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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.

"Backups are something that you must do periodically."

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."

Article C2806 - October 9, 2006 « »

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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.

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4 Comments
Chris Buechler
October 11, 2006 10:33 AM

"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."

Not at all. There are several disk imaging solutions that allow you to keep one full backup, and however many incremental backups you desire. They also utilize compression, which can drastically reduce the image size depending on the type of data on the drive.

Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery (formerly Live State Recovery) is my favorite choice for this purpose. At home, I use it to back up to an external hard drive. At work, our most critical desktops and all servers back up to a huge file server.

One of the nicest things about this program is you can restore to any piece of hardware. With traditional imaging software, you can't restore to anything other than identical (or very, very close to identical) hardware. Look into the "Restore Anyware" option for more info.

I'm not related to Symantec in any way (in fact I've ditched their antivirus and some of their other software), but I love Backup Exec System Recovery.

David
October 13, 2006 9:56 PM

I've been using Acronis True Image for disc imaging for years and IMO it's the best on the market. Real user friendly and I've never had a problem with it. It takes approx. 5 minutes to do a complete reformat....lol Old types back up programs make you work too hard. I prefer easy..lol

Eileen Hughes
April 14, 2007 6:38 AM

I have XP Professional SP2 and use the Backup program that is with the software. For hardware I have 2 HP SureStore Dat 40,internal and external (new). Originally I partitioned my hard drive. worked well. I decided I wanted only c. Backed up before deleting partitions and reinstalled XP SERVICE PACK 2. Tried to restore "d" files to my docs on C. Can't do it! I configured the software correctly for restore to other location. I did disable one HP Dat 40 at a time. Help please. My babies pictures are on the old "d". Thank you.

Jonard Bless Lacierda
May 5, 2008 6:36 PM

All about this back-ups, I just reformatted my PC from windows 98 to windows xp sp2. I backed up the entire hard disk C in which my operating system was there before ofcourse, using windows back up on the start menu/all programs/accesories/systemtools then put the back up file on hard disk D:. All is done, I had my back up file stored on D:(cus I wont erase the d: only the C:)completely and succesfully, then reformatted my PC! :)... I first tried to restore a previous programs named "photoloader" (which I lost its cd-installer) so I restore it's files on the original position which is in "C:/Program Files", the file for the program is named 'Casio'. After that, I tried to run (double-click) the program (Photoloader) but it was in error. Does that mean I have to also restore "C:/Windows"? I know it has nothing to do with "C:/Documents and Settings" right? I just want this specific program to be reinstalled again that's all, please Mr. Leo or anybody, help me. I need any knowledge, thank you. God Bless.

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