By Dan Tynan
If there is one universal truth about using computers, it's that sooner or later something bad will happen to your data. Hard drives die without warning. Laptops get lost or stolen. File-munching viruses worm their way into your system. And then there's good old human error, as in, sometimes you just do something stupid—like accidentally delete a file (or, gasp, an entire drive) with a single absentminded mouse click.
Losing data can mean losing everything—family photos and videos, e-mail correspondence, downloaded music and movies, banking records, school reports, and more. According to a survey by disaster recovery firm Acronis, four out of five people have lost files on their computers, yet 64 percent back up their hard drives only every two to three months, some even less frequently.
The reason? Backing up computer data has been about as exciting as flossing after meals, only more complicated and time consuming. But that's changed. There are now dozens of products and services that make the process as simple as clicking a button, logging on to the Net, or plugging a device into your computer. They fall into three basic categories: software you install, online services that rely on a high-speed Internet connection, and portable drives that do the grunt work for you.
Which method is best? There's no one-size-fits-all answer—it really depends on how you use your computer, how many machines you need to back up, and how much time and energy you would be willing and able to devote to restoring files when disaster strikes. Backing up is still not exciting, but it's a lot less aggravating.