Sooner or later, you'll back up your files

Computer Life column for 7/26/97 by
Richard Gordon

I had a call from a reader who works at a computer help desk at a mid-size Delaware Valley organization.

"Please tell your readers to back up their files," she said.

"You know they won't listen to me," I said. "They won't take anything I say seriously until they have lost something forever."

She begged and pleaded that I write a column that says

"Always make backup copies of your files in case you need to reconstruct your work."

I caught you trying to turn the page. It's your life, but some day you'll be sorry if you skip ahead to Dear Abby without finishing this column.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday you'll understand that the files you think are so permanent don't amount to a hill of electrons if:

A friend of mine who taught at the University used to tell his students to keep backup copies of their papers, with names for each draft and copies in at least two places.

"But you won't hear me," he'd tell them. "In fact, you will ignore me until you have your disaster. And you will have one."

If you work on large projects, spending a couple hundred bucks on a tape backup unit or a Zip drive or a Jaz drive makes a lot of sense. If you work on smaller projects, at least keep intermediate drafts on a diskette.

But be careful how you make your backup copies. Two months ago, I was summoned to a colleague's office. The master copy of one of her documents was mangled. She had made a copy of her work on a diskette, but the backup copy was also mangled. She'd backed up the corrupted version!

It's not enough to have two copies of every file. You need to verify the contents of your backups, making sure that you don't erase a draft before checking the new copy.

Here's what I do with a small project like this column:

  1. I give each week's column a new name.
  2. I save my work at least every 30 minutes.
  3. just before I make a major change to a column, I save a backup copy, each with a different file extension. By the time I'm done, I might have three files: 19970726.d1, 19970726.d2, and 19970726.d3.
  4. Immediately after I send the News Journal my column, I either put a copy of the final column on a diskette or copy it immediately to my ISP's server (

It's really just common sense. Save your work often, make copies, verify the copies, keep a copy on a separate disk, develop a naming scheme to make sure you always have a usable backup.

OK, you may turn to Dear Abby now. I think it's on page E6.

Actually, I know you're reading

I'm still getting comments about my June 28th column, in which I admitted that even I, a card-carrying Macintosh Man, was starting to recommend Windows 95 systems to most people.

One educator stopped me in a public place and loudly called me a traitor. Two chemists separately told me that they prefer Mac versions of software they use professionally. A musician sent me three reviews indicating that Macs are still robust in the world of MIDI and digital music.

Apple does make some neat computers, including one of the fastest laptops on the market, and they are about to introduce a desktop system billed as the fastest PC ever.

It's the company that worries me. Apple has now axed its president and its head tech honcho. And just as I decide that Apple could save itself by becoming a software company, letting others make the hardware, word leaks out that Apple is going to charge clone makers higher fees in an attempt to recapture the hardware market.

Unless you work in an area in which Mac software is considered stronger (e.g., graphic design, video editing, K-5 education, molecular modeling, music processing), just go Windows.

Copyright © 1997, The News Journal Company

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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to, or write him at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although each note cannot be answered individually, reader comments and questions will often be incorporated in future columns.