Data Backup and Recovery

Frustrated Computer UserWe are all familiar with the nightmare scenario – a Blue Screen of Death or some other indication that your computer irrevocably damaged.  While many people have precious documents, pictures, videos, etc. saved on their home computers, few have committed to a backup plan.

The good news is, backing up doesn’t have to be a huge chore.  This is especially true if you have Windows 7.  There are tools built in to Microsoft’s newest operating system that can allow even a novice user to create reliable backups.  For a fantastic, step-by-step article on how to back up a Windows 7 machine, head to the Windows Secrets article, “Build a complete Windows 7 Safety Net.”

Windows Vista also has some built-in backup capabilities.  Again, someone else has already written a great article, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

Backing up data on Windows XP can be trickier, since the native tools aren’t as comprehensive.  One of these tools is System Restore.  When enabled, this tool creates “restore points” by essentially taking note of your settings and installed software at a particular point in time.  If data becomes corrupted, sometimes System Restore can help.  However, System Restore can also create a hideout for viruses to reassert themselves after you think you have uninstalled them.  There is a backup utility included in Windows XP, but automated system recovery is not supported.

When dealing with XP, there are some very good third-party backup tools.  For instance, if you plan to backup your data to an external hard drive, many brands pre-load software precisely for this purpose.  I have use the Seagate software at home, and have enjoyed years of successful backups.

If you are willing to pay for reliable backup software, Acronis True Image is one product about which I often read stellar reviews.  It allows for full backups, incremental backups (shorter sessions that only note changes since the last backup), and disk imaging.  Disk imaging not only saves all of your folders and files, it takes a full snapshot of your computer, including the operating system, programs, and settings.  Restoring from an image can save lots of time and headaches.

No matter how you go about it, backing up your data is a crucial element of smooth computing.  Bizarre, unexpected things could happen to your computer at any time.  Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that your precious photos and videos were residing safely elsewhere, should your computer take a turn for the worse?  In fact, I would suggest keeping backups in multiple locations.  External storage has really come down in price, and it could be worth the investment to keep one external drive for regular backups at home and another in a safe deposit box that gets backed up less often.  This way, your data is protected even if you encounter a situation more catastrophic than computer failure.

That reminds me, I think it’s time to backup my work files…

Happy Computing!

Windows 7 vs. Office 2010

Windows 7Microsoft Office 2010
Because the Microsoft company creates several types of software that many of us use on a regular basis, it is easy to get confused when someone asks you which version of which software you have.

Here is an example of something I hear quite often:  “Word on Windows 7 is hard to use.”

Actually, Windows 7 works with several different versions of Word.  The source of the confusion is that a trial of the latest version of Office (Word, Excel, etc) is often included on new computers.  The newest Microsoft operating system in Windows 7, and the latest version of Office is 2010.  Many people assume that Office 2010 is part of Windows 7.

In truth, older versions of Office (2003, 2007) will run just as well on a Windows 7 machine.  They will look and function just as they did on prior operating systems.  So, if you have the installation disks for an older version of Office, you can uninstall the trial version of 2010 on your new machine and install your older version without paying a dime.  This is great news for people who prefer the old Word/Excel/PowerPoint/etc.  interface (prior to the advent of the “ribbon menu” in Office 2007).

Likewise, if your computer runs on Windows XP, you can upgrade your Office software to 2007 or 2010 without getting a new computer or upgrading your operating system.  The only caveat here is that an ancient XP machine may not have enough memory available to run Office 2010 efficiently.  Depending on the machine, a RAM upgrade can help.  To find out if your machine can run Office 2010, check out the system requirements for your version of office here.  Find out what your system has by right-clicking “My Computer” in the start menu and selecting “Properties.”  From there, look at the hardware tab.  If your machine meets all the requirements, you’re in business!  If you’re low on memory, use the Crucial Memory Advisor on Crucial.com to see if your system’s memory can be upgraded.

Just to review – Windows 7, Vista, and XP are operating systems.  Office/Word/Excel/etc. version numbers are 2003, 2007, and 2010, and they can be used on machines with any of the above operating systems.

