Method 5: The Bookmark Backup
If you're like most users, you've accumulated years' worth of bookmarks in your browser--a collection you definitely don't want to lose. Fortunately, it's a snap to copy those bookmarks to the Web for easy retrieval if the need ever arises. Firefox users should install the free Foxmarks plug-in, while Internet Explorer users can accomplish the same thing with BookmarkSync. Incidentally, both tools can also keep your bookmarks in sync across multiple PCs, and both let you access them from any browser.
Method 6: The E-Mail Backup
Are you an e-mail packrat? If so, you'd probably be loathe to lose your archives. Start with one of two free backup utilities designed expressly for e-mail: Amic Email Backup, which copies everything--including your address book, account settings, and message rules--to a single compressed file; or Mailstore Home, which duplicates all your mail into a searchable archive and optionally backs it up to CDs or DVDs.
Amic supports nine e-mail clients, including Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora. Mailstore Home works with Windows Mail, Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, and Seamonkey.
Of course, unless you put those discs in a safe or upload the archive file to the Web, those kinds of backups are still vulnerable to fires and other local disasters. That's one reason to consider routing your e-mail through Gmail IMAP, which effectively creates a Web-based archive by syncing mail between Google's servers and your PC.
Start by signing up for a free Gmail account, then enabling IMAP and following the configuration instructions for your mail client. Then you can either configure your mail account to forward all messages to your Gmail account or set up Gmail's Mail Fetcher to retrieve messages from your ISP's POP3 server. From then on, all of your mail will go through Gmail, giving you more than 6GB of storage space for messages and attachments, and some excellent spam filtering in the bargain. Once you have everything set up, you'll forever have copies of your messages available in your Web-accessible Gmail account. That's not only an ideal e-mail backup, but just plain handy, too.
Method 7: The Already-In-Your-Pocket Backup
Finally, we come to the backups you already have--but don't know you do. For example, if you carry a smart phone or PDA that syncs with your PC, it's like having a mobile backup of your contacts, calendar, memos, and tasks. In the event of desktop data loss, just sync your device to restore everything to Outlook, Palm Desktop, or whatever contact manager you use. (Be sure to make a one-time adjustment to the sync settings so everything gets copied from the device to the PC, not the other way around.)
Likewise, if you own an iPod, a Zune, or other media player, you can use it to restore a lost or damaged music library. iPod users should check out iPod Folder, which copies music directly from the player to any folder on your Windows and Mac system. You can even store the program on your iPod so it's available on the spot. Zune owners need to tweak the Windows Registry to make the device appear as a removable hard drive, after which it's a simple matter to drag all your songs from device to desktop. You can do the same thing with any MP3 player that your PC recognizes as a hard drive.