Backing up your data is far more important than backing up your system, and you should do it every day. The lack of a system backup could cost you a couple of hours reinstalling Windows and your applications. Having no up-to-date data backup could cost you your family photos, your bank account information, or even your job.
Microsoft has a long tradition of bundling lousy backup programs with Windows. Vista's backup program improves on older versions, but not by much; for instance, you can back up files by type, but not by location.
Here are some solutions.
1. Use bundled software: Since an external hard drive is the best medium to back your files up to, and since most such drives come with backup software, use the backup program that came with your drive. It's almost certainly better than Vista's.
2. Do it online: Uploading your data over the Internet is slow, but it's easy and adds protection by putting hundreds of miles between your hard drive and your backup. I recommend Mozy Home. It's free for a 2GB backup, or $5 a month for unlimited storage from a single PC.
3. Use the best software: For my money, that's the same Genie Backup Manager I recommended in the last tip. Amazingly simple to use considering its versatility, it handles scheduled and manual backups with ease, and can even purge your backup media of old backups on a regular schedule. But the home version costs $50, and the Professional one is $70.
4. Find a bargain: The $25 Argentum Backup doesn't do a full system backup, but it does make data backups very straightforward. Since it either simply copies your files or compresses them into .zip archives, you don't actually need Argentum Backup to restore them.
Programs and Features Uninstaller
Installing a Windows program generally means letting its installation routine dig its claws deep into the operating system. Removing the program usually involves running an uninstaller that eliminates the application's functionality but leaves the claws behind.
Vista took the old Control Panel applet called 'Add and Remove Programs' and renamed it 'Programs and Features', but the developers didn't otherwise change it. All this program does is launch the unwanted application's usually-inadequate uninstaller.
For a better option, download the free Revo Uninstaller. Better yet, download the portable version that doesn't need to be installed (and thus uninstalled) itself. Like Vista's Programs and Features, Revo offers a convenient interface for launching your installed programs' own uninstallers. But after Revo does that job, it cleans up the mess that the uninstaller left behind.