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Automatic Scheduled Backups
The hands-down, #1 feature you need to make sure you get in any backup software package is automatic scheduled backups. This just refers to the ability to tell the software to automatically backup up your files periodically, such as every night.
The big problem with backups is that people just won't do them, and the only real solution is to set up an automatic system so that backups get done regularly without you lifting a finger.
There are two basic ways that automatic scheduled backups work. First, Windows itself offers a scheduling feature so that you can tell it to run a particular application periodically. Second, the backup application can just automatically start up when Windows does, and it can sit quietly in the background and handle waking up to perform background backups according to whatever schedule you specify. Most backup software takes the latter approach, running in the background, and handling all the scheduling features itself.
One drawback of automatic scheduled backups is that they don't work so well with recordable discs. Backup software can automatically run at the right time, but it can't automatically make sure the right disc is in your CD or DVD burner. You really want your automatic backups to be 100% automatic.
A good alternative these days to optical disc for backup can be a separate, external hard disk that plugs into your computer via a USB or FireWire port. These tend to run $100 or more, but usually run quite fast and can offer as much space as you're willing to pay for. So long as that extra disk is always turned on and assigned the same drive letter, this can be a good target for automatic backups.
If you have more than one computer in the house, you may want to also just consider backing up data from each computer onto one of the other computers. If they're not already connected via a network, then you might have to run a wire (or set up a wireless network) to get them talking to each other. Again, so long as the target is always turned on and running, this can work well for automatic backups.
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