The Ultimate Backup Guide

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about data backup these days, thanks to the increasing popularity of services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Carbonite, Mozy, etc. This guide—the result of months of research and writing—will cover all of those and much more.

While at first glance backup seems like a straightforward topic, it can be complicated by the following common situations:

  • Having more data than you can fit on your computer
  • Using multiple computers that need access to the same files
  • Making some files accessible on the Web for times when you can’t use your own computer
  • Syncing and accessing some files with your mobile devices (phones, tablets)
  • Protecting yourself from a major system crash, theft or disaster
  • Keeping copies of different versions of some files
  • Syncing or backing up only selected files instead of everything

My goal is to help you understand everything you need to know about protecting your data with backups. I will also show you how to sync your files across all your computing devices and how to share selected files or collaborate with others.

At its core, this is a technology guide, but securing your digital data is about more than just technology. Thus, I will provide a unique framework to help you organize and more easily work with your data. You will learn how to match different techniques to different data types and hopefully become more productive in the process.

I have tried to make this guide complete, which means it must appeal to the tech-savvy and technophobe alike. Thus, you will read—in simple terms—about the different types of backup (full, incremental, differential, delta), cloud services, how to protect your files with encryption, the importance of file systems when working with different types of computers, permanently assigning drive letters to external drives, and other useful tips.

In many sections of the guide I present a fairly complete listing of (mostly) free backup and syncing tools and services. I do this to be thorough and for those who may have special needs or an above-average interest in the topic. However, I recognize you will most likely be more interested in personal suggestions than a full listing of choices which will require time to investigate. Accordingly, I highlight the tools I have used and recommend. Moreover, I lay out my complete backup and syncing system, which you are free to copy if it suits you.

Note: I am a Windows user and this bias shows in parts of the guide. Most of the concepts are independent of operating system, and many of the recommended programs are available for Macs as well as Windows, but some details (e.g., the discussion of Windows Libraries) and some highlighted software and services, are Windows-only. I think if you are a Mac user you are already used to this common bias, but I wasn to make it clear before you decide to read this guide.

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