Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Even if you use your computer as nothing more than a gateway to the internet it's likely that you still need to take care to back up important data.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think I need to back-up because all I use my machine for is internet browsing, e-mail, YouTube videos, and a foreign language subscription online. I have the hard copy of Windows XP if I need to reformat and reinstall. I purposely use and run it leanly so I don't have to back-up.

You need to back up.

Your approach is a fine one, and you likely don't absolutely need to back up everything that I might otherwise suggest, but I still think you need to back up.

In fact, I hear often from people in your position who are very sorry that they did not.

Let's first look at what's stored on your PC.

Certainly, if you're ready to simply reinstall Windows when disaster strikes, that actually removes a fair amount of what you might otherwise need to backup. Certainly, you'll lose all your installed programs, and any settings and customizations, but given how lean you appear to be running that may not be a big issue. Reinstalling and reconfiguring what you do need might not be that much work.

"... rule number one: if it's on your PC, and you don't want to lose it, you must back it up."

On the other hand, restoring from a backup could be a lot less work.

But that's really a matter of choice.

You mention "email", which could be stored on your machine or on the web. If it's on the machine in a desktop email program like Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail or others, then you absolutely need to back up or you risk losing it all.

In fact, that's rule number one: if it's on your PC, and you don't want to lose it, you must back it up.

If you don't care if it all disappears (and you're certain about this), then by all means - skip this backup.

Now, let's talk about the stuff that's not stored on your PC.

Rule number two boils down to this: if it's not on your PC, and you don't want to lose it, you must back it up.

Once again, email as the example: if your online web-based email account disappeared, was suddenly empty or simply became inaccessible, what would you do?

Would you care?

If you would care, then you should be backing it up to your PC, to another account, or to somewhere. Back it up so that when something happens to it you'll still have all, or the majority, of your data back.

This applies to anything you store online. Photos, videos, email ... anything that you store online could be lost. No, not typically by the service's own hardware failing, but more commonly by account theft or loss.

If you don't have a backup, that data is gone. Forever.

So please, think carefully about what you might lose before you decide you don't need a backup.

Article C3921 - November 11, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Mark Jacobs
November 11, 2009 1:19 PM

If it turns out that all you need to back up are your emails, a simple option is to open a gmail or yahoo account strictly for back-up and forward all of your inportant emails as they come. You can even have gmail do that for you with out even forwarding by having gmail download it automatically.
In fact, you can email anything you want to back-up to a gmail account. They hold over 7GB.
You might want to consider encrypting any private files first. You can use truecrypt, pgp, gpg, winrar etc. for that.
Just log on to that account at least once a month (I thinkd the rule is every 3 months but monthly is safer) so that it won't be closed on you.

Minot Isok
November 11, 2009 5:33 PM

It is not always what I'm currently using or doing with my computer that makes me decide on backups. It is all the tweaking of a system after an operating system install/reinstall that requires a lot of time... and you never remember every little tweak unless you have a backup.

A backup just saves me from all that tweaking I would have to do.

November 12, 2009 8:06 AM

Backing up my emails helped me recover my hacked gmail in some 15 minutes. The password recovery form asks many questions and I could answer every single one with dates because I still had access to my emails on Outlook and Thunderbird.

Even what seem like data you wouldn't mind losing could become useful. I lost my backup data on an encrypted partition due to first sector corruption, I was able to recover 90% updated data from another backup that I had not deleted

Charles Tilley
November 19, 2009 7:18 PM

How is it that you can lose your emails if your system crashes and you have no backup? I've had two laptops crash on me and all I did was pick another one up and sign on and get my emails. I've gotten a lot of good advice here (a couple that saved my butt), but this one, I don't understand. How my system going down causes Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail and Operamail to lose my emails. However, you should backup, regardless of the email situation. It's the only way to save your valuable (and sometimes unreplaceable) photos and work. But if you are one of those who simply either has nothing of importance, and only has the basics on your system to operate, as long as you have a working restore disc, then you don't have to backup. But bear in mind that reinstall after reinstall shortens the life of your hard drive.

Of course crashing the machine won't cause your web based email to be lost. The article specifically addresses that "if its on your PC you need to back it up".

And to clarify one point: repeated (re)installs will not wear out your hard drive any more than normal usage. A reinstall just reads and writes data to the hard disk, which is all your hard disk does as you use it every day.

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