clickfreeYou’d think, being tech columnists and all, that we’ve never had one of those computer disasters where we lose everything. Guess again. One of us has done it several times. (Joy looking sheepish.)

It’s easy to back up data. The trick is to restore it. We can’t count the number of times our backups failed to restore. Sometimes the drive itself failed. Other times, the software did.

The easiest and most fool-proof method we’ve tried is from ClickFree; it’s for Windows and Mac. You stick any external drive into a USB port, open their software, and your main drive starts backing up. Exit the software when it’s finished, and the next time you start up a screen message will ask if you want to restore everything. Or, if you leave the drive in, just click the “restore” button to get your files back. The software is $40 and there’s a 60-day free trial at You can also buy a ClickFree drive with the software already on it. Bob uses that one. They also have a free version, “Clickfree Mobile,” for Android tablets and smart phones.

Another method that works fairly well is Windows own backup routine. In Windows 7 or XP, click “start,” “Help and Support” and type “backup.” In Windows 8, do a search on “File History.”

For backing up files online instead of to your own storage device, there are a number of places your can do this:  Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive are among the best known.

If you sign on to one of those, anything you save in your cloud drive folder is automatically backed up online. In Windows 8.1, coming soon, SkyDrive is the default location for saving documents and photos and gives you seven free gigabytes of storage space. That’s a lot compared to other services, but not a great deal compared to what you can save cheaply on your own drive.

If you want to go beyond files and photos, there are programs that will back up your whole system. Leaders are Acronis True Image and Carbonite Mirror Image. These programs copy everything, including all your applications. You can’t transfer these programs to another computer, but you can restore them to your own computer. You might think this doesn’t make sense, because why would you want to restore them to your own computer when you already had them on your computer? It would be a situation where then main disk drive failed; you can install a new one and restore your programs to it. Windows can also do this for you, but our results using this approach have not always been good.

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