I like backups. They certainly make me sleep better at night. Not having a backup of your data in essence means “it’s not been that important to begin with”. Most people nowadays are using backups without actively knowing it, at least for their personal files. Operating System built-in solutions like OneDrive on Microsoft Windows and the iCloud in Apples universe are just the dominant examples out there. If you look into the market you’ll find countless cloud storage providers ranging from free to advanced paid solutions to keep copies or your digital valuables on someone else’s computer (a.k.a. “The Cloud”).
On mobile platforms the situation is a bit more chaotic, but you can certainly have comfort and security. On Android, depending on the manufacturer and your willingness to invest into apps and subscriptions, and certainly Apples iPhone there’s no need to worry about your photos and documents in case the device breaks, gets lost or stolen. So why don’t people apply the same comfort to the entirety of their machine?
So we can agree on backups being somewhat essential to daily computing. Why is it though, that in many of my exchanges with users over the years one common scenario keeps popping up: “Help, I installed XYZ and now this, that and the other doesn’t work anymore!” or “Something went wrong uninstalling XYZ and I got stuck in a boot loop and had to re-install Windows!”. Uhm, why?
The concept of backups is basically having a copy of the data of importance regularly stored in some other save location than the working computer. The source might get corrupted, deleted on accident, encrypted by Ransomware or simply lost by a failing hard drive. This doesn’t apply to mere files like photos and documents only.
Did you know that you can create a backup copy of your entire machine, meaning your treasured documents and Operating System? And therefore simply restore it to a point in time before that devastating change happened? As the title announced, in my humble opinion, there is no excuse to not having a complete system backup at your disposal, and I will tell you why.
The Backup Software
First, software capable of making so called image-based backups, meaning a restorable copy of an entire hard disk/SSD drive can be made, not just individual files, is dime a dozen. Both free without sacrificing reliability and cheap for the more advanced home user.
As a Windows user myself I will focus on this platform, but a quick online research with the search engine of your choice will lead to equal results for your favourite platform like Linux and MacOS. The latter even ships with an integrated solution called Time Machine that’s coming as close to being perfect as possible.
A few (non-sponsored) examples that I myself have used extensively over the past couple years are Veeam Backup & Replication Community Edition which is incredibly easy to install and offers a simple wizard-based setup experience. If you need more than the provided feature set like directly back-up to more common Cloud providers or encryption, paid plans are also available. Since this information can become outdated quite quickly I’ll not quote them here but encourage the reader to check out their website for more details.
Another great candidate, although in my opinion slightly less beginner-friendly yet more customisable, is Macrium Reflect Free Edition, a companion of mine for a little over a decade now! A nifty little extra is Reflects capability of cloning hard disks and SSDs which is very comfortable when you ran out of disk space and want a hassle-free transition without the need to reinstall the Operating System. This process I’ve utilised a couple of times in the past and it has never failed me.
Both mentioned solutions offer scheduled backup runs and intelligent space management. You want your backups to run frequently and autonomous in the background not disturbing your daily routines plus be space-efficient by using compression and only copying the changed sections.
So it seems images-based backups from my point of view only offer advantages (and they do ????) yet I’ve had quite a few discussions with users “against” the investment of time (and optionally money) to set it up. I am going to debunk them one by one!
I don’t have the money for it
As already addressed, free and reliable solutions exist. Either stick to my recommendations or invest half a minute of web searches to find something for your particular need!
I don’t have a place to store backups
Granted, complete system images are a fair deal bigger in size. This makes them less attractive to have synchronized and uploaded to the Cloud, especially since we’re still living in sad times where ISPs think it’s somehow a bright idea to offer very outdated upload bandwidth caps. But don’t tell me you don’t have a spare hard drive with an USB casing lying around.
Some folks are already familiar and equipped with a NAS, a little network-enabled box that runs quietly in your storage closet and offers disk space, that can be configured as a backup target. The simplest solution is to recommission an old hard drive, maybe from an older PC build or buy some used from a trusty source, equip them with a basic USB portable case and you’re ready to go!
You can also decrease the frequency of taking backups, like weekly or monthly, so in the meantime you can put that disk somewhere else, like a safe. Depending on the household you might have a 2nd PC with extra capacity and store the backup there! Just as long as the backup location is not the same machine that could be affected by requiring a restore it’s all good 😉
It’s faster to reinstall Windows than dealing with backups
I love this one, it’s so incredibly foreign to me ???? Yet a surprising count of people came forth arguing that reinstalling the Operating System, all applications, setting up accounts etc. is “the easy route”. I’m sorry, but… no. Restoring the backup takes as little time as instructing the backup software (which in case of the OS being nuked entirely can be booted from a USB thumb drive) to find the desired backup and start the restore, then wait for the time it takes to read from the backup location and write to the local disk while doing something else in parallel, coming back to the completed process, rebooting and loading the system in the state you used it the day before whatever accident happened.
You can not tell me with a straight face, that clicking through the Windows setup, answering the out-of-box-experience wizard, logging in, installing and potentially reactivate your applications and apply customisations not baked by OneDrive is the preferred way to spend an afternoon compared to the ten to thirty minutes it may take to restore a backup. If that is the preferred way to tackle this problem, I can not help you 😜
And there you have it, no excuse to not have backups!