Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Hi, everyone! I’m Leo Notenboom for Ask Leo!
That’s [the title] actually, I’ll call it a polite version of comments that I get sometimes when I make recommendations for various pieces of software. It’s one of those situations where an individual will take a piece of software that I have recommended, perhaps even written books about and have a horrible experience with it.
They really question how this piece of software can be recommended by anybody, much less a site like Ask Leo! Let’s talk about backups specifically, because that’s where I make perhaps my strongest recommendations, and that is in fact where I get this kind of feedback on a more regular basis.
I want to be clear: I actually don’t care what software you use to back up. What I care about, of course, is that you back up. That somehow you’re protected from all of the various and sundry things that can happen to your computer: be it accidentally deleting a file, be it malware, be it ransomware, be it your hard disk just suddenly not working one day.
All of which can happen; all of which I hear from people basically all the time. As long as you are happy with the solution that you have in place, then I really have no strong reason to suggest that you change what you are doing. I do want to be clear; I think it’s important that a backup solution have a certain minimum set of requirements, and I want your solution, again, whatever that solution might be to meet those minimum requirements.
That would include the ability to back up everything. What I tend to refer to as an image backup of your entire hard disk. I want you to be able to restore that to an empty hard disk. Normally, that’s referred to as a bare metal restore. That usually means that the restore software, that the software that you are using to do your backups includes the ability to create a boot disk of some sort that allows you to then boot from that CD or USB to perform the restore if, for example, your hard disk failed and you have to replace it with a new empty one.
If you’ve got an empty hard disk, your machine won’t boot. You need to boot from something else, and that something else needs to be your recovery software. Your backup software that then can allow you to restore the backup image that you took of your entire machine. If you’ve got a solution in place like that, that’s fantastic. I love it. I’m glad you’re doing it. You’re way ahead of a lot of people.
I also believe that it’s important that solution you are using allows you to extract individual files from an image, so what that means is you don’t necessarily have to restore the entire thing. We want to back up your entire hard disk, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily want to be able to or have to restore the entire thing in order to be able to access just one or two files.
Sometimes you’ll want to be able to extract or get at just one or two files from a backup image. Your backup software should allow you to do that. Finally, you’ll get bonus points if your backup solution actually allows you to back up an unbootable machine.
Now what happens is (the reason I point this out is) that sometimes a machine will become unbootable for whatever reason: software configuration is usually what I’m thinking of, but for whatever reason you can’t get into Windows. That means you can’t run your backup software to create a backup image of whatever there is on that hard drive.
What I want you to be able to do, what I really want backup solutions to be able to do is to once again use that bootable media, often the rescue media that is generated by your backup software to also allow you to boot from that and create a backup.
So normally, you would use your rescue media to restore a backup image. Many rescue media from many different backup packages actually allow you to also create a backup image, so you may not be able to boot from your C drive, but before you wipe out by replacing the operating system or fixing whatever it is that needs to get fixed, you have a way to take a complete backup image, so that you know you’re not going to lose anything.
Like I said, bonus points. If your solution meets those kinds of criteria: you can backup your entire hard disk; you can restore to bare metal; you can restore individual files from your image, I’m a happy guy. I don’t care what you’re using.
Now, I make recommendations because not everybody has a solution. These are recommendations that I try out, I test, I document, I put through my criteria that they meet those kinds of criteria, and I believe perform well for the majority of users. And that’s actually one of the reasons that I have more than one recommendation. Currently, I have two different backup software packages that I recommend.
Sometimes, software doesn’t work for one person, but it will for another, or sometimes the backup package that I recommend will not work for you, but the other one will for a variety of reasons.
And that’s actually the real subject of this video today is that there’s this, I’ll just call it an unspoken, not-so-secret secret about technology.
The bottom line here is that computers and technology have become so incredibly complex and so incredibly, I don’t want to say fragile, but nuanced, that there are no two machines on the planet that are, in fact, identical. They just aren’t. Everything from the software that’s been installed on them to the changes that have happened over time, from simply using the machine to the hardware that they are composed of, everything is different. Every little thing is different in some way or another. What that means is that software itself cannot be defined to run on absolutely every possible piece of hardware, every possible piece of software.
There’s no way to test all of the possible combinations that are out there. Software vendors, all the way from Microsoft itself with Windows, all the way down to the smallest application, they do the best that they can. They do the 99.99 percent job of testing, but the bottom line is that the no matter how well you test, how well you try to anticipate, how well you try and design your software to be resilient and robust and be able to handle the variations, something’s going to come along that they didn’t anticipate that’s going to cause the software to misbehave.
That’s the nature of the beast. It’s the nature of the complexity of the world that we live in right now. What that means is that what is perfectly good, solid backup software for most people, the majority of people, and that’s why I choose the tools that I choose, it’s still going to fail for somebody. It’s going to fail and it’s going to fail in some, I’ll even say catastrophic ways at times.
When it comes to backups, this is one of the reasons that we talk about testing your backups, because you don’t want to find out that your backup solution isn’t going to work at the last minute when you need it the most. You’re going to want to find out as much as you can before it’s actually a disaster scenario.
Make sure that you’ve got some level of confidence that this particular backup solution you’re using is going to work and work well for you. Just because it works on 99% of the machines out there, honestly, it stacks the deck in your favor, absolutely, but it’s not a guarantee. There simply are no guarantees when it comes to, especially, system level software that interacts so closely with your system like backup software.
So like I said, ultimately, I make recommendations to stack the deck. I want to choose backup software solutions that have a good reputation, are likely to work well for the vast majority of people. That’s why I have recommendations. In fact, that’s why I have two, but the real issue is that there’s simply no guarantee. There is no guarantee with anybody’s recommendation. I don’t care whose recommendation it is.
You can go out and you can take a look at any backup software; take a look at any of the reviews for any backup software, and you will find that there are people that have really bad things to say about it. Their experience was negative. It happens. I don’t want that to be your experience. I want you to be able to recover from those kinds of experiences before they actually become an issue for you.
Ultimately, what I really want is for you not to be frustrated but for you to walk into the world of software and technology with the understanding that there simply are no guarantees. Everything is really about risk management. What we really try to do is stack the deck in your favor, so that problems are not likely to happen.
So that if problems happen, you are likely to recover from them, but there, again, simply are no guarantees. This is an interesting topic. This is a tough one for a lot of people to get their head around. I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, as you know, if you’re watching this anywhere but on askleo.com, here’s the link to this particular video on askleo.com where you’ll find moderated comments and I’m presuming an interesting discussion about exactly how much we can predict and guarantee about the software that like I said, anybody recommends or anybody uses.
Again, I’d love to hear what you think. If you’ve got a backup solution you’re happy with that meets the criteria that you care about – fantastic. If you’ve got issues with software, let’s hear about them. Let’s hear about this recommendation process and what it is you are really looking for short of getting a guarantee.
Until next week, I’m Leo Notenboom for Ask Leo! Take care.