Backing up is the computing equivalent of flossing.
Keeping data on disks that will eventually fail and using broadband networks teeming with all kinds of nasty-ware, most people know that they should back up, but few do. (This may be because even today's thinnest notebook PCs are hard to fit between your teeth.)
But whatever the reason, there are new options that help back up important files, which can include irreplaceable photos, regardless of your computer setup or budget.
Storage Corp. under its Clickfree brand recently released one of the most inexpensive ways to protect your data. The system comes in three flavors, for backing up music, photos or documents. Inserting a rewritable DVD starts the backup; simply keep inserting recordable DVDs until the backup is done. Each is $15 and recordable DVDs are inexpensive.
However, a serious limitation of the Clickfree DVD system is that it can back up your data at only one point in time. If you add more files, you need to start all over again.
One solution is to use an external hard drive which, when used with most backup software, will allow you to keep several backup versions of a file so that you can revert to any of several older versions. With consumers shifting to notebook PCs, unit growth of such drives is growing nearly 8 percent from last year, according to NPD's retail tracking service.
Clickfree external hard drives make an even easier job of backing up everything important. Simply attach the drive, and it starts sucking down all your music, photos and documents. The company offers 120 GB and 160 GB drives, and the hard drive can keep backups of up to 10 PCs.
Other companies, such as Seagate, offer products such as the Maxtor OneTouch drive in larger capacities that come with backup software. Its BlackArmour product automatically encrypts everything on the drive for those concerned about their information falling into others' hands.
Mac owners have access to what may be the most visually exciting backup experiences ever created. Time Machine, which is integrated into Apple's Mac OS 10.5 Leopard operating system, can begin continuously backing up a Mac as soon as an external hard drive is connected to it.
But the fun starts just when you need it most -- when you need to retrieve a file.
When you want to retrieve a deleted or older version of a file, a 3-D space theme takes over the screen. Clicking arrows allow you to see to a version of the folder that existed in the past, preview the file in question, and then bring it back to the current file set.
Apple also offers a product called Time Capsule, which combines a hard drive with a wireless network access point that simplifies when multiple computers are used to back up over a wireless network.
Faster networks are making wireless backup more viable. According to NPD, sales of 802.11n products grew by 87 percent in units from January through June of this year compared to last, while sales of 802.11g products fell by 21 percent.
Next month, Tech on Deck will look at other options for backing up multiple computers on a home network, as well as new offerings for backing up computers over the Internet -- a good strategy to protect your digital valuables should your home be destroyed.
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at The NPD Group.