When your computer decides to play up, it’s good to have a backup of your data handy. Windows XP Professional comes with a versatile Backup and Restore utility, developed by storage management and data recovery specialists Veritas Software. Note that you will need to have either Administrator or Back Up Operator permission to back up or restore files on the computer.
The Backup and Restore utility is tucked away under Start-Programs-Accessories-System Tools. By default, it starts up in Wizard mode, which is easier to use but doesn’t give access to all the features that you’ll find in the Advanced mode. The latter also provides finer control over the backup and restore processes.
The Wizard gives you four options for what to back up: My documents and settings, Everyone’s documents and settings, All information on this computer and, finally, Let me choose what to back up. These options are self-explanatory (See here for a screenshot example).
The easy way to do it is just to select All information on this computer or My documents and settings, but you’ll end up with large files for the backups, which will probably contain data you have no need to save. Also, large backups and restores take a long time to complete, with a greater chance of something going wrong in the process.
Speed the process
For instance, most people will not need to back up and restore their Internet Explorer cache directories and files, which usually take up hundreds of megabytes. Deselecting these will not only reduce the size of the resulting backup file, but also speed up the entire process considerably (the IE cache directories are full of lots of small-size files that take longer to deal with than large files).
By using the Let me choose what to back up option, you can drill down into the Documents and Settings/%username%/Local Settings folder where Internet Explorer keeps the Temporary Internet Files cache, and remove it from items to be backed up. Alternatively, keep the Temporary Internet Files on a different disk or partition (set this in Internet Explorer’s Tools-Internet Options menu) instead of Documents and Settings. That way it won’t be picked up by Backup and Restore’s default target objects.
Another way to speed up backups is to defragment the hard disk first; it reduces the number of hard disk accesses and reads required per file. Before doing that, however, consider emptying the Temp directory (also in the Documents and Settings/%username%/Local Settings folder) and relocating that to another disk or partition.
Once you’re ready to roll and have found a suitable place to store the resulting backup file (forget about 3.5in floppies with today’s multi-gigabyte hard disks and data sets), Backup and Restore goes about its task and writes a file with a *.bkf extension if there’s enough space; alternatively, it splits the file into smaller ones numbered sequentially, if you use, for example, CD-R or DVD-RAM as the backup media.
Getting it back
Restoring a backup is equally easy with the Backup and Restore Wizard. The main caveat is that if you backed up data from an NTFS-formatted disk, it needs to go back onto another NTFS volume, because of the additional meta-data like permissions, encrypted file system (EFS) and volume information that would otherwise be lost.
Next time you back up your data, click on the Advanced button on the Completing the Backup and Restore Wizard page. This lets you select the Type of Backup: for normal use after a full, initial backup has been made, the Incremental option is what you want. It only backs up files that have been modified and/or created since the last backup.
Although the Wizard interface is nice and simple, the real Backup and Restore goodies are hidden under the Advanced Mode. Select it by clicking on the eponymous link on the first page of the Wizard (you can always return to it later).
The Welcome tab of the Advanced Mode dialogue provides access to three new Wizards: Backup, Restore, and Automated System Recovery (ASR). The two former options give you better control of the backup and restore processes than the Wizard interface, at the cost of complexity — for instance, you can ask Backup and Restore to verify the resulting backup file after the process is completed, and restore individual files instead of an entire backup.
The ASR creates a floppy disk with system settings, plus a total backup of the entire system partition. This is very useful for disaster recovery such as hard disk failure, or when your system won’t boot into Windows XP.
Finally, Advanced Mode lets you Schedule Jobs (last tab on the dialogue) — i.e., backups — to take place on either a future date or on a regular basis. Just click the Add Job button (or double-click the desired date in the calendar-like interface) to bring up the Advanced Backup Wizard.
To schedule the backup job to take place at regular intervals, bring up the system Task Schedular dialogue by clicking the Set Schedule button.
The Schedule Task drop-down box lets you run backups at the intervals to your liking, and the Settings tab allows the entry of some sanity parameters like the duration of the task, and whether or not to wake the computer out of sleep.