What I Learned From My Computer

I’ve been pestering readers for years to back up often (I do it several times a day) because you never know when your computer will crash and that blue screen will decorate your monitor as your data perish. In the nearly 25 years I’ve used computers for work and play, I’ve faithfully followed my own advice even though I never experienced a crash—that is, until the other day, and then I realized my frequent data backups on a remote hard drive, while mostly effective, were just not enough.

After buying and installing a new hard drive, I spent the next few days reloading my XP operating system, Office and a bunch of applications—some from CDs and others that I had downloaded from the Web and wisely stored copies of (along with their codes) on that remote drive. But, even though I knew better, I failed to take a snapshot (essentially a clone) of my hard drive while it was still healthy. If I had, I could have been up and running in no time. Taking a snapshot is a technique in which you take a digital picture of your whole hard drive—operating system, applications and data.

Why is this important? If you load an application onto a computer from its original disk, it not only copies the program code, it also processes itself—formatting its files to coordinate themselves with your particular computer. If you make a clone of the drive, that copy includes all the formatting for each application, including the most important one—your operating system. That is why you can get up and running quickly if you load a clone on a new or repaired hard drive.

One of the most widely used cloning tools is Norton Ghost ( www.symantec.com ). If you have such a clone of a computer stored on a CD, for example, it also can kick-start that computer that couldn’t start on its own.

Ghost, which is an acronym for General Hardware-Oriented Software Transfer , also can be programmed to periodically save your data on the fly. But if you opt, as I do, to back up data frequently, be sure to include your e-mail and calendar data files. For example, I use Outlook, and I back up its huge .pst file, which not only contains all the sent and received e-mails, but is also home to Outlook’s Contacts —names, postal and e-mail addresses, calendar information, reminders, notes and more.

Advisory : If you, too, want to back it up periodically, you can find it at C:Documents and Settingscomputer nameLocal SettingsApplication DataMicrosoftOutlook.

Stanley Zarowin is a contributing editor to the JofA . His e-mail address is stanley.joatech@gmail.com .

Do you have technology questions for this column? Or, after reading an answer, do you have a better solution? Send them to me via e-mail at stanley.joatech@gmail.com or via regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy , 220 Leigh Farm Road, Durham, NC 27707-8110.

Because of the volume of mail, I regret I cannot individually answer submitted questions. However, if a reader’s question has broad interest, I will answer it in a forthcoming Technology Q&A column.

On occasion you may find you cannot implement a function I describe in this column. More often than not it’s because not all functions work in every Windows operating system or application. I try to test everything in the 2000 and XP editions of Windows and Office. It’s virtually impossible for me to test them in the earlier editions and it’s equally difficult to find out which editions are incompatible with a function. I apologize for the inconvenience.


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