Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Backup your personal data to a portable USB drive

You just got a brand new portable USB Drive (or USB Memory Stick) and your intention is to use it to backup important data to that external drive. You have a couple of solutions at your hand:

- copy files by hand;
- using the software that comes with the drive (if any);
- using a well known backup program with lots of features: full backup, incremental backup, etc.
- using a less than common shareware backup program that does only file synchronization.
- using Microsoft Briefcase (included in your Windows OS).

Because this article is dedicated mostly to home users one of the major feature requested by this category of users is the backup software to not use any kind of proprietary archive format. A proprietary archive format makes difficult data access relaying on using the same software to browse the archive and restore from archive.

Proprietary archives are the preferred storage format for majority of commercial dedicated backup software because of the advanced features exposed by this kind of software: incremental backups, spanned archives, etc. While professional IT administrators appreciate these features, for the regular home user these are too much.

A home user just wants a second copy on his personal data to sit on a USB drive. A quick access and restore from that data is more appreciated then other advanced features. The above list just gets shorter:

Copy files by hand

Power users (who have lots of available time) prefer this method. Basically they cannot trust their precious data synchronization to any software. They’ll usually copy changed files on the external hard drive each time they have new data (eg. Downloading photos from a digital camera) or from time to time using a regular or not so regular schedule.

Using a simple backup software

Several free, open-source or shareware products can be downloaded from internet to assist in creating the second copy of your data on the external hard drive. A relatively good one is Second Copy from

Using Microsoft Briefcase

This is one of those utilities that comes with Windows but not known by majority of people. Designed initially to take documents on the road, work on them and then synchronized back with the main computer when home, the tool can be very well used for keeping a second copy of your data on the external hard drive.

A Briefcase is just a folder recognized by this application. You can create Briefcases in any place you want by selecting File -> New -> Briefcase from Windows Explorer menu (or any contextual menu). To quickly put a Briefcase on your desktop type the following command in the Run box: syncapp.

After you created your briefcase on the USB hard drive, drag inside all the folders and files you want to backup. Being just a folder, the data is available inside the Briefcase using Explorer. Just a note here: use Windows Explorer and not any other tool to put data inside the Briefcase. Using a 3rd party tool such as Total Commander to copy data inside briefcase will make the files orphan and so will not be monitored for update by Microsoft Briefcase.

Each time you change something on your hard drive in one of the folders that you dragged in the Briefcase, is enough to right click the Briefcase and select Update all. The second copy will be automatically synchronized with your PC.

1 comment:

GERO said...


As an alternative to Second Copy I can suggest an open source software called Cobian Backup, which I have been successfully using during the last 4 years.