From the Kenosha News on 3-6-05

Disaster-proofing your computer

      At work, we've been developing a disaster-recovery plan for our network.  It got me thinking about recovering from a much smaller disaster a total system melt-down of my home computer.  What would I do if my home computer died?  Where would I start?  Are there steps I can take to avoid disaster before it hits? 

      Here are some tips for developing a plan to cut your down-time in the case of a disaster.  These apply applies to all versions of Windows, Mac OS and even Linux.

      The first thing everyone thinks of when doing a disaster-recovery plan is back-up.  This is appropriate, since your data is irreplaceable, but it's not the only thing you need to think of.  Even if you regularly back up your own documents, recovering from a Windows or MacOS melt-down and re-installing your various software packages could easily take three days IF you have all the CDs you need.

      One important preventive measure is to install a second browser other than IE.  You can download Netscape from http://home.netscape.com or Firefox from http://www.mozilla.org.  Mac users already have Safari but should also have Netscape, Firefox, or IE.  With a second browser, you can access patches and recovery tools, even if your primary browser goes haywire.

      Second, do establish good backup practices.  Copies of documents on floppy disks are better than nothing, but floppies are not very reliable media.  If you can, make a backup of your own files periodically onto CD.  Next week's column will tell how to do this in Windows XP.   Note that copies of your Windows directory or MS Office program files will not restore properly by copying them back, so don't bother backing these up.  Mac users, you can make a backup copy of your whole computer to an external firewire drive and restore everything in just minutes!

      Third, be prepared for a hardware malfunction by verifying what warranty coverage you purchased and when it expires.  Find out the hardware support phone number and if they do on-site repairs or require you to send in your computer.  If you do end up with a hardware problem and send in the unit, ask if they will replace or erase your hard drive as part of the repair process.  They shouldn't if the hard drive is not the problem, but they often do, and you'll lose your data.

      Fourth, collect all of your software CDs in one place.  You may have a "recovery CD" that reloads your computer back to its original state.  If you reload from this CD, it will load the operating system (Windows or MacOS) and all of the original software, but it will overwrite all of your personal files and any modifications that you made after you got the computer.  If possible, you should have a "real" Windows or MacOS CD, which should include a repair option that could fix a problem without losing your files.  Besides your OS, you should have CDs or floppies for the following:  your ISP (e.g. RoadRunner, DSL, NetZero), your software programs (e.g. MS Office, Quicken), and your printer drivers.  Make sure you have any license keys (serial numbers) associated with each. 

By Carol Sabbar From the Kenosha News on 3-6-05