Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Preventing Disaster

Being able to recover from disaster is good, but preventing disaster is better.

There are several tasks that, if done regularly, will prevent problems with crashes, performance, and viruses. This week we are going to talk about one of them—running Windows Update.

Windows is full of security problems. You may have even read in newspaper articles about security flaws that would allow another person to take over your computer. “Why doesn’t Microsoft do something to fix them?” you might ask. The good news is that they do.

When Microsoft finds a flaw in Windows, they write a patch for it. Each month, they are posted to Microsoft’s website. Getting the patches is very easy to do:

  1. Open Internet Explorer
  2. On the “Tools” menu, go to “Windows Update.”
  3. You will be taken to Microsoft’s website
  4. Microsoft will scan your computer to see what updates you need. (When you are asked questions, go ahead and give it permission to do what it needs to do.)
  5. You will see a message telling you if there are any “critical updates” that you need. “Critical updates” are the only ones that need to concern you.
  6. Follow the instructions to download and install the updates.

The first time you update Windows, do not be surprised if you are told you need several dozen updates. You will find a large group of updates will be downloaded and installed, and you will then be prompted to restart your computer and run Windows Update again to continue the process. You are looking at as much as an hour even with a T-1 line, so have at hand some other tasks to keep you busy. Do not despair, however. After the first time, updating Windows takes only a couple of minutes a month. You will find many months you are told that you do not need any updates at all.

How important is updating Windows? In a word—very. In August 2003, a worm called “Blaster” was infecting computers all over the world. One source estimated the cost in lost productivity, lost revenue, and lost services to restore infected computer was in the neighborhood of $500 million worldwide. All of that stress and heartache was totally unnecessary. In July, a full month before this worm infected computers, Microsoft had already released a patch. Everybody who ran Windows Update in July avoided the worm in August.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

—Charles Mingus

Monday, September 12, 2005

Backing Up Your Work

Once you have your filing system set up in My Documents, you can move on to establishing a backup system to keep you from losing everything you created should your hard drive go down this afternoon.

The problem most people have with backing up is that they don’t know what files to back up and can never be sure they have gotten them all. The key is pretty simple—if everything you create is being saved inside your My Documents, then all you have to back up is My Documents!

Here is the process:
  1. Insert a flash drive into the computer.
  2. Double click on “My Computer.”
  3. Now you are going to double-click on the picture of the flash drive.
  4. Create a new folder inside the flash drive. Label it with the current month and year.
  5. Open the folder you just created.
  6. Double-click on “My Documents.”
  7. Hold down the Control key and hit the “A” for “all.”
  8. All of your documents will be highlighted.
  9. Click on any one of them and drag to the window for the flash drive.
  10. All of the rest of the documents will follow.
  11. As the files are copying, you will see a box with pieces of paper flying across from one folder to another.
I use the example of backing up with a flash drive because most everyone has that method available to them. If you have an external hard drive, backing up to it is preferable.

The important thing is to have a good system and use it. I would say backing up at least one per month is a must. How much more frequently you back up would depend on how much you save, how value the documents are, how replaceable they are, etc.

When you put this message together with the one we discussed last week, the bottom line is that you will have a system you can trust. You won’t find yourself printing hard copies of documents simply because you don’t think you would ever find it on your computer again. You won’t live in fear of what might happen if your hard drive died.

In the next couple of posts, we will look at some maintenance tips so simple that you will wonder why nobody ever told you about them.

In the end, it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference. It’s the center fielder’s extra two steps to the left, the salesman’s memory for names, the lover’s phone call, the soldier’s clean weapon. It’s the thing that separates the winners from the losers, the men from the boys, and very often, the living from the dead. Professional success depends on it, regardless of the field.
David Noonan