Backups, System Images and Cloud Storage Services

Online backup services

Using an online backup service is one of the available backup options. Such a service could be used as your off-site backup option in case an electrical spike, lightning strike or fire destroys your computer equipment. There are several services that provide a certain amount of free data storage space. An award-winning paid-for service is LiveDrive from livedrive.co.uk. – In May 2014 its website said: “Automatic online backup for all of your computers, from just £3.00/month. Fast, secure, easy to use & instant setup. See your backed up files on the web, iPhone, iPad & Android.”

Google has an online backup service called Google Drive that provides 15GB of free storage, but you have to ask yourself the question: “Is Google using this as a way to access all of the data on your computer?” – Because all of Google’s other ‘free’ products and services do just that in order to add to the personal profile that it is building up on everyone who has a Google account, which is used to deliver personalised ads to that user within that account and across the web. Moreover, it is a startup program that places its icon in the bottom right Notification Area of the screen, which means that it can monitor your file use – and who knows what else?

Microsoft’s OneDrive online backup service used to provide a huge 25GB of free online storage when it was called SkyDrive, but, probably due to high demand, the free limit has changed to 7GB shortly before the name was changed to OneDrive due to a dispute over using the word ‘sky’ with British Sky Broadcasting that Microsoft lost. If you got the 25GB allowance you were allowed to keep it.

If you have a Windows Live ID, which is provided when you create an Outlook.com account, which used to be Hotmail, Xbox 360 user account, etc., you have free access to online Office apps and OneDrive. For example, when you sign in to any Microsoft service using your Windows Live ID, such as Hotmail, it will have a OneDrive tab that gives you access to it. It allows free use of the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which can also be accessed by using a Windows-based smartphone. The amount of free storage space is provided there (currently 7GB). How much space you have left is provided. If you make use of the Public folder any files you enter in it are shared with everyone, so don’t put anything in there that you want kept private. To add files just open the folder that you want to put the files in and click on Upload. You can then browse to the files you want to save on your computer. Of course, you need to know their location to be able to do that. You can add extra folders by using New folder.

More information on OneDrive is provided here: https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-gb/

Dropbox is good, but only allows 2GB of free storage. You install it and can right-click on folders and files to have them sent automatically to Dropbox, which remembers your logon information. If you have Dropbox installed and you press the Alt + Prt Sc keys to get a screenshot, it saves it to a Screenshots folder in its own folder on your computer. They are better screenshots than those produced by Windows Paint and are in the .png image format. I use the free IrfanView to convert them to .jpg image files for use on websites.

ZoneAlarm IDrive provides 5GB of free online storage space. Extra space has to be paid for. The data are encrypted so that it is useless to anyone who doesn’t know your encryption key. You can choose the default encryption key during setup or your own encryption key (recommended). The key can be anything you like made up of letters and numbers. If you use a wireless router to access the web, using its encryption key – what you have to enter to log on with a wireless connection to a wireless network for the first time – is a good idea.

The first backup takes quite a long time, how long depending on how much of the 5GB space your selection of files uses, but the subsequent backups – scheduled or executed manually at any time – only back up the files that have changed or new files that have been added, which is called an incremental backup.

Note that if you restore an old backup and you have the Sync option enabled, it will overwrite your current backup files with the files restored from the old backup. I discovered that the hard way when I had to resort to installing a backup a year old. When I went to restore the latest files from ZoneAlarm Backup, they had been replaced by the old files. Fortunately, I keep several different types of backup, so I could put things right. You should also disable the backup schedule if you restore an out-of-date backup or system image to prevent it from running and replacing the latest backup with old files.

Note well that if the online backup provider goes bankrupt, it means that the service will go offline and you will almost certainly lose access to your data unless the business concern is purchased and its new owner allows its customers access to their data, so make sure that backing up online is not your only source of backups of important material. In any case, you should always have several types of backups for important data that you can’t afford to lose. There is also the remote possibility that your online backups could be corrupted or lost.

Using pre-encryption to protect backup files uploaded to cloud-storage services

Since it is possible for hackers to intercept files sent to an online cloud-storage service or to hack into it, if you want to protect the information in your files, the best way to do so is to use pre-encryption software to encrypt it before it is uploaded. When you download the encrypted files they are automatically de-encrypted.

Pre-encryption works with most cloud-storage services of which there are many. Using the search query cloud encryption provides access to them. If you are using Windows the best service to use is Microsoft’s OneDrive, which is currently being made into an important part of Windows itself. OneDrive is built into Windows 8.0 and 8.1, the users of which are advised to back up settings and files to a OneDrive account. Office 2013 and Office 365 already save files to OneDrive automatically unless the user chooses to disable that option.

