Friday, July 31, 2009

Four apps that will/might keep your wife from killing you

...when her computer crashes.

Since I'm sure a lot of our loyal readers are "the friend that knows about computers," I thought I'd share some programs that I should've used long before my wife's hard drive took a dirt nap.
Prepping a close one's computer for a catastrophic event is kind of like stockpiling supplies for a fallout shelter. When the proverbial bomb drops, you'll be safe - as long as you've got the right provisions.

1. GMail. I took the liberty of setting up what I think is a phenomenally crafty stealth email backup.

Step one: enable IMAP and copy all the old messages to GMail.

Step two: set up GMail to automatically check our ISP's crappy POP server.

Step Three: set Outlook Express to access GMail via POP and leave the original copy on the server.

Step four: twiddle thumbs. All emails are now stored in the cloud where a hard drive is a lot less likely to take a steaming hot bath in coffee.

I've chosen to use POP instead of IMAP because of the odd problem we've had with our GMail for Domains access.

Phone calls from home that start "Why is it telling me the server can't be contacted?" aren't good for my health.

2. Cobian Backup. I've used Cobian for a while now. Well, that's not totally accurate. It was installed, and I had a job created to back files up to my trusty old XBox's FTP server, but it kept failing and I never bothered to correct the problem. Since I took ten minutes to fix the issue, it's been working great. I've currently got it saving archives to an external SATA drive as well as the XBox.

Cobian is set to grab the bulk of the important stuff: My Documents, Music, Application Data, Local Settings, Desktop, and the like. It's set to run nightly, and shadow copy support means it'll back up even if certain apps (like Firefox, OE, and Photoshop) are left running.

3. GBridge. Ok, this might not work for everyone, but I work for a smallish family business and I'm "the computer guy." That means I get to build my own workstation and hand-pick the parts in it. The RAID mirror makes an ideal location for offsite storage of encrypted data, and GBridge is a handy way to get it there.

Its Hamachi-like VPN and autosync make maintaining a spare set of fonts, Photoshop brushes, and other things I usually forget so easy it almost hurts (actually forgetting these causes a great deal more hurt). As a bonus, GBridge also gives me zero-config VNC access to troubleshoot other problems I've caused on my wife's laptop from the safety of my office.

4. XXClone. XXClone is a very easy-to-use app for cloning a system drive while still in Windows. It's been faster than Macrium Reflect for me, and Macrium's free version doesn't support incremental backups. After the initial copy, synching the new changes is obviously a lot quicker than re-cloning the entire drive.

One downside is that you can't get rid of the confirmation dialog in the free version - which puts the kibosh on scheduling with command line switches. Cloning a drive on a schedule is definitely the best way to cover your butt, and it may be worth paying for in your case.

For me it's the initial clone with all the vital apps that matters. If I remember to do a few incrementals here and there, GREAT. If not, well, it's the data that's most important and I think I've got that covered.

I won't guarantee that running these four programs will allow you to escape totally unscathed, but if they prevent one angry phone call to your workplace then I've done my job.

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