Sunday, November 30, 2008

Easy to use Backup software


I have been on the quest for the perfect backup software since many months. It was only last month that I chanced upon the ideal solution for Windows. Here is what I was looking for:

Backup my entire hard disk at one shot. I do not want to spend time selecting what to backup and what not. Portable USB hard drives are cheap enough that I can afford having an external hard drive of the same capacity as my laptop's hard drive. I would rather keep a complete backup of everything.

One step restore. In the event of a hard disk failure, I want the software to restore everything to the exact state at the time of backing up. I do not want to be bothered to reload the operating system, install the programs again, and then copy the data over. That's so 2005.

Automatically scheduled backups. I do not want to invoke the backup program manually. The backup should start automatically, in the background. All I need to do is leave my external hard disk plugged in when I am sitting on my desk, and I can assure that a backup shall be taken at some point.

Free. I do not want to pay for such software!

A few more thoughts on the how's and why's of backups can be found on www.howtohaven.com

Is it too much to ask for? Apparently not. After much research, I found four excellent backup utilities - namely IdleBackup, Cobian Backup, DriveImage XML and Macrium Reflect. My vote as the best software goes to Macrium Reflect. For quick and simple backups of data only, the winner is IdleBackup.

Macrium Reflect is one such tool that does exactly this! Reflect is a free download for home users running Windows XP or Vista, and uses Microsoft's Volume Shadow Copy service to ensure smooth, accurate and background backups.

Reflect can perform full and incremental backups of entire partitions at a single go. Backups can be browsed through using Windows Explorer, and individual files can be located within backups quite easily, without using extra software. If you have lost just one file, you can easily fish it out of a backup set rather than having to restore the whole volume back again. Scheduling backups is also quite easy with Reflect. Power users have the ability to use Windows' VBScript to invoke Reflect in a completely automated manner.

In my opinion, the biggest advantage of Reflect was its ability to create a bootable Rescue CD, which is a Linux CD with Reflect's restore software put on it. You need to create the rescue CD once, and store it away safely. In the event of a hard disk failure, the steps for restoration are very easy - (a) install a new hard disk in your computer, (b) connect the external hard disk containing the backup and (c) boot with the rescue CD. Reflect does the rest, through easy to understand prompts.

An excellent tutorial for Macrium Reflect can be found on www.tipsfor.us heavily illustrated with screenshots.

Lastly, I must confess that I am using a Mac since many years. Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) comes built in with the most amazing backup software I have seen - Time Machine. I wish every operating system came with an easy backup and restore solution such as Time Machine!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two specialized backup tools


As an extension to my article on easy to use backup software, I wanted to write about two backup utilities which deserve an honourable mention.

The first utility is KLS Mail Backup, which does exactly that. A simple easy to use backup mechanism for your emails saved on your computer. It can backup and restore emails and profiles for Microsoft Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and my favourite - Mozilla Thunderbird.

KLS Mail Backup is not to be confused with KLS's main product - KLS Backup. KLS Backup is a complicated backup software which allows you to do "everything", sadly at the cost of simplicity.

The second utility is DriverBackup2 - a lovely thoughtful free utility to backup all your Windows drivers installed on your computer. The biggest pain in re-installing a Windows system is to apply all the drivers again. There are display drivers, network drivers, sound card drivers, and what not. Finding the drivers from various CDs or downloading them from the Internet can be a royal hassle. DriverBackup2 takes a backup of all your installed drivers in one shot, and can restore them just as easily.

Here's an article with more information on DriverBackup2.

And remember, disasters do strike. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. You know the tools already now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Protecting your kids online


The Internet has brought its fair share of malaises in today's society. It is hard for us to imagine what kind of information will the next generation be stumbling upon the Internet. In this article, I shall discuss a simple and effective method to help you restrict Internet usage to more enriching and productive sites and prevent your children from accessing unsuitable content or waste time on social networking sites. However, in today's age of unrestricted and excessive information it is impossible to just rely on restrictions.

There are two points that parents need to think about regarding Internet use for children. The first is to outline what is not appropriate - unrestricted access to dating sites, emails from strangers, chatting for hours at end, adult oriented content and more. There are many products in the market for restricting Internet access. The best solution, however, is a free service provided by OpenDNS.

DNS, or Domain Name System, is one of the fundamental services on the Internet. DNS is used to translate symbolic names such as www.google.com to numeric IP addresses such as 209.85.153.104. OpenDNS goes a step beyond simple name to number translation. It categorizes websites based on their contents such as adult oriented sites, chat sites, dating sites, hate crimes, weapons, gambling and more. OpenDNS can be used by one and all to restrict which categories of sites are allowed or restricted. Over 10,000 schools in the U.S. use OpenDNS on their computers.

OpenDNS is easy to set up and use. All you need is a free OpenDNS account and a few changes to your network settings. A detailed tutorial on how to set up OpenDNS can be found on the Cyberwatch blog at http://blog.cyberwatch.in. I urge both parents and schools to invest some time and set up OpenDNS.

The second point is to chart out fruitful and productive use of the Internet for children. Let the Internet be a resource in nurturing good, sound hobbies - something more than voting dancers and singers off TV shows. Nurture enduring hobbies like collecting stamps and coins, model trains and aircraft, origami. Give children something productive to occupy their minds with and you won't have to worry about them falling into the dark side of the Internet.