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It's Backup Time!

Okay, so you're ready to do the installation. Need I say it? If you're upgrading from a previous version, Setup is supposed to let you back out and restore your system to its previous state if you panic in the middle. I've actually backed out of Setup a few times successfully, but that doesn't mean it will always work. Setup does lots of stuff to your operating system and hard disk files, and particularly if it bombs halfway through the process, things could get sticky. So ask yourself, "Do I have important data on my computer?" If so, back it up before you start your installation. Can you afford the downtime incurred should you need to reinstall your applications and operating system? If not, back them up, too.

Windows XP does bring a new feature to the table when you are upgrading from Windows 9x/SE/Me. This new feature is the ability to uninstall Windows XP and return to the previous OS. During the initial stages of the upgrade installation, a complete backup of the existing 9x OS is created (about 300MB of stuff). This backup is performed automatically to protect users. There are advanced command-line startup options that can be used to disable this activity, but if you are smart enough to figure out how to do that, you are smart enough to make your own backup. Plus, this backup feature not only allows you to roll back but it protects you during installation. If the upgrade install fails, the system will return to the previous OS automatically. After about 60 days or so, you will be prompted whether to retain or delete this backup archive of the previous OS. This backup procedure consumes about 300MB of space, so if your destination partition does not have around 1GB of free space the Setup routine will terminate before even getting started. This backup protection is only used for Windows 9x/SE/Me; it is not available for upgrades from Windows NT or Windows 2000.

Backing Up to a Disk Image

One technique I like for doing serious backups is to make a disk image of my main hard drive. With a disk image, if the drive dies or I have some other catastrophe, such as a new operating system installation going south, I can just restore the drive to its previous state, boot tracks, operating system, data, and applications, all in one fell swoop. I use a program called DriveImage from PowerQuest for this task, though some people swear by a competing product called Norton Ghost. Either one is a powerful tool for making backups and recovering from a dead operating system. These programs work by copying your hard disk sector by sector and storing the whole image in a single huge file on another drive. The large file they create contains all the necessary information to replace the data in the original tracks and sectors.

If you have a CD-writer, you can use a CD-R as the backup medium. If you have a CD-RW drive, it can provide a very cost efficient (though slow) means of backing up and restoring. It also works with a second hard disk in the computer, a second partition on a hard disk, and removable media such as Zip or Jaz drives. Another approach is to store an image on a hard disk across the LAN on another workstation, though recovering from the remote station is a little more complex than from a local drive.

If you must back up data only and don't care about reinstalling your applications or operating system (this backup approach is easier, of course), you can use some backup program or you can simply copy the files onto other drives using Windows Explorer or some other utility. How you back up your files depends on your current operating system. If you're running Windows 9x/SE/Me/NT/2000, one obvious approach is to employ the Windows Backup program (by choosing Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Backup). You might have to install it if it's not there. To do so, open the Control Panel, choose Add/Remove Programs, and then select Windows Setup. Remember, in Windows NT, you need a tape drive installed for the Backup tool to work. All other Windows versions of Backup can store the backup files to any writable media. If you're in doubt about the use of the Backup program, check the Windows Help system.

→ To learn more details about backup strategies, see "Backup Tools and Strategies," p. 1023.

Okay, enough for the safety speech. You are old enough to know whether you put on your parachute before you jump out of the plane.

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