If your computer runs Windows 8.0 or 8.1, you almost certainly elected to create a Microsoft account that also provides you with some free OneDrive storage space. If you’re using Windows Vista or Windows 7, signing up for a Microsoft account provides a free OneDrive account.

OneDrive can be used by Windows XP users by accessing their hotmail or outlook.com account, but the local OneDrive app that can be installed to make OneDrive work directly from your computer isn’t supported. Fortunately, there are still many cloud-storage services that support XP, such as Dropbox, that can be installed and work from the computer.

The free OneDrive account currently provides 7GB of storage space, which is plenty to start with. I got my account when it was 25GB. If you got 25GB,it wasn’t reduced to 7GB. Extra space has to be paid for. 20GB costs only $10 a year.

Boxcryptor encrypts your data and works with most cloud-storage services, is free for personal use and supports most operating systems – Windows, Linux, Android and Apple’s iOS and OSX.

Boxcryptor creates a virtual drive on the computer it is being used on in order to upload and download the files to a cloud storage service. The user drags-and-drops, copies, pastes or saves the files to be sent into storage into a folder in the Boxcryptor drive where they are encrypted automatically before being delivered into storage. Users have access to their files via the Boxcryptor drive as if they were in the main Windows C: drive.

None of this is difficult to set up or use, but if you need it, the following link provides access to the Boxcryptor Windows User’s Guide.

https://secomba.atlassian.net/wiki/display/DOC/Boxcryptor+for+Windows+User%27s+Guide

Can a Windows backup or system image be restored to a different computer from the one it was taken from (created on)?

It is possible to restore a backup of the system or system image made on a different computer from the one it was made on, regardless of which backup software is being used. However, it should only be done to recover files, because when Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 starts up for the first time, it will be expecting to find its previous hardware components – motherboard, motherboard chipsets and controllers, graphics card, processor, hard drive, etc. – but it will find completely different hardware components. As Windows loads, you will be presented with many New Hardware Found … messages from the bottom right Notification Area. Some of the new hardware might work poorly or not at all. When Windows is finally fully loaded the setup will have a mixture of old and new system information. The Windows Registry, the database that keeps track of everything, will be a mess of old and new entries.

Moreover, the Windows Product Activation system will detect that the hardware has changed and depending on whether you have an OEM copy of Windows that can only be installed on its original hardware or a retail packaged copy, which can be installed on another computer if the previous one is no longer being used, Windows will require to be reactivated within 30 days. Visit the Product Activation page on this website for more information on it. An OEM licence will have to be reactivated by obtaining a reactivation key from Microsoft over the phone, which will  not be provided if Windows is being reinstalled on a different computer. A retail copy should allow you to reactivate it over the web unless it is detected that the original computer the licence belongs to is still in being used.

If you have created a standard backup, you can restore just the files (not the programs) that you want to recover to a clean installation of Windows on a different computer, but restoring a full system backup or image of the whole system is bound to present many problems and is therefore far from ideal.

Backing up a webmail email account

It is a rare occurrence, but it has happened with Gmail, so it is possible for a provider of a webmail email account to fail and then not be able to restore its own backups of users archived mail and mail settings. Fortunately, you can back up web-based email accounts on the main computer that you use to access your webmail. If you value your stored emails then you must back up your webmail account. The method used can differ for each provider of a webmail service, but there are plenty of articles on the web on how to back up the most popular webmail services. You can make use of a search engine and use a search query such as: back up [gmail, hotmail, outlook.com, windows live, etc.] webmail account. Use only the name of the service that you use in the search term.

More detailed information on backups and system images

Backups created with your PC can be divided into three main types: master image, full backup and system and file (data) backups.

A master system image is a backup created by backup software that creates a master image of an entire drive on a hard disk drive or everything on the hard disk drive, including the free space. When you restore a master image, you restore whatever was imaged exactly as it was when it was imaged. The best place to store it is on a large external hard disk drive that you keep disconnected so that a power spike can’t destroy it. Note that external hard disk drives have a much shorter warranty than internal hard disk drives due to the fact that they can be rendered unusable by a drop, bad knock, etc.

I usually create an image of my system partition (the C: drive) once or twice a year, having first defragmented the drive by using a third-party defrag utility (search for free defrag tool) or the Windows Disk Defragmenter. I restore the latest image to a spare hard disk drive, install any Windows updates, program updates and programs that have been added since the last image was created and then I re-image the partition. That way, I have a clean installation of Windows and all of my programs.

