SAN FRANCISCO (09/22/2003) - I've never backed up my data. How do I go about doing this?
Gary Oleson, Howard Lake, Minnesota
The Spector Backup System stores your backups in .zip archives and works with any media that Windows sees as a regular drive, including a second hard drive, flash RAM, and CD-RW discs. And apart from WinZip Computing Inc.'s US$29 WinZip compression shareware, the Spector Backup System is free; download a 30-day trial version of WinZip.
My method requires one short batch file, a couple of extra text files, and two or three free programs. Place the files and programs (except WinZip) on your media of choice. In the downloadable archive called backupme98.zip are the files for Windows 98 and Me; in backup2kxp.zip you'll find files that work with Win 2000 and XP.
The three required freebies (download them all at once in the archive called backup_utils.zip) are the WinZip Command Line Support Add-On, Paul Saletan's DateFile, and Jem E. Berkes's Ask, which is part of Berkes's DOS Utilities Collection. The WinZip add-on installs like any other Windows program, but DateFile and Ask are old DOS tools that you simply unzip to your backup media. (Ask is needed only if you use Windows 2000 or XP.)
The heart of this backup technique is the batch file backup.bat, which you can create with Notepad or any other text editor. Note that the command cls must be on the very last line, without even a blank line after it. For Windows 2000 and XP, change the third line to read ask F)ull or P)artial backup? C)ancel ~fpc. And you can skip that last 'cls' line.
The next file, backup.txt, is a list of the folders you'll back up. For Windows 2000 and XP, I recommend only one line: c:\documents and settings. If you use Windows 98 or Me, add a separate line to this text file for each of these folders:
The third file, nobackup.txt, contains exceptions--files and folders you don't want to back up. Again, every item here must be on a separate line. For Win 2000 or XP, list index.dat, ntuser.dat*, usrclass.dat*, and *\temporary internet files\*.*.
If you use CDs for your backups, you need software that allows Windows to treat the CD as if it were a big floppy disk. Most CD-RW drives come with DirectCD, Drag-To-Disk, InCD, or another such CD-writing program. CD users have an advantage: By adding the text file autorun.inf to the backup CD, you can have a backup launch automatically when the disc is inserted in the drive. To set up this system, open Notepad and type two lines:
Save the file as autorun.inf on your CD.
If you're not using a CD, you can create a shortcut to your backup by dragging the file backup.bat from your backup media to the Start menu. And, of course, you can start your backup by double-clicking the file in Explorer or any folder window.
However you launch it, backup.bat asks if you want to back up everything or just the files created or changed since your last backup. The file then displays a list of the .zip files it placed on your backup media. Use any program that reads .zip files to restore your backup.
Sara Samplawska of New York asks if you can boot from a USB drive. The short answer is maybe. First, your BIOS has to support booting from USB. To find out if it does, restart your computer and enter your PC Setup program (there should be a message when you turn on your machine telling you what key to press). Now check your boot device options to see if USB is one of them. If it is, then check your USB drive's specs to see if it is bootable. Note that while Windows XP and some other operating systems won't boot from an external drive, you can still use the USB device as a DOS-based, emergency boot device.