Backup Vs. System Image

Jessie in SD asks,

Will backup software on a flash drive backup programs or just data files? I lost a hard drive recently and was told it was illegal to backup software, even to the same machine for which it’s licensed. So all my files were backed up and I had no way to access them. Example Microsoft Office.

Hello Jessie.

This is an excellent question. Let’s talk about backups.

When we’re talking what most people think of as a backup, we’re really only talking about your files and folders, mostly things that the user creates and wants to save. When you use an automatic backup program, it usually just backs up your “libraries” – Documents, Music, Picture, and Videos. But you can also set the programs to back up other locations. These backups are easy for the everyday computer user to set up and use. You can backup and then restore single files or folders, like in the case of accidental deletion, or restore all files from the backup in case of a computer crash.

However, this type of backup will not back up the software you mentioned. Creating copies of copyrighted software is, indeed,  illegal, as you were told,  if there is intent to distribute. You are permitted to make a copy for backup or archival purposes, according to copyright laws. However, it is tied to that one computer.  If you have a computer failure, and have only backed up your files, you would need to reinstall all your programs, such as MS Office, using your activation keys. This is why it is important to save your product keys somewhere separate from your hard drive.

If you do want to back up your whole computer, including your installed programs, what you really want to look for is some type of System Image software, sometimes called Disk Image. These programs make an exact copy of your hard drive, bit by bit, at the time you take the image. You would need to save this to an external drive to preserve that data. The drive should be at least as large as the amount of data you have saved on your drive. Some of the software also lets you do incremental system images, that is, it will allow you to update it whenever it changes. Others only create the image and in order to update, you have to create a complete, new image. Windows 7 and 8 does have built in System Image options, however, they do lack many of the features of many other imaging programs out there.

A system image is the quickest way to restore your computer in the case of a major failure or hard drive crash. Simply restore the image to a new hard drive and your computer is back to the exact settings it was at the time you made the image, including all your programs and saved settings.

One other thing to keep in mind. If your computer or hard drive fails completely and you cannot access the Control Panel, you will also need an installation or system repair disk in order to restore using a system image. You must be able to boot into Windows in order to restore from a system image.

To be honest, the best way to completely backup a system is to use a combination of both of these approaches. Create a system image, saved to an external drive. Make sure your drive is large enough to store the image. It’s really not a bad idea to do this once a week or so, but at the very least, once a month., if you want an up to date image. But continue to do a typical backup daily (or as needed) for your files and photos. That way, if something happens, you have everything pretty up to date, and whatever may not be in your system image when you restore, you can easily recover from your daily backup.

– Audra

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