like the other services, you can order prints from a number of online services, as well as share your albums with others. You will need a free Google account to use this service. If you do not currently have one, click here to open an account. To download Picasa, click here.
Software and Data
There are a number of free and low-cost offsite storage websites that provide software, that will automatically backup selected files from your computer to theirs. Most home PC users should consider one of these services, as many manual backup processes tend to be forgotten. Several months or even years of information could be missing if a tragedy should strike. If you have something that automatically backs up your files when the files change, you are much less likely to lose information. To find sites that provide this service, go to your favorite search engine and enter the words “Internet backup.” You will find a lot of companies in this market—many will come and go, especially those that purport to be totally free. One to consider is http://www.mozy.com/. This site offers 2 GB of free backup or an unlimited amount for $4.95 per month.
Protecting your important data through backup is the first, and typically, most important step to take. Equally important, if you are connecting to the Internet, is computer security. For most, that means anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and firewall software, all of which often come packaged in the same product from most vendors. In general, you should not even consider connecting to the Internet unless you have a current version of a product that provides this protection. A current leader for the home market is ZoneAlarm.
With your computer protected by current and updated security software and all of your important data backed up, should you still worry? Well, you are now in better shape than probably 90% of your neighbors and friends, but there is even more that you can do. If you can afford to be without your PC for several days, then you have the option of taking it to a local repair service or paying for an on-site technician to come to your house. However, if you depend on your computer for your work and being without it even for one day will cost you time, money or grief, there are a number of things you can do to improve reliability and decrease potential downtime.
For less than $150 you can create a backup and recovery solution that is equal to or better than what most small and medium businesses currently use. This is what I use for my personal systems and as a result have never lost any data:
- Purchase and install Acronis ‘True Image Home’ for $50. This software will not only backup files, but it can also make a complete image of your hard-drive, or even a mirror image.
- Purchase a removable drive bay, such as http://www.addonics.com/products/mobile_rack/aesnapmrsa.asp. This device allows you to add removable hard drives to your system both for extra storage as well as for backup.
- Configure True Image to create nightly full disk images of your data to a removable drive. The cost of hard drives is so low that you could have more than one, rotating them in and out between a fireproof safe or another location to ensure the safety of your data.
- True Image has other features, including the ability to create a clone of your hard-disk and a utility to test new software, rolling back all of the changes made if it causes problems. It is much more than simply a backup program and is very reasonably priced.
Should you accidentally delete a file, you can quickly recover it from your daily backup image. If your PC ‘crashes’ or is stolen, the removable drive you stored in a safe place can be used to fully restore your system within a few hours.
Henssler Financial believes you should Live Ready. That means protecting and backing up your data from your personal PC. This is a wise decision both technically and financially. Do not wait until a disaster strikes, because by then, it may be too late.