You should NOT backup your programs. Keep the disks that have the software you bought along with the “product keys” or activation keys. There are also a number of programs that are free and downloaded from the Internet that do not need to be backed up.
In Windows 7 and Vista, you will find a folder named Users (C:Users). In that folder you will find each user that is set up on the computer. In the user folder you will find Folders for documents, music, pictures and videos, and others.
Copy your data on to an external hard drive. Without a doubt a USB connected external storage drive is the best way. It’s best to back up on a routine basis, for example monthly.
I do NOT recommend those pre-packaged external drives. Very few of them are capable of sufficient cooling or shock cushioning. Buy an excellent external drive housing for around $40. Then buy an internal hard drive and install it in the housing. It is so simple it will amaze you.
I strongly recommend the large heavy drives. They are the 3.5″ ones and are about 20 times the size of the 2.5″ ones. They are also far more durable and will likely last far longer than your current computer and more. The most important thing is that it will be reliable.
I do not recommend backup programs — even the one built into Windows. These programs were originally designed to save backup space. They usually produce files that are only usable by the program that created them and the space they save is not expensive. The second benefit they have is to pre-program what is backed up, and in Windows 7, that is no longer a problem because it is all in your User folder, with minor exceptions such as Quick Books and Windows Live Mail
Making copies of all data files will allow you to replace a single damaged or lost file.
Today, very high capacity external hard drives are available very cheaply.
Although it is technically possible to backup to a memory stick (AKA thumb drive), it is a bad practice. Memory sticks are not that reliable, they are good for smaller files being moved. The memory technology inside has a limited capability of writes.
I strongly recommend an external USB connect hard drive. They can be bought for $40 to $150 with vastly more space — like 500 to 2000Gb. They are dramatically faster — like 20 times.
I do not recommend so-called “cloud” backups. When you do this, you are storing a copy of your data in someone else’s computer that may some day be hacked or just shut down. It is of little value since you can buy your own capacity cheaply. Then you know where it is.
In many years of doing this work, I have lost count of the number of clients whose backups did not restore because of problems with the way the backup software stored the data. Some of these systems backup what was changed. The result of that is that you have many individual files that must be logically reassembled to do a restore from this backup. If just one of these files is faulty, the entire restore is impossible.
Backup software had its birth when space was very expensive and the software “compressed” the data to take less space. Today, that is certainly not an issue.
I recommend a simple process of drag and drop. Connect the external drive. Make a folder on it with your name and today’s date. Open that folder as a window, not full screen. Slide that window to one side. Open your C: drive in another window side-by-side. Find the folders/files you want to backup and simply drag and drop to the backup. Hint: Use the RIGHT button to do the dragging (opposite if you mouse is set up for a left-hander). That way, when you drop it, it will ASK you if you want to copy, move or cancel. Of course, this method takes away the automatic scheduling convenience. But, I have never seen this kind of backup fail anyone.
Another hint, this is a Windows-wide feature – you can choose a number of folders at one time. If your list is contiguous, select the fist in the group, hold down the Shift key, select the last in the group. If your list is non-contiguous, select the first, hold down the Ctrl key, select each and every other folder. Then you can drag and drop a whole group at a time.
Backing up your favorites in Internet Explorer: Open Internet Explorer. Click File, Import and Export, Next. Choose Export Favorites. Click Next then Next. Browse to the same Backup folder. Give the file that you are about to export a name like: XXXX’s favorites xx-xx-xx. Click Save, Next Finish, OK
Of course, if you have data in files and folders in places in other folders, you will need to do the same thing with these. You will also need to repeat this process for each user on your computer. Do not backup software or applications.