Good backups are an essential part of securing your PC and your digital life.
Whether you backup to tape, CD/DVD media, an external USB drive, a network file share or the cloud is up to you, but backing up your data is the single most important thing you can do to protect it from loss. Now, it’s a personal choice as to whether you backup everything, including the OS and program files, or whether you just backup user data. I generally opt for the later since presumably the OS and program files can be reinstalled without too much difficulty.
There are a lot of good backup programs and services now available. For those of you familiar with Linux, the backuppc program is an excellent choice for backing up data from Windows, Mac and Linux systems to a server disk. The software automatically runs scheduled backups (both full and incremental) every day so you set it up once and forget about it. You will need a dedicated Linux machine on your network to host the program but its powerful and robust enough that maintaining one Linux machine for that purpose alone may make good economic sense for small businesses or users with multiple machines.
If you’re just getting started in securing your computer systems you may not be quite ready for backuppc. Instead, a simple copy of your existing user files on an external USB drive may be sufficient. An excellent tool for this job is a program called BeyondCompare (BC) from Scooter software. BC runs on Windows and Linux and can be used to synchronize files and directories automatically. You really need to try this one out to appreciate all that it can do.
For those of you running only Windows OS there are several nice options that also offer disaster recovery and automated backups. The author has had good experience with Novaback and another of our moderators has suggested Acronis as a good option. The bottom line of course is to pick something and use it!
Let me remind you that you should never attempt to do any serious hardware or software upgrades on your computer without first making sure that you’ve got all the critical data backed up and in a separate location. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!