A full backup backs up everything on the computer, including the operating system(s) and applications. The backup utility in Windows XP called Windows Backup can create a full backup. Windows 7 has Backup and Restore, operated from the Backup and Restore Center in the Control Panel, which allows you to select the folders and drives that you want to back up and to set up a backup schedule. You can also use it to create a master image of the system.

You can back up to double-layer DVD discs (8.5GB per disc) and Blu-ray discs (50GB per disc), but, unless you want to use a big-business backup solution, such as the IBM System Storage TS7650 ProtecTIER Deduplication Appliance, you need an external hard disk drive (now at a maximum of 3TB per drive and increasing all the time) if you want to back up or create a master image of a PC’s entire internal hard disk drive containing over 50GB of data. Flash (thumb) drives with a capacity large enough to contain a system image are available. In May 2014, 64GB flash drives costing around £25 were available. However, I wouldn’t use one for backup purposes on its own due to the failure rate of these drives that can die all of a sudden. None of my own flash drives have failed but I have come across and read about plenty that have failed, probably due to misuse such as removing them from the computer roughly instead of pulling them straight out of the socket.

When you connect an external hard drive into a USB port for the first time, Windows 7 should ask if you want to use it for backups. Just follow the simple setup instructions to schedule daily backups. If that doesn’t happen, click Start => Control Panel => System and Security and click Back up your computer. Click the link called Set up backup and use the setup wizard. Only Windows 7 and Windows Vista (not earlier versions of Windows, such as Windows XP) can create restorable system images. To do that open the Control Panel => System and Security, click Back up your computer followed by Create system image.

Back up and restore: frequently asked questions [Windows Vista and Win7] –

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/back-up-restore-faq#1TC=windows-7

Note that with the Windows Vista and Windows 7 backup system, you must create a bootable System Recovery Disk. It uses a single CD or DVD disc. By booting the system from it, you can restore a system image stored on an external hard disk drive, for example, even if you cannot boot into Windows – that is, Windows is not working but there is nothing wrong with the computer itself.

Creating the disc is automatic and initiated by a prompt. Remember that the system BIOS must be set to have the CD/DVD/Blu-ray optical drive set as the first boot device in order to boot from a disc. The BIOS section of this website explains how that is achieved.

If the backup and imaging program provided by Windows 7/8.1/10, which is the same one in all of them, fails, as it did for the user who posted this computer-forum thread, there are free backup and imaging programs available that are just as good or better, such as this superb imaging program, which also supports Windows XP:

Macrium Reflect – Free version – “The fastest disk imaging software is now available as a free edition. Absolutely free! No strings! The only free XP, Vista and Windows 7 & 8/8.1 compatible disk imaging software with BartPE and Linux based recovery options.” – http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

A system backup, if properly verified, will enable the user to restore the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows or Linux, to the way it was before any kind of irrecoverable system crash occurred. Most backup software has the ability to verify the integrity of the backups it makes. If you value your data, you will value your backups, so you should only use backup software that can verify the integrity of its backups.

A data backup involves creating copies of the data files on the computer that you would want to restore in the event of a system failure. Windows Vista has a utility called Complete PC Backup that can create a master image of everything on a computer’s hard disk drive. It is accessed via the Backup and Restore Center in the Control Panel. It is called Backup and Restore in Windows 7, as usual, accessed via the Control Panel or just by entering the name in the Search box and clicking the link that is provided.

For Windows XP you need to use third-party software, such as Macrium Reflect – Free version. You need a version that works with your version of Windows.

Acronis True Image 2014 Premium review [regarded as the best paid-for backup and imaging software by Expert Reviews. This was the latest review on the site in March 20016.] –

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/software/1303399/acronis-true-image-2014-premium

Note that some third-party backup software integrates itself into Windows and disables the Windows backup tool, which is Backup and Restore in Windows 7. Acronis True Image provides an option to disable the integration. Windows 7 has the best ever built-in Windows backup system tha is still used in Windows 8.1/10, which includes disk/drive imaging that is accessed in the Backup and Restore Center that is in the Control Panel.

Backup and Restore in Windows 10 –

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/backup-and-restore-in-windows-10

Windows 7 backup provides three different backup types – creating a system image, which is best for backing up the entire system – a standard folder and file backup, which is best for daily or weekly or even monthly file backups – and a bootable System Repair Disk, which you create that allows selective repairs or the restoration of an image of the system. Enter system repair disk in the Start => Search programs and files box to be provided with a clickable link that starts the process.

Page 4 – Advisable steps to take when creating backups and system images

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