By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
In the good old days, savvy PC users knew how to insure themselves against disaster. They created backups of everything.
Then came Windows 95 and Windows 98. Backing up and restoring everything on a modern Windows PC is so complicated that most users don't even try.
Limited backups are fine for saving your documents or your tax data. But full backups are practically worthless when your formerly smooth-running PC corrupts itself into a sluggish and fumbling ne'er-do-well.
As I explained last week, the biggest flaw in Windows is its capacity for self-destruction. As you install more and more programs, vital files shared by these programs can become corrupted. In many cases. the programs
eventually refuse to run. Windows itself is likely to stop working properly.
You'd think that making full backups would be a good idea. When things finally go wrong, you get out the backup disks or tapes and tell the backup program to restore everything.
But things don't work that way. First, there's the problem of the Windows Registry. Unless it is carefully backed up and just as carefully restored, your backed-up programs won't be any good.
Then there's the simple reality that a full backup usually reflects the most recent state of your computer. Going to the trouble of creating a full backup every week or two only means you'll eventually bring back the very problems that caused your PC to stop working in the first place.
Another approach that usually doesn't work is a cleanup program. This kind of utility tracks down all the files on your PC, looking for problems and offering ways to fix them. Usually, by the time you realize something is wrong with the way Windows is running, it's too late for those programs to help. And they can (and sometimes do) guess wrong when they try to "fix" problems, making things worse.
But there is a way to restore your PC to working condition in about 10 minutes. Even if Windows won't boot up at all, this solution will get everything back to normal in the time it takes to feed the kids or make a pot of coffee.
The secret? A hard-drive snapshot. When your PC is running well —when everything is working right, shortly after you've installed Windows and your main software — you create an "image" of the main drive using drive-copying software. You store that image as a file on another drive or on a removable disk. When things go wrong, you simply reverse the process and restore your working version of Windows from the image file.
Three such imaging programs are available for Windows — Drive Image 2 from Power Quest, Drive Copy from Quarterdeck and Ghost from Symantec. They cost from $40 to $80, depending on discount.
All three rely on DOS, not Windows, to make and restore their image copies. Because DOS is always available, even if Windows won't boot, you should have no trouble getting everything back to normal no matter how badly your PC's Windows installation is messed up.
Before you buy one of these programs, take heed. You will need to have more than just A: and C: drives. If "My Computer" shows a hard drive labeled "D:" on your PC, and if that drive is big enough, you're OK. Otherwise, add a second drive to your PC. You won't have to pay more than $200 if you shop around.
Drive Image 2 can compress the image files it creates so they take up less space. You can also store drive images on Zip disks or recordable CDs if you tell Drive Image 2 to break up a single image file into sections. (It will stitch them back together for you later.)
Restoring the entire 1-gigabyte C: drive on my wife's PC takes only eight minutes. Restoring the 6.4-gigabyte C: drive on one of my PCs takes only 12 minutes. Want a comparison? Reinstalling Windows and all our software the old way takes all weekend. I know. I've done it a dozen times in the last two and a half years.