Backing Up Your PC Just Got Easier

New software helps Backblaze and Clickfree ease the pain of copying precious files.

Backing up continues in the background.
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There is finally help for consumers too befuddled, or simply too busy, to back up their home PCs. The online service Backblaze and Clickfree's drives and disks include new software that makes it simple to preserve the cherished memories that now clog home computers.

Photos, home movies, and other treasures now sit on computer hard drives, the miracle closets of modern computers that purr quietly and seem so reliable. But with their mechanical parts, hard drives remain the one part of PCs most vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

Yet most consumers fail to make copies. By some estimates, fewer than 10 percent of households regularly make a comprehensive backup of music, images, and documents stored on their personal computers. Consumers are better about photos. But it's still only about a third who report that they regularly duplicate photos to external disks.

But copying information to DVDs and CDs can be frustrating, while external hard drives demand that users manage their limited space.

A new online service called Backblaze automatically backs up all of a PC's data files for safekeeping on the Web for $5 a month. Clickfree, also new, offers an external hard drive for $160 with more than enough storage to back up a typical home's PC. Smaller collections can get by with five Clickfree-powered DVDs (starting at $10 in stores).

Home users have scores of backup options to choose from. What distinguishes Backblaze and Clickfree is software that automates the process. No other software can promise less fuss in identifying and then copying the right files. When launched, these two choices automatically scan hard drives for their treasured cargo, mark it for backup, and do their thing.

Between them, they offer a combination that can bring peace of mind to a digital consumer.

Other backup choices offer more benefits, such as sharing photos with far-flung family or syncing them between computers. There are many cheaper options for backing up files. But few consumers use either. They should try these:

Clickfree—The software nearly lives up to its name. Clickfree launches automatically when the external drive is attached to a USB port or one of its DVDs is slipped into a disk burner. A 30-second countdown commences, giving a user time to click a button to customize a backup. Or another button tells the software to restore files instead of backing them up.

If the user does nothing, the software launches and begins scanning a PC's hard drive(s). When it finds target files (based on several hundred file extensions), the copying begins. It can take several hours to fill the 160 GB hard drive. But you can just walk away while it does its job.

Unplug it and stash the copies in a safe place. When you plug the drive in again, it remembers what's been backed up on the PC and adds only what has changed. The hard drive can also keep track of multiple PCs in a home.

Using Clickfree DVDs takes longer with swapping disks in and out. They also don't do incremental backups of only files added or changed since the last round—but instead will again copy all the files. But the DVDs are especially portable and can be cheaper for homes without unusually large collections. They're also marketed under other names, including SimpleSave from Memorex.

Simplicity has its downside. The software won't save multiple versions of a file, so no rescuing yourself with an older generation of your novel that you decide is actually better—unless you give each one a different file name. It also does nothing to save programs or Windows settings, requiring work to reinstall those if a hard drive fails.

Also, the software only works with Windows, though a version for the Macintosh is promised for next year. Finally, you still have to remember to periodically plug in the hard drive or run through another pack of DVDs.

Backblaze offers similarly simple backup. But this service relies on the Internet to transport the copies to secure, company-run computers locked away in a data center.

Online backup adds two benefits. Backblaze says it will allow unlimited data storage, and it works constantly in the background as long as a computer is linked to the Internet.