Answer Line: PC Safety Toolbox--Five Steps to Protecting Your System

Illustration: Richard Downs
I enjoy answering reader questions (even if I can't respond personally to every one). But often I'm the bearer of bad news. If only readers had backed up, used a firewall, or taken some other preventive step, there would be no problem with their PC.

As preemptive answers to your most frequent questions, here are five ways to avoid PC disasters. If you do only four of them, you're courting danger.

Security step one is a full backup. A reader recently wrote that she had accidentally wiped out a term paper. Unfortunately, she didn't have a copy on a floppy (or other removable storage medium).

CD-RW, DVD±RW, and external hard drives make backing up easier and cheaper than ever. External hard drives in particular are terrific backup tools. For about $70, you can get a drive large enough to back up your programs as well as your data. However, if you want to keep multiple backup copies (a good idea), external drives can be an expensive option.

By comparison, CD-RW and DVD±RW discs are dirt cheap, and you probably already own one or both types of recordable drives. Backing up to rewritable (CD-RW) discs that you can record over many times rather than to write-once (CD-R) discs will save you money in the long run.

Copy your data files daily. If you use Windows 98 or Me, back up these folders (you may not have all of them): My Documents, Windows\All Users, Windows\Application Data, Windows\Desktop, Windows\Favorites, Windows\Local Settings, Windows\Profiles, Windows\SendTo, and Windows\Start Menu. In Windows 2000 and XP, everything you need to back up is probably in the Documents and Settings folder; but in that folder, don't back up the History, Temp, and Temporary Internet Files subfolders.

Automate full backups (which copy every file in your data folders and run once a week) and incremental backups (which copy only the files created or altered since the last backup and run daily). I start my automated backup routine at the end of every workday. Consult Scott Dunn's June Windows Tips column on automating tasks (such as backup) when Windows shuts down.

I recommend Datahjaelp's $27 Zip Backup to CD (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Back up your data to CD, DVD, or hard drive with the Zip Backup to CD shareware.
). If you own the WinZip compression program, you can use my Spector Backup System; go to "Easy Backups With WinZip and Freeware" for step-by-step instructions.

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