If you only have time to learn about one proactive task make it imaging. In the past 20 years I have been exposed to imaging on various operating systems and drive layouts and it is invaluable. What is imaging all about? To keep it simple imaging is normally used to create a exact copy of your operating system (or drive area that is used to start the system and store your configured applications). Backups (which will be covered next month) make copies of your data. You could make a image of your data however, that is not what we will cover here.
REMEMBER THIS LESSON (AND ALL LESSON’S) SHOULD BE DONE ON A VM (VIRTUAL MACHINE) SO YOU DO NOT RUIN YOUR REAL SYSTEM SEE LESSION ONE IF YOU DO NOT HAVE ONE SETUP!!!!
The image is a point in time backup that contains all the system files and hidden files many are specific to you as you are logged in when made. The reason this is so important is you will never get your system started again if an error occurs if you do not have an image (you will need to redo everything). You may ask if this is so important why have I never been informed about before. You probably have and were not aware of it. Let’s look at a few example’s:
1-Recovery partitions (go back lesson two if you forgot what partitions are). Many new computers come with a fail safe partiton built in that you do not see which automatically backs up changes in time. If you have a failure with your system you press a key like F12 (at startup) to start the recovery process and the program goes in a special boot mode that attempts to get your system running again. The first problem is this does not handle drive failures. Second these partitions must constantly re-size themselves when running to accommodate program and patch additions (which happens at boot time or shutdown). Any process that is this “automatic” usually is prone to failure because it is constantly moving things around which mean more drive wear.
2-Some operting systems have a “rollback” feature that takes you back in time by a preset interval. I have found this method at best to be poor fix for a failing operating system. My expierence is the performance suffers when recovery is attempted this way.
3-The latest high end Microsoft operating system like Vista and Windows 7 ultimate have a crude form of imaging included however, I find it to hard to use for the basic user. This built in imaging was derived from the imaging that has been available to IT people for years and requires a degree of understanding to use.
4-The last type I is the disks that came with our system or the recovery dvd’s (if you made them) . This type takes you back to ground zero and requires complete re-install of your applications and the dreaded reconfigurations. Even if you are good you will not get a operating system with a normal group of applications up and running in less then six hours from scratch.
None of the above can do anything about a failing drive.
So what do you do? Learn how to use commercially available image tools. I have been using Acronis for the past six years because they offer a robust cost effective tool set. These products are under one hundred dollars , simple to use and ideal for the home business or road warrior. When you have a failure (and you will) the cost of this software is a small investment when compared to the cost of time lost or a technicians charge. Prior to using Acronis I have used Ghost, Drive Image and ImageCast for many years.