Happy computing!

Twitter Talk

Golden Tweet Award
The Golden Tweet

Congratulations to Stephen Colbert for being awarded the Golden Tweet for posting the most retweeted tweet in 2010!  Full Article

Twitter.  Tweets.  Retweets.  Twittersphere.  You hear about Twitter everywhere, but what is it?  It’s a social network, like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and many others.  The main purpose of social networking sites is facilitating communication between friends, coworkers, and strangers with like interests.  The sites offer search capabilities for members to find others they know and “friend” them.  Members post messages, pictures, links, etc. to their accounts.  Depending on the member’s privacy settings, the post is visible to specified people, all friends, or everyone.

Twitter distinguishes itself in a few ways.  First, post (or message) length is limited to 140 characters.  This means messages must be short and to the point.  On Twitter, “friends” are called “followers.”  The posts are called “tweets.”  If someone likes your post and wants to share it with their followers, they “retweet” it, meaning they post it to their account, while crediting the original author.  A retweet is indicated by “RT” in the post.

If a group is using Twitter for a discussion on a particular topic, they create an identifying “hashtag” (#) to group the posts.  For example, in a discussion about e-books, the hashtag #ebooks could be created to group the tweets together.  Anyone tweeting to this hashtag would include #ebooks in the post.  The viewer could then go to this hashtag to see the entire conversation.

You may also see the @ symbol before a username.  This means the poster is responding to a particular user’s tweet.  As an example, if my username was techie, and someone wanted to address me, they would begin the tweet with @techie.

There is much more to Twitter, but those are the broad strokes to get you started.  To find out more, visit their “About” page.  If you would like to create an account or search by keyword for tweets, see the Twitter home page.

Security and shortened links

Traditionally, link addresses to webpages include a path to a file’s location.  For example, in the address www.yourdomain.com/images/family/dog1.jpg indicates that at yourdomain.com, the picture dog1.jpg lives in the “family” folder inside the “images” folder.  As you can imagine, some of these addresses can get quite long.  The links can get even more complicated if the site is built using the PHP programming language.  This can pose a problem if you would like to share a link using software with a character limit, such as Twitter.  Enter the URL shortening services.  By registering your link with a company such as bit.ly or TinyURL, you can get a much shorter link address that will forward to your intended page.

As with many great ideas, some nefarious people have found a way to exploit this service.  They use shortened URLs to mask links to malicious sites.  So, how can you know if that shortened link someone posted or sent you is legitimate before you click it?  Thankfully, there are a few ways to check.

  • bit.ly – If your link has this text in the address, copy the link and paste it into your browser.  Add a + to the end of the link and enter.  This will bring you to a special bit.ly page that will give you details about the link, including the fully expanded URL.
  • TinyURL – Copy and paste a TinyURL link into a browser address bar.  Add the word preview before the address.  For example, tinyurl.com/3k2k91 becomes preview.tinyurl.com/3k2k91.  Following the preview link will bring you to a preview of the page with the fully expanded link without exposing you to malware.
  • If you use the Mozilla Firefox browser, there is an add-on called bit.ly preview that will display information on the link while you hover over it with your mouse.
  • Google Chrome users can also download a similar extension.
  • If you have several links to check, or do not want to use the above options, you can paste shortened URLs into LongURL, ExpandMyURL or Long URL Please.

For more information on how to preview shortened URLs, please visit Joshua Long’s comprehensive guide.  Though people you trust would not willingly send you a malicious link, it’s always a good idea to vet any links before clicking on them.

E-Book explosion

e-readersWith the proliferation of e-readers comes an increasing demand for e-books in libraries.  Many libraries offer free downloadable e-books and audiobooks, but they may not be compatible with all readers.  If you are a patron at the East Greenbush Community Library (or any Upper Hudson library), you can find our digital collection here.  In addition to your public library, there are several sources of free, legal e-book downloads.  Here are a few to get you started:

Also, check with the vendor of your device.  For example, if you own a Nook, you can search the Barnes and Noble website for free e-books.  Ditto with the iTunes store and any of the Apple family of devices.  Happy e-reading!