Backing up your e-mails and other stuff (2)

from the July 2007 Actrix Online Informer

Last month we looked at some ways to back up your e-mails and other stuff. We looked at how to find important files on your hard drive, and how to save them onto a portable zip drive or hard drive. If you missed that article, you can find it here.

For the sake of brevity in what was quickly becoming a long article, we stuck pretty much to backing up your emails in Outlook Express. This month we'll look briefly at how to do it in Outlook, and, as promised, we'll look at some online automatic backup services.

Backing up e-mails and settings in Microsoft Outlook

There's good news and bad news when it comes to backing up Outlook files, but the good news is that most of it's good news. While Outlook Express saves all your individual mail folders as individual .dbx files, Outlook saves all your email and settings (folders, address book and all) in one big file ending in .pst. This file will be called Outlook.pst. The bad news is that because it's all wrapped up together you have to back up the lot rather than just the email folders you want (if you're doing it manually).

The manual way

As we mentioned with Outlook Express last time, finding this .pst file might be the biggest challenge, but it should be at the end of a pathway similar to this one:

C:\Documents and Settings\Editor\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook.

Open Windows Explorer by right-clicking on your Start button and left-clicking on Explore. Have a look through the folder list and follow the pathway above (You'll probably have something different where I have “Editor” until you find the folder with Outlook.pst in it.

Also as we mentioned last time, you may have to make sure your files and folders aren't hidden before you can find this folder. To unhide your files, go to Control Panel/Folder options/ and select the View tab. Make sure the dot is in the "Show hidden files and folders" radio button.

If you can't find your Outlook.pst file manually, you can set Windows to search for it, but again, your files must be unhidden, or Search won't find them. Right-click on your Start button and select Search. Put *.pst in the "File or Folder Name" field (the * indicates we're looking for all .pst files) and select My Computer in the "Look in" field. Click Search, and Windows should grind away until it finds and displays the folder containing your .pst file. Make a note of where it is so you can find them more easily next time.

To back the file up, simply right-click on it and copy it to memory. Next, scroll down your folder list and right-click to paste it to you portable flash or hard drive. If you ever need to restore it, say after a crash, just reverse this process and copy it back from your portable drive to your the folder it was in.

While you're there, also backup the Archive.pst file if one exists. This file will hold all your old archived mail if you have auto-archive turned on in Outlook, and most people do by default.

The Outlook way

The even better news is that Outlook actually comes with a feature allowing you to back up your e-mail directly from within the program. It's the Import and Export Wizard, and it will let you back up selected folders rather than the whole lot. The steps for using this are as follows:

  1. Click File, then Import and Export.
  2. Choose Export to a File, and click Next.
  3. Choose Personal Folder File (.pst) and click Next.
  4. Click the folder that contains the messages you want to back up. If the folder contains a subfolder that you also want to include, select the Include Subfolders check box, and then click Next.
  5. Under Save exported file as, click Browse to find on your hard drive exactly where you want to save the .pst file (somewhere you'll remember, or into your normal backup file)
  6. If you're backing up a .pst file that you have backed up to before, click one of the following:
    Replace duplicates with items exported: Existing data will be overwritten with the information in the new one.
    Allow duplicate items to be created: Existing data will not be overwritten, and duplicate information will be added to the backup file.
    Do not export duplicate items: Existing data will be kept, and the duplicate information in the folder will not be copied to the backup file.
  7. Click Finish.

To restore your e-mail back into Outlook, you sort of do all this in reverse:

  1. Click File, then Import and Export.
  2. Choose Import from another program or file, and click Next.
  3. Choose Personal Folder File (.pst) and click Next.
  4. From there it's pretty much the same procedure except that you're putting the file you saved before back, so you'll need to browse to select the backup file and put it back.

Automatic off-site back-ups

We also looked last time at how to move the files you want to back up onto a portable flash drive or hard drive. As we noted this is all very well, but may not be of much help if you lose your computer in a fire or have a visit from an efficient burglar.

The best and most convenient way of backing up your important files is to use a remote back-up service. It gets rid of the need for a portable drives altogether, and the need to manually take stuff to another location.

You simply download the program from the Internet and schedule it to backup your most important files whenever and as often as you'd like. It then zips them up to reduce size and encrypts the data before uploading it to the service's remote servers. Whenever you need to restore something, you can use the program to browse your online files and download whatever you need back to your machine.

The first upload is usually a biggie, and can take quite some time (up to a day or more if your connection is slow) but once the first one is up, the programs will only upload backups for files that have changed – so subsequent uploads are much smaller and quicker, and will probably only take a few minutes.

Mozy (www.mozy.com) and IDrive-E (http://www.idrive.com/) are based in the U.S, and they're much of a muchness in terms of comparison. Each offers a free service of up to 2 Gigabytes, probably enough for most of your important stuff, and you can upgrade to unlimited storage for US$4.95 per month.

Each has an Explorer-like interface which immediately presents a folder tree featuring My Documents, your favourites and settings, and the folders for whatever e-mail programs are installed, so selecting files to back up is a snap. Each interface is also really good for letting you see exactly how much space you've taken up on the servers, and the procedure for scheduling backups is a breeze. These two certainly get top marks for ease of use.

Digivault (www.digivault.co.nz) The problem with these free remote backup services is that they are based overseas which means your data has to be piped across cables under the Pacific increasing the amount of time required.

The Digivault service offered by Wellington-based Digerati means that your backup data is stored here in New Zealand which is going to save a lot of bandwidth time. It also provides the opportunity to support something local, and means getting help should be easier if things go wrong.

Digivault offers a free Gigabyte of storage for 15 days. If you want to upgrade, you can do so by using the website's Contact Us link, and the cost is $1NZ per Gigabyte per month. Since most people won't need more than a few Gigabytes of space, this service will probably work out cheapest of all. Another advantage is that Digivault will bill you monthly by e-mail so you don't have to hand over your credit card details unless you want to, and you're not subject to exchange-rate fluctuations.

The online interface isn't quite as slick as some of the overseas offerings, but it is still pretty straightforward and easy to use. After each successful upload, Digivault sends you a summary e-mail telling you exactly what was uploaded, which files have changed since last time and how much space you're using.

There's a handy PDF user guide available in the support section of their website.