Help me backup my dad's computer and emails!
January 2, 2007 1:57 PM   Subscribe

My dad needs help with total computer backup (particularly Outlook). Computer in question is an older Dell model, running Windows XP. No one in our family is a computer genius. More information and particular stickyness inside.

My dad has been reading a lot of articles in the newspapers lately about the dangers of HDs failing and whatnot. We've had a history of failures (namely my computer, 3 drives and counting) and so it's a bit freaky. He had a severe HD failure a few years back and his solution was to take it to Best Buy and have them attempt to save as much information as they could. They burned it to CD and when he bought a new HD, he had them install it along with another HD (so under My Computer it comes up as Local Disk C: and Backup D:) where all of his backed up files from the failed HD are.
He wants to backup his files (basically only Excel spreadsheets and Word docs) as well as all his email which he reads through Outlook and his IE favorites.

How can he do this so if both the HDs fail, he has some way of getting to his files and his emails?

He's looked into using a flash drive (which is what I use to half-assedly backup my stuff, basically only important documents) but he's not sure what would be the best way. Something that is absurdly easy to understand and explain and possibly able to be completely automated would be best.

(Like I said before, no one in our family is exactly a computer genius. He hates Firefox, and believes everything that Microsoft puts out is golden, FWIW.)

Help me AskMefi!
posted by sperose to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe something like Carbonite?
posted by chairface at 2:04 PM on January 2, 2007

I use Carbonite, but Mozy seems better. More features, same price. Both assume a broadband connection.
posted by GuyZero at 2:11 PM on January 2, 2007

For outlook: copy the .pst file.
posted by orthogonality at 2:18 PM on January 2, 2007

Orthogonality: where would one find the .pst file? Is there more than one?

Carbonite and Mozy seem like they would work, but has anyone used them to restore their own files before?
posted by sperose at 2:34 PM on January 2, 2007

I have browsed my backups w. Carbonite but never restored a file. It's just one click though. I think anyone could figure it out. It's very simple.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2007

I think the most straight forward solution is to purchase a huge external USB2 drive and to use the standard Windows Backup to dump everything to it once a month or once every two weeks.

Buy a drive which is twice the size of the storage inside your computer and keep two successive copies of your backup. Or buy two drives and alternate them. Disconnect the backup drive and power it down when you are not using it. Don't use it for anything except backups (or restores, come the day.)

Big USB2 drives are really cheap now.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2007

Maybe you should consider something like Symantec's Backup Exec System Restore. The desktop version is only about $70.00, and it takes a complete snapshot of your system (in conjunction with the above-referenced external USB drive) That way, in the event of a hard drive failure or a new computer, you'll be able to transfer all your stuff without worrying about, for instance, where .PST files are. You'll have to forgive all the computerese gobbledy-gook on the website; the software is positioned for sysadmins. But I think it'd work well for you; give Symantec a call and have one of their sales reps talk you through it.
posted by ZakDaddy at 3:39 PM on January 2, 2007

sperose writes "Orthogonality: where would one find the .pst file? Is there more than one?"

Just do a disk search for it (them), and save any you find. (It's probably in C:\documents and settings\username\application data\microsoft office\outlook).
posted by orthogonality at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2007

For good protection against hardware failure consider offsite backup. I've used Connected TLM. I've really no idea why more people don't use offsite backup more. It's $15.00 a month, but it's automatic, completely hassle free and it offers the ability to restore from (say) a week ago.

Although I have to say that mozy looks like it does the same and it's a lot cheaper.
posted by seanyboy at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2007

I'm with Steven. Here's the post I was preparing when he posted ahead of me:

1. Purchase one of these external hard drives. Or buy two and alternate them for good-for-the money protection.
2. Use the Windows XP backup utility to back up the computer. You can find the utility in Start/All Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Backup.
Here is a set of screenshots that can help you run a backup using the tool.
3. After a backup is run, take the external drive off the computer and send it away from the house - take it somewhere offsite if you want. Replace it with the other hard drive. Alternate them in this fashion when running backups. In this way, you have a rolling set of backups that can go back weeks or months at a time. Two drives may be overkill for your needs, but it's certainly safe.

It has been my experience that it is usually best, when a computer fails, to rebuild/replace the operating system, and then restore only what's needed to the restored system. In general, that means you reinstall the operating system, reinstall your applications, then use the Backup utility to pick the data you'd like to restore from the most current backup.

The Windows tool lets you select files to restore, or you can whack the whole backup back onto the drive indiscriminately if you want, but usually, that ends in pain.

OR, if money is no object, get one of THESE beasts, set it up with a good RAID array when you buy it, and just backup everything in the house to it (about $900 I think).
posted by disclaimer at 4:35 PM on January 2, 2007

(note that in step 3 I suddenly assume you bought two hard drives. Meh. Stupid preview window + brain-fried disclaimer=oops) - you can obviously do good backups with only one external drive).
posted by disclaimer at 4:38 PM on January 2, 2007

sperose writes "Orthogonality: where would one find the .pst file? Is there more than one?"

Just do a disk search for it (them), and save any you find. (It's probably in C:\documents and settings\username\application data\microsoft office\outlook).

It's actually in C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft Office\Outlook.
posted by odinsdream at 5:54 PM on January 2, 2007

Today he went to turn on the computer and it seems to have died. I went and bought him a SanDisk 256MB flash drive which he is currently using to copy his important files (plus the .pst ones). He had a bit of trouble hunting down the .pst files because he was searching for them and wasn't including hidden files/folders. Once he included them, he was able to find them.

Thanks y'all!
posted by sperose at 1:32 PM on January 6, 2007

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