Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Backups are an important necessity. Making sure your backups are configured properly and backing up what you expect is equally important.
I recently hard a hard drive failure on my PC and replaced it with a new one. I reinstalled Windows XP and had a back up with a program called Genie Backup Manager Home 7.0 which advertised it backed up programs. When I reinstalled my back up to my surprise it did not reinstall most of the programs that I had downloaded off the net or from CDs. I found out later it only restored certain programs and not downloaded ones.
My question is are there any software programs that I can get to back up my PC and restore it to the original condition with all my working downloaded programs? I was told an image backup might do it but a few people told me it would not restore my downloaded and CD-installed programs and would probably not put my computer back exactly the way it was except for certain things. Is this true and if it is are there any other programs available that will do it?
I'm not at all familiar with Genie Backup Manager, so I can't speak to it specifically. I will say that almost any good backup program should be able to do exactly what you're looking for.
But there are two caveats: you have to configure your backup program properly, and you must keep your backups up to date.
Since you mentioned them, let's look at disk imaging tools first. The best way to think of disk images is simply that they take a snapshot of your entire hard disk. If you save that snapshot, you can restore your hard disk to the exact state is was in when the snapshot was taken.
But think about that carefully for a moment: the exact state is was in.
That means that any changes you made, any programs you installed, any files you modified after you created that disk image will not be there when you restore to the disk image.
Personally, I don't find disk imaging tools effective for routine backups. To be used as backups properly, disk images would take a lot of time and storage space.
Traditional backup software starts out in some ways like disk imaging software. It begins by taking a complete snapshot of whatever it is you tell it to back up.
And therein lies one of many differences.
Unlike disk images, which capture everything on your hard disk, traditional backup programs can be configured to only backup certain portions of your hard disk. If you don't tell it to back up, for example, your "Program Files" folder then you won't get its contents back should you need to restore from your backup.
My first guess is that could be what you experienced.
It varies from backup program to backup program, but you must configure it such that it's backing up everything you expect it to. The simplest is, of course, to tell it to backup your entire hard drive. That's not always practical or desirable, since that can take up a lot of space or backup media. That's why it's a decision you'll need to make to fit your needs and circumstances.
It's certainly quite possible that some backup programs default to ignoring the "Program Files" folder on the assumption that if needed anything therein can be restored by reinstalling the software. What's more important might be the "My Documents" folder where all of your data and documents are stored by default.
If that's not what you expect, then you need to configure the backup program properly.
My second guess is that you may not have kept your backup up-to-date.
Backups are something that you must do periodically. Depending on how much you use your computer, it could be as often as once a day, or as infrequent as once a month. The important thing to realize is that in the worst case scenario, any changes made or any software installed since the last backup was performed could be lost if you need to restore.
"Incremental" backup is a process that once again most all backup programs support. Rather than backing up everything anew, an incremental backup just builds on the backups that have happened before by saving only added and changed files. That means that the daily, weekly or monthly backup you need to do should typically be much quicker, and require less media, than that initial first backup.
But do them you must. If you perform a backup and think you're done, you risk losing everything that you've installed or done on your machine after the backup was performed.
Some backup programs automate this process so that you rarely have to think about it. But again, much like choosing how much of your hard disk needs to be backed up, it's something you need to be aware of, configure, and then periodically check in on to make sure that it's working.
I currently don't have a specific backup program recommendation as I have an excruciatingly custom backup solution I've written for myself. I hear good things about Retrospect, but I have not used it. As I said in an earlier article What backup program should I use?, "The best program ... is whatever one you'll actually do."
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