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A tough lesson learned again

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 23, 2005
(Issue 2338, Unusual Software for Special Needs)

Hard drives are not permanent storage – easy enough to remember, no? And having lost a couple of hard drives through the years (including an old MFM format drive on my Atari ST that took all my old ComputorEdge Online San Diego columns with it), you'd think I'd have learned about regular backups.

To an extent, I have. As I wrote previously in this space, when I upgraded to a PIII several years back, I set up an old Pentium Pro box as a local file server on my home LAN. I put an extra hard drive in there, shared it over the network, and now the iMac in my daughter's room, my new P4 and the PIII (now my son's) all can access the file server to backup files to.

But I've not automated that process – yet. And so when my P4's hard drive went south a couple weeks ago, I didn't lose much in terms of data files. I'd backed up a few weeks before that, so I lost my most recent three columns from ComputorEdge (which my editress, Gretchen, was kind enough to send back to me for my archives), and a few updates to my Web site.

Not too bad.

While the P4 was down, I was able to switch pretty painlessly to the PIII in terms of writing the ComputorEdge column and updating my Web sites.

But where I got bit bad by my own hubris was on files for, an online literary and arts 'zine I publish and edit.

Oh, all the current Turbula stuff was backed up just fine.

But all the new stuff I've not posted yet – all the submissions from writers, poets and artists – was still in my e-mail in-box. And that I hadn't backed up.

Added to the list

It simply never even occurred to me to back up my e-mail data files. In fact, I had to hunt around a bit to find out where they are. As I wrote here just a few months back, I recently switched e-mail clients from The Bat to Thunderbird and finally to Eudora.

Fortunately, a technically savvy buddy of mine (thanks, Jeff!) was able to mount my hard drive as a slave on his P4 (my PIII couldn't read a drive that big), and while the boot sector and a few others were corrupt, he was able to salvage the rest of my files.

Including all the e-mail files. They're all backed up on both the PIII and the file server box now while I slowly rebuild the P4.

But when I get that P4 back up and running, I'll be sure to add the e-mail files to the list of files to back up every week.

Finding e-mail files

Finding your e-mail files generally involves looking through the Documents and Settings folder on your C drive in Windows (if you're using a Mac, you can safely skip this part!).

In the Documents and Settings folder will be a list of accounts or users on that PC – if you only have one, it's easy. Inside that folder (or the folder of any of the users) will be bunches and bunches of folders/directories – the two most likely places to find your e-mail (depending on which client you are using) are Application Data and/or Local Settings.

For instance, to find my Eudora e-mail data files, I go to c:\Documents and Settings\Jim\Application Data\Qualcomm. And see, I already need to know that Qualcomm is the publisher of Eudora. Inside the Qualcomm directory is a Eudora directory – and that entire directory is what I want to backup as inside it are all the various mail boxes I've set up: ComputorEdge, family, friends, Boy Scouts, etc. I generally sort my incoming messages that I want or need to save into these sub-mail boxes to make finding them easier.

For my e-mail from the Mozilla Thunderbird client, I went to c:\Documents and Settings\Jim\Application Data\Thunderbird. Inside there, I found a Profiles directory - and inside of it, just one directory as I'm the only one using Thunderbird on this computer. The name was gibberish, but inside it were several files and subdirectories – including a "Mail" subdirectory. Were I still using Thunderbird, that folder would also be set for regular backup.

In similar fashion, I found the mail files for The Bat and saved those.

Other options

Having a Gmail acocunt from Google, I could simply keep everything offline, of course – but who knows when or how Google will change their e-mail program? So for most stuff, I still use my POP-3 account and download messages to my hard drive.

And remembering to backup regularly is the biggest flaw in my system – in the future, I'll be looking at software that automates backing up of files and will report on those for you here.