Saving files on your hard drive is the easy part; choosing how to back up those files can be more difficult.
Why do you need backup software? If you ever have a hard drive fail, or are hit with an impossible-to-remove virus, a complete backup of your files, drives, and operating system is the simplest way to return things to normal. Not having backups is like flying in a combat zone without a parachute.
Traditional backup programs help you organize, schedule, and maintain your backups, and their newest versions make doing so easier than ever. However, tradition is quickly accommodating new realities. Two of the products we tested for this story--EMC Retrospect Professional and NovaStor NovaBackup--recognize the increasing role of online backup in users' backup strategies.
Online backup is easy and secure, and it's safer than local backup by virtue of being off-site and stored on drives that are themselves backed up regularly by your online storage provider. It isn't appropriate for everyone; most users' broadband connections offer relatively slow upload speeds, so backing up to an online service can be considerably slower than doing so to a local or ethernet-connected hard disk. With a large collection of digital photos or multimedia, you're looking at a processing time of several days.
Ideally, all backup programs would offer seamless access to all online backup services, but most don't. In addition to their software, both EMC and NovaStor provide separate online backup services, which makes tighter integration between the software and the companies' respective online services a natural progression (NovaStor does a much better job at this than EMC, whose solution is tacked on).
Though online backup undoubtedly is the wave of the future, you may not need such services yet. Even so, don't wait indefinitely to add a backup utility to your list of must-have applications. Putting it off can be one of the costliest mistakes you'll make in your computing life.
The backup programs discussed on these pages are all available as downloads--see the link at the end of each review. Or see the complete collection of all of these files.