Computer Tools

Despite my best efforts, this past week I lost both my primary and secondary computer systems. After losing my primary desktop several years ago, I vowed I would never let myself be caught without an operating PC. As they say, “the road to h*ll is paved with good intentions,” and I once again was caught with my proverbial pants down without an operating computer when my desktop, which had been exhibiting some problem signs in the last month, died suddenly and would not turn on.

I then went to my laptop, which I had admittedly been lazy about keeping updated, and turned it on. Immediately the Windows update process started, and asked me install Service Pack 3 for Windows XP. Having done that successfully on my desktop, I wasn’t too worried about any installation problems on the laptop. However, upon completing the installation, the blue screen of death appeared, which is NEVER a good sign with a Windows-based system.

After trying for about an hour without success to revive my laptop (which is only 8 months old and still under warranty), I knew that I was in trouble and starting looking for alternatives. Fortunately, my husband keeps a laptop on hand that he uses for gaming when we travel, and he generously offered to let me install my programs and files on it until I could repair one of my computers.

After finally acknowledging that there was no way I could have foreseen this situation, I decided that I needed to s*ck it up, get over, and move on. So, I’m making do with a partially customized laptop that’ll do until one or the other of my PCs is returned.

Despite having gone through similar situations previously, I still learned a few new things along the way about data recovery and computer backup. Here are the 10 most effective tools that saved my bacon during my recent computer meltdown.

1. Automatic backup software. I’ve been using 2 online backups, Carbonite and Syncplicity. I’ve had to restore from Carbonite previously, and I found the process to be lengthy and somewhat confusing. So, several months ago I began using Syncplicity because it offers online access to all backed up files as well as the capability to synchronize an unlimited number of computers. However, it has taken a week to restore 20 GB of data with Syncplicity, and some of the data was wasn’t really restored, despite what Syncplicity told me in my account. However, I can easily download this missing info to my computer from the online vault. One process that makes this backup system easier is that I store all of my data files in My Docs so I do not have to hunt them down in Program Files, or wherever they’re commonly stored.

2. Email client software. I still use the dinosaur Eudora for my email client. Old habits die hard, I suppose. However, somehow I missed marking some key Eudora folders to back up, and so I was initially using my webmail access providing by my hosting company to access email because of this oversight with Eudora. I began to tire of that quickly, as I had no way to create additional folders in those systems, so I then decided to manually configure Eudora and open folders and emails as I need them in the program. This experience has made me very tempted to change all of my incoming and outgoing email servers on all domains to Gmail just to have access to many things online, come hurricane, flood, tornado, or computer crash.

3. Bookmark service. I’m an avid researcher and resource collector, so having access to my bookmarks, or favorites file, is vital to my day-to-day operations. I had been using Spurl, but because of frequent periodic outages of their service, I’ve changed to Foxmarks. I like that this service offers me the capability to access all of these online, as well as have them at my fingertips any time I need them from my Bookmarks menu as well as easily synchronize them to any computer.

4. Contact management. Even though I do not use Outlook for email, I do use it for calendar and contact management. I had been using Plaxo as an online backup for my contacts, but it doesn’t permit me to store my notes about each contact. I’ve been using Airset now for several months, and it regularly syncs my contacts (with notes) and my calendar to their online service. I found this much more convenient than trying to restore a backup PST file to Outlook and then repeating that again when my primary computer is returned. Instead, I just make changes to contacts and my calendar on Airset, and I will just sync that to Outlook on my desktop.

5. Passwords. I’ve been using Roboform for years to help me manage my passwords. I’ve got my Roboform data in My Docs, so it was a breeze to reinstall Roboform and copy the data folder to the new computer and permit me to access all of the sites requiring a password and username. In sum, something that worked seamlessly!

6. Project Management. Smartsheet has been my project management service for the last few months. I love that it has the capability to create an item and allow you to attach a document and discussion to that item. Rather than having to hunt down information about a project, all I had to do was log into my Smartsheet account and there it was.

7. Software licenses. Roughly 99% of the new software I install is downloaded and I do not get a physical copy on CD. Therefore, I make sure that I’ve the downloaded version in a My Downloads folder that’s a part of My Docs file, which is backed up regularly. And, I make a PDF copy of the software license that I get by email and store in a Software folder, also in My Docs. Lastly, I purchased a very inexpensive program, Registration Vault, that lets me store all of my software license and purchase info and permits me to back up my data to My Docs. As I had to reinstall software on a new computer, it was simple to restore the Registration Vault files, get my software license number, and have a fully functioning piece of software within minutes.

8. Accounting. I use Quickbooks for my accounting needs, and while they do offer an online version, I’ve not yet moved to that. Instead, I back up Quickbooks after every use in the My Docs folder. When I needed to invoice consulting clients at the beginning of this month, all I had to do was reinstall Quickbooks and restore my latest backup. I instantly had many things I needed again at my fingertips.

9. Alternate free services. Some software I use, like CuteFTP and TraxTime, do not permit data backups. So, I really do have to start all over with my FTP info and my time tracking info when my computer dies. Rather than installing these programs on the new computer, I just used some free alternatives to get me through. FireFTP, a Firefox add-on, has worked quite well for me as my FTP client, and MyHours.com has stood in fairly well for TraxTime, although it requires a few more steps for operation than TraxTime.

10. Email marketing. During times when not a tool, I discovered that both text and HTML versions of email broadcasts matter in email marketing. I wasn’t initially able to get my normal email client up and running, so I was reading my email from my webmail systems. I’ve got 2 hosting accounts, and the newer one has a fairly sophisticated webmail system and let me read HTML emails with no problem. The other, however, doesn’t permit HTML viewing. So, those emails sent only in HTML were ones that I was unable to read. If you’re wise and your email marketing program permits you to send emails out in both plain text and HTML, do it, even though it might seem like a needless pain. You just never know how members of your list might be forced to ready your emails.

As you might gather, I’ve discovered that online services have provided me with the greatest backup to help me through this computer crisis. My lesson? Duplicate as much as you can in online systems. In this way, you’ll have access to your data when you travel, when you’ve a computer crash, or when you’re faced with a natural disaster.

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