Whenever I get a new computer, the first thing I do is to repartition the hard disk, so I can have a separate partition for the OS and applications, and another for all my data files. In fact, I have multiple OS partitions so I can boot multiple versions of Windows, but that doesn’t matter for today’s topic.
The key benefit of the separate OS partition is that I can easily make a backup of the whole system by making an image of the partition. Personally I use Paragon Drive Backup for this. Norton Ghost is another popular hard disk backup utility. The real benefit is that I can restore the OS partition to a known good state in about 10 minutes.
Every time my system is working fine, I make an image of the OS partition. Usually I do that a few days after installing something new, when I’m sure all went well. I save the last backup on the data partition. I also burn the backup to a DVD-R. I keep all the backup DVDs for the life of the PC, so I can go back to a previous installation if I have to. Restoring the backup only takes about 10 minutes when using the image on the data partition as the source. Restoring from DVD takes longer.
I’m still surprised that many shareware industry professionals don’t have a solid backup strategy. Take Dave Collins. In the latest issue of his Competitive Edge newsletter, he recants how he wasted 8 hours reconfiguring his system after an Office 2007 installation went awry. With proper backup procedures, he would only have to waste a few minutes to start the restore process, which could then run unattended for the next 10 minutes or so.
In fact, with a proper backup system in place, you don’t have to be afraid of messing up your system. I don’t use any anti-virus or anti-spyware software. If my system starts acting up, I’ll restore the backup, and have a guaranteed clean system. No spyware remover can beat that. If I want to play with beta software, I don’t have to inconvenience myself by running it in a virtual machine. I do use VMware for testing my applications on clean installs of Windows. But when beta testing new versions of tools I use for development, I want to test them in my actual development environment rather. When the beta expires, I wipe it off by restoring the OS backup.
My data files remain untouched during all this. For those I have a separate backup strategy, which involves keeping them synchronized with a backup computer (my laptop) and keeping rotating backups on DVD+RW discs.