Good Computer Housekeeping

Things to do before your computer dies

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Ideally, you will see this essay before you start using a new computer. But even if it is too late for your current computer, there are things here that I believe will give you a happier computing experience. And you'll know better for another time. There are also things, like the information on how to do a drive image, which are useful in isolation.

The table of contents should give you a good idea of what is covered in this essay. You don't need to read every section to learn from selected sections.

Some of the specifics in this essay, especially in respect of Windows itself, are dated. But I think many of the suggestions, and the suggested sequence for bringing a new machine into use remain valuable.

We would all rather "play" with a new toy... but the steps below really are worth the time and trouble, and need to be taken before you reward yourself with some play!

Best wishes for a new machine which is faster, more reliable, less prone to crash, etc, etc than your old one was. All the "stuff" below is a pain. May you have lots of gain. And enjoy the "honeymoon".

In what follows, I will discuss some of the things I do with a new machine. You will have to adapt my procedures to suit your needs and inclinations. I hope the essay has some useful ideas for you.

Table of contents....

=== Inventory

In theory, before I even turn a new computer on, I record it in my inventory system.

Part of the joy of my inventory system is that it gives each piece of equipment a unique short identifier.

For PCs, I also assign a unique short "nick-name".

Probably a good idea in general but especially important if you will be using the eSet anti-malware package: Even before you install your anti-malware software, change your computer's "name". (Other than that, I would do as little as possible before having your anti-malware in place!)

You want to do the rename before you install the software because if you do, the license you are using will be registered in your web account with them will be assigned to a name that means something to you.

The dialog for renaming your computer is getting hard to find. I went into settings, searched. Knowing the right dialog used to share "rename workgroup", I went into settings, used its search for "change workgroup name", and gave me a link to open the right dialog... which after the recent major update, 3 Feb 20, gave me the old "Systems Properties" dialog. By all means fill in "description", too, but that's not what we need for eSet. After you do "description", use the "To rename this computer or..." button.

I also like to change the workgroup, which you might as well do now, if you want to. (All the PCs on a given LAN have to use the same workgroup name. This is not a trivial decision! I use a non-standard workgroup name as an addional stumbling block for those who would hack my system. Probably a small hassle for them, but, who knows, maybe one hassle too many?)

Going back to inventorying your equipment- Having these IDs is very useful. (If you are confident that there's nothing you want to know about why and how to keep track of your equipment inventory, you can skip to the next section.)

Every piece of equipment I have has a short, unique identifier. This greatly assists me in record keeping. (In practice, I am human too, and often fall to the temptation to play first, work later... but I always regret rushing ahead with other things, and doing the record keeping "later". While I might defer the record keeping, I always actually do most of other the things described below before other "play". If something goes wrong before your anti-malware software is in place, you may not be able to do the things you should have done. Your system may have incurred permanent impairment.)

Something like a mouse was supplied with the computer typically gets its own ID. My latest computer is ICH04a, the mouse that came with it is IMS035. Things like thumbdrives, printers, etc, also each get their own ID.

In my list of IDs assigned, I record things like "IMS035 came with ICH04a", and under ICH04a's entry, there is a cross reference. Also under ICH04a's entry is a list of the CDs (they are given ID numbers, too), manuals, etc. supplied with the computer. This may seem extreme, but trust me: The day will come when you are glad of a simple way to resolve "Which is the CD that goes with this piece of equipment?". And record the purchase price, date and serial number. If you have to make an insurance claim, having those details will impress the adjustor, and dampen his hopes of denying your claim.

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=== First Power Up: Get your security suite in place. (And during that...)

Once the records are made, I fire up the computer, but not connected to my LAN or the internet, at first.

You may be pestered to do Windows Activation or Windows Updates... for now, try to avail yourself of a "later" option, if one is presented. Once upon a time, we could turn off automatic Windows Updates for the moment. If you find a way today (there is an obscure, temporary way)... being sure to remember to turn them on again later, and not "later later". Soon in all of this.

I write these things as much for myself as for you. At least someone uses them! Note to self, and others who use eSet's excellent anti-malware (or other software that also does the excellent thing I am about to come to): Be sure to rename the computer even before you install the security suite. (See above.) The name assigned to the computer will be picked up by eSet, and used in the records at their end, so they can be in step with the names you use for your machines. (eSet can cope, if you fail to do this... but the name they use may not be as useful as your name for the machine.)

If it came with a free trial of some internet security suite, before I accept the offer of the trial, I ask myself "Is this the product I want to use on this machine forever?" ("Security suite": Anti-virus, etc software.) I think it is a false economy to start off with one security suite if you intend to switch to another later.

Either by activating a trial, or by installing from a CD or thumbdrive, I get my security suite up and running as soon as I can. These days, the easy route is to go online "naked" briefly. You will have to go online eventually, but depending upon how hard you want to struggle, you can put that off for a bit. I prefer to install from a CD or thumbdrive because it is usually faster and easier. It also avoids having to go online before at least some protection is in place. I will install a security suite by download if the alternative isn't fairly easy.

When you do finally connect the pc to your LAN, you will probably be asked "Do you want to allow your PC to be discoverable?" This is another place where I'd like to say "no", but that leads to a lot of hassles if you want to share things... e.g. files and printers... across you LