Drive imaging tools enable you to back up your entire Windows installation
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ou can never have too many backups, which is where all of these free tools come into their own. We're going to start with a free program called BuddyBackup. Let's say you like the idea of backing up to a remote computer, but you can't afford the cost. BuddyBackup enables you to back up to other computers over the internet or the network in the form of friends and family who are in a similar boat.
The principle is this: each person signs up for their own BuddyBackup account and agrees to host the other's backups in return for that person hosting their own. You can have multiple buddies, enabling you to store your backup in two or more separate locations for greater security.
Everything is encrypted, so your files are perfectly safe on the target computer - only you can access them through your own account if you need them. Should you ever need to restore your data, just scoot along to the program's User Guide here for the full low-down.
One caveat: the backup will only take place when both PCs are switched on and connected to the internet, so it's feasible that files don't get backed up for some time if you keep missing each other. Of course, increasing the number of buddies you back up to (or including another PC on your network as a back-up destination - if you go down this route, you'll need to set up another account to cover that computer) helps to alleviate this problem.
Back up to another PC with BuddyBackup
1. DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL
Both you and your "buddies" need to download BuddyBackup from here. Once installed, each person will need to create their own free user account with username and password.
2. SELECT BACK-UP SIZE
Next, enter your email address and then set the required amount of space you'll need for your backup. Remember, you'll need an equivalent amount of free space on your hard drive so your buddy can store his or her files on your PC in turn. Click Next.
3. CHOOSE NUMBER OF COPIES
If you have more than one buddy, you can opt to back up your files to each buddy by creating multiple copies. However, each additional copy reduces the amount of space available by half, so choose carefully. Click Next followed by Advanced Settings to choose a folder on your hard drive (this can be any drive visible to your PC, including an external hard drive) where your buddies' files will be stored.
4. RESOLVE CONNECTION ISSUES
You'll probably be warned about potential connection issues, so select Tools > Check Connection and then click Go. If you're connected to the internet through a router you may have to log on to its configuration utility, locate the port forwarding section and forward port 6060 to your PC's IP address. Consult your router's documentation for details or post a query on our forum here.
5. CHOOSE WHAT TO BACK UP
Now it's time to pick a folder to keep backed up on a buddy's PC. Select File > Watch New Directory to do so - you can keep adding folders until you reach your back-up limit. If you need more space - and you have the space to spare in turn on your own hard drive - increase your back-up allowance through Tools > Options.
6. CONNECT TO BUDDIES
The last step is connecting to your buddies' PCs. Select File > Add new buddy to add a friend by username, email address or address book - they’ll be sent an invitation if they’re not signed up. Once done, the backup will take place in the background.
Trip back in time
It's all very well having a backup of the latest version of your files, but what if you suddenly realise you need an older version of a particular file? Some online back-up services - including Carbonite - store multiple revisions of the same file, but you have no control over which revisions are kept.
FileHamster Lite can be set to watch specific folders for file changes, enabling you to store different versions of the same file - now if you accidentally make an unwanted revision, you can undo it quickly and painlessly. You set the program to watch specific files or directories, set wildcards or filters (so you only watch Access database files, for example) and choose where to stop your backups. You also control how many revisions are stored and when they're taken (either on every save, or you can set a specific delay between revisions).
The only downside is that the free version is no longer in active development, and pops up an ad from the Notification area of the Taskbar at regular intervals. Thankfully the Plus version currently costs a bargain US$14.95. Find out more and download either version from here.
Protect your browser settings
Worried about losing your bookmarks and/or passwords in Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox? Xmarks (here) is a free add-on that doesn't just securely back up your bookmarks and passwords to its online servers, it enables you to keep them synchronised across multiple PCs - perfect if you have a laptop and a desktop.
You can also back up and restore entire profiles for Mozilla-based apps, including Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird and SeaMonkey with MozBackup (click here). These are stored on your hard drive - in your Documents folder - so you'll need to pick another drive for greater security.
BACK UP OVER YOUR NETWORK
You can use BuddyBackup to simply back up to other PCs on your local network (such as a server PC – see the project here) so long as each PC has its own BuddyBackup account. The program uses P2P technology to transfer the data – the initial connection is made over the internet, but the actual data transfer takes place over your network, so your internet bandwidth doesn’t suffer as a result.