There are dozens of backup programs and services, many of them free. But most of these, like Google Drive, Dropbox and Skydrive, just backup your files, not your programs. Well, people want to save their programs, so let’s go further

To back up a whole computer drive, everything included, you need what’s called a cloning program. You’ll be glad you did it if the computer goes down in a really serious way and you want your programs back. Mac users have a utility program called “Time Machine” that does that.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista users can use the operating system’s own “system image” routine to clone the drive. Click “start” on the home screen, then “help and support.” Type in “system image” and follow the instructions. You’ll need a large capacity flash drive or a stack of DVDs, to complete the backup, because there’s going to be a lot of stuff there.

For Windows XP users and those who want extra features, there’s “TrueImage 13,” a $50 cloning program from To try out the most recent version, we downloaded and installed their 30-day free trial. Joy used it to back up her computer and then uninstalled four of the programs that were on the original hard drive. These were unimportant programs and she was just doing it as a test to see if TrueImage, had indeed captured them. She then tried to reinstall them from the clone copy back to the main drive. Everything worked well and was restored except for a tiny photo editing program from Nikon. (Oh well, our Nikon Coolpix camera just broke down on us anyway.)

TrueImage also has a nifty thing called “Try and Decide” mode. This lets you load in a new program and try it before it makes changes to your system. Unfortunately, on Joy’s machine, clicking “Try and Decide” produced a pop-up message saying her trial version had expired. Since it was only the second day of the free trial, that seemed unlikely. So she rebooted the computer and started over and the message did not appear again. Which goes to show you, as they say, don’t believe everything the computer tells you.

If your laptop came with a “restore” disk, keep it; if it prompts you to make one, do it. That disk will restore your computer to its original factory settings. If you don’t want to take the computer back that far and you think you don’t need to, try clicking “start,” “accessories,” “system tools,” and “system restore” from the Windows home screen, the desktop. This lets you take the computer back in time. (No dinosaurs will appear.) Choose a date a few days back. This has worked well for us many times.

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