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March 2008

Backing Up E-mail

By Will Claney

If you're like most of my customers you can.t live without your e-mail or contact information. It's your communications link to the outside world. It's your business, your relatives, your correspondence and in a business environment, it's the law. Like most users you likely don't have a backup or even a backup clue. So here are some helpful hints on backing up your Outlook, AOL, Yahoo and other mail systems.

If you're not an Outlook user, you should be because it is the best system for backup, restoration and migration to another computer or Outlook system. Outlook and its little brother Outlook Express, also known as Windows Mail in Vista, have an export feature that allows you to create an external file for backup and restoration.

A quick discussion about mail clients versus web mail will help focus this discussion and perhaps, persuade you to use Outlook. Think of Outlook as an agent or "go-fer" that goes and fetches your mail and downloads and deposits the results into your computer. When you.re ready to read your e-mail just open Outlook and read. There are many such clients but only one that has stood the test of time, Outlook.

Now, web mail, like AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc, are different because you really don't send a "go-fer" out to retrieve your mail. Instead you read or view your mail on the host computer. The mail physically resides on the web site's host computer, therefore subject to hacks, attacks and losses out of your control. Retrieving or downloading it for a backup is usually more difficult.

On relatively current Outlook systems choose File->Import and Export from the main screen. Then, choose Export to a file, then Next. Under "Create a file type" choose Personal Folder File (.pst), the Next. Select the folder to export from: Choose the uppermost file type, like Mailbox - Your Name or Company, click the box that says, "Include subfolders" then Next. The window will ask how to save the file give it a path like C:\2008exported.pst and allow duplicates, click Finish. The file will begin backing up. Take the backup file you just made (C:\2009exported.pst) and drag and drop, cut and paste or save it to a flash drive.

If you're an AOL user the process is much slower and requires you to copy each e-mail individually and save it to a filing cabinet. According to Heinz Tschabitscher of About.com, to backup mail in your AOL Saved on My PC filing cabinet:

  • Search your computer for a file called "(your AOL screen name).abi". If your screen name is "myscreenname", for example, search for a file called "myscreenname.abi".
  • You should find it in a folder called organize. A typical location is "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\AOL\C_America Online 9.0\organize". You can go to this folder directly, too. Go up one directory, to the C_America Online 9.0 folder.
  • For other versions of AOL, the folder name may be different. In any case, go up one directory from the organize folder. Highlight the organize folder. Select Edit | Copy from the menu of the Explorer window. Open the desired backup location (a CD or DVD, another hard disk, a network location or a USB stick, for example) in Explorer.
  • Select Edit | Paste from the menu.

Backing up Gmail from Google is a nightmare and would consume way too much space here but this Gmail backup article may prove helpful to you. (In my opinion, just another reason to use Outlook.)

According to Leo Notenboom from Ask-Leo.com, "Yet another reason I intensely dislike relying on free email accounts for 'important' things. There are so many things that can, and do, go wrong it's scary. I hear very sad 'I've lost everything' stories on a regular basis." So it is important to backup but you won't believe the way you must do it. According to Leo, "Well, your options are very limited. Basically you can try to automatically forward all email to another email address or you can try to download your email. By forwarding your email to another account on a different free service, you basically got everything backed up at that service." Hump. May I suggest Outlook.

If you use Yahoo mail, well a similar story is heard, use Outlook or a third party product. I've seen many of them but I am reluctant to recommend any of them, why bother? The old saw, "you get what you pay for" applies. You pay nothing, you get nothing. Shouldn't you be using Outlook?


February 2008

Data Backup Options, So Pick One Already

By Will Claney

Everyday hard drives crash from a hardware or software failure, and so will yours. It's guaranteed and the problem is just going to get worse before it gets better - so you need a plan. The ever increasing demand on drive size vs. the cost of the drives, rotational and data access speeds, data compression and incompatible software and malware (virus, spyware, etc) makes it virtually impossible not to avoid a crash. The only salvation is a backup plan. So what.s yours?

If you're one of those brave soles running your computer without a backup plan, well here is some advice, adopt one now. Over the past 10 years hard drives have increased in capacity from 5MB to 500GB a 10000% increase in density. At the same time the price per Gigabyte (GB) has come down from about $2500.00/GB to under $0.35/GB. And during that same period, software has "bloated" from simple Kilobyte programs to many Gigabytes. This results in more room for errors and more entry points for virus.

A backup plan is important given that all hard drives will die, most of them prematurely. This shortened life span is due to demands on the drive like lower cost and increasing density and more complicated and buggy software. According to Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, a global hard drive manufacturer, "As hard drive areal* density increases, the physical dimensions of the read sensor have had to be significantly reduced to accommodate the small data bits. The dramatic reduction of read sensor, more that 10x [10 fold] in 10 years has increased the stress on the read head and created the potential for [hardware] failure."

Backup plans come in all flavors from simple USB flash drives to more complicate RAID arrays. Let.s start with the simple USB flash drive. It is thumb sized, stores about 4 to 16GB of data and is perfect for backing up documents, letters, books and most text with limited graphics. Simply plug it into the USB port, then drag and drop your document files into it.

USB hard drive enclosures are great tools as well. One takes a hard drive, new or used, and puts it into an enclosure, a protective shell. The external drive connects to the PC via USB, Firewire or the new e-SATA connectors. Depending on the size of your computer.s Main drive and the Secondary enclosure drive, you could backup the entire drive or portions of it. It is simple, like the flash drive; drag and drop and you.re backed up. You could invest in a backup program and have backups done periodically, automatically. Backup software is available in the 20-50 dollar price range. (See Computers USA for details on Memeo backup).

For business owners and power uses a RAID array is the way to go. A RAID is just a bunch of inexpensive drives automatically coping data from one drive to the other(s). The RAID array is run by software or hardware. The RAID knows to copy data to the drive or drives assigned to be the backup and it.s done in real time. Backups become a mirror of the original data. If one drive fails, as we know it will, the others are there to support the integrity of the data until the failed drive can be replaced and rebuilt with data.

* Area, adjective areal, from Latin area, adj. arealis, "a piece of level ground, an open space, threshing floor", English from 1538. Wikipedia.


Bio

William Claney is a professional computer consultant and technical writer. Will is the CEO of CUSA (ComputersUSA!) an IT repair and support center located in Clayton, CA. In addition, Will is the CEO of a branded computer manufacturing company, BTO Diablo Computers, and runs the support staff of an Internet remote help desk. He is available for comments at 925-672-9989.