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Technology Today August  2011
by Robert Sanborn

It is amazing how the best laid plans of a backup just don't work. My main computer gets backed up every day with Symantec Ghost 15 and when I feel worried, I also use EaseUS Todo Backup to also give me a much more portable image. The Ghost backups are done daily and stored on a networked storage backup device I have on my home network. For a long time, I have worried that this is not quite complete but the research I did just did not come up with something that looked to be a better alternative. There are lots of back up programs out there but most of them were lacking in something. One good example is the Seagate Backup drives that come with software that keep everything backed up while working and they work great unless you need to restore the complete system because it seems that they only back up what they think is important and not the entire system. Where you get into trouble is when you use what they might think is obscure software that creates data files in places other than "My Documents" and so they tend to skip them. This makes having the full backup important.

The other problem is that you need to be sure that the full backup has generations and keeps track of different versions. Supposed that two days ago, a new virus hits your system and doesn't corrupt things until today. Yesterday's backup is probably worthless because that was when the virus hit. So you need to go back a couple of days further. Normal System Restore may help you here but my experiences with it under Windows XP and Vista are spotty at best so I can't really rely on it to get me out of trouble.

So these kinds of strategies work well when there are no changes to the hardware or the worst that happens is that your hard drive dies. Of course, with all of these approaches, you need to be sure that you have a bootable image restore disc created before you have this major crash otherwise, you are left out in the cold. So far, so good.

The big problem I ran into was that the mainboard on the computer died and it was three years old. It is not available anymore, the technology has passed it long by, and I have to replace it with something new. That means a new mainboard, new processor, new memory; might as well be a new system. So what about all those images that I have been faithfully making for the past three years? They are all useless. The other tools available for moving from one computer to another are also worthless. Laplink's PC Mover and Windows own Easy Transfer Wizard all make the assumption that you have a good working computer to move data from and with a dead mainboard, you don't. I have a still working hard drive and was able to connect it as a slave to my new computer and can get data files manually but here you need to be so careful about tracking down where things are stashed.

Problem is that I have not seen any really good reference on what you need to collect and where they are stashed. Windows today does a good job of keeping everything inside of what we used to know as "My Documents" and Windows 7 actually makes it easier to find things with the use of Libraries and a much improved search engine. But even Microsoft makes it difficult to find Favorites, Outlook or Windows Mail files, and Address books among others. If you have customized your Office environment, desktop, and gadgets, they are also a pain to find. And of course, depending on what version of Windows and what version of Office, things could be stashed in quite a few different places.

When you delve into the software you have running on your computer, you will find many applications that keep configuration files in odd locations. It is amazing how many programs allow you to make a wide variety of changes to the way the program works. It makes is much easier to use the software but if you need to transfer it after a crash, you can spend a lot of time researching where the configuration files are stored.

Another problem we run into in this digital age is that a lot of software we use is downloaded to the computer. For free stuff, I don't worry about keeping track of it and I include Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, and Java in this category. Same for my favorite utilities like Ccleaner, and MalwareBytes. With these, you always want to go to their websites and download the latest versions.

Where we run into the snag is the software you pay for and download. These are the programs you need to set up a strategy for keeping track of what you download and what the license keys are for the software. Nearly every package you can buy off the shelf these days is available for downloading as well and if you do download it, first save it to a "downloads" folder before you install it. And the second thing you should do is that if it comes with an install key or code, write that down as well and save it in a text file in that same downloads folder. It will save you a ton of headaches later on when you need to restore a computer and download the software again but can't remember where the darned code to install it went to. I am still in favor of buying the retail box for software for this very reason. You have the disc and the install key. This is especially true for anti-virus software.

I mentioned two data transfer options above and have used both Laplink's PC Mover and Microsoft's own Easy Transfer Wizard with some limited success. I was helping someone move data from one Windows 7 Machine to another and in the past, the Microsoft Easy Transfer Wizard would move over the office configuration settings quite easily. Not any more. It seems that Office Outlook 2010 is not supported in the Microsoft Easy Transfer Wizard and it will not bring over your data files, emails, address book, or anything else with it. Wow, what a surprise, and what a pain. Good think I had done the research on how to do it all manually.

Speaking of upgrades, the same computer that I discovered that the Windows Easy Transfer Wizard would not work on the latest Microsoft software was a brand new Toshiba notebook. Nice notebook, beautiful screen, and the speakers produce a sound quality that you can listen to. That was the good news, the bad news is that Toshiba now includes nearly 20 applications that some people would call "crap ware" preinstalled on the notebook. Now some of them are worth keeping but when you think that a new out of the box desktop computer built from components comes with none of the above applications, you wonder why Toshiba thinks we need such enhancements to our computing experience.

Windows 8

If you thought Windows 7 was a bit different from Windows XP (never mind Vista), you are in for a huge jump again with Windows 8. Walter Mossberg, the Wall St. Journal technology writer, hosted an All Things Digital Conference and Microsoft was there to show of Windows 8. This link is to a 20 minute video and if you watch it, be prepared for some radical changes. Think Smart Phone. Of course, your first question will be, what if I don't have a touch panel computer? And that is ok, Windows 8 will still work with a mouse and keyboard. Watch the video: http://allthingsd.com/20110601/microsofts-windows-8-demo-from-d9-video/?p=81767?mod=tweet

Notebooks

Notebooks are probably now outselling desktop computers and while once upon a time, people either had a notebook or a desktop, now they are having both. In fact, with what you can do on a Smartphone and Tablet computer, we begin to see all four devices being used to stay connected on the net. Apple has really kicked the accessibility door wide open with the iPhone and iPad and Google's Droid operating system is not far behind. One of the major issues with notebooks (and the now fading away Netbooks) still is not enough power and too many applications running and phoning home. Buy the $349 special at the superstore and within the year, you will wish you had something more substantial.

Robert Sanborn
robert@pcll.com

 

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