We need more user-friendly backup options

Don’t try this at home: the interior of a hard disk drive.

An interesting article on The Register a few days ago about Dell‘s plans in the US to offer customers “the option of adding an automatic back-up system to their new PC when they buy one of three models from its Dimension range.”

The article goes on to explain that

for an extra $99 it will install a second, 80GB hard drive in new Dimension E310, E510 and XPS 400 models. The drive will be configured to continuously back up the main drive, protecting personal data against the dreaded hard drive crash.

I presume that this is simply a RAID 1 setup, which is something that more and more modern PCs are capable of — mine is, for example and it’s a couple of years old — although Dell have called this “DataSafe”.

RAID 1 is an arrangement where two hard disks are set up to save exactly the same data on both drives; one is a mirror of the other. The obviousl advantage there is that should one drive fail or get corrupted then (hopefully) all your data will be safely stored on the mirrored drive.

I find it quite incredible that it has taken an OEM computer company up until now to realise that people’s data is so often so important to them that some kind of simple, user-friendly backup method should be an essential part of a new setup, particularly when more and more people are having to use PCs, many (most?) of whom don’t know too much about them.

A lot of new PCs come with ‘restore’ partitions, that is a separated area of the hard drive that contains data to completely restore the main hard drive (C:) to the state that it was in when it was delivered to your door. But the problem with this is that it will also wipe all your personal data.

A lot of new PCs come with this ‘restore’ partitions instead of a genuine Windows XP CD-ROM, which can also lead to other problems, like when you’re trying to install some piece of hardware that requires a few files from the XP installation CD. I was delighted when my current PC arrived from NetHighStreet with a Windows XP Professional CD.

There are more and more people using PCs nowadays. Many of whom haven’t the faintest clue about how their PC is setup (which is fair enough), what all the buttons do, and why certain features are arranged the way they are. All they want to do is switch it on, check their email, write their documents, watch a DVD or two, and maybe play some games. It can’t be that difficult to design a user-friendly backup system now … can it?!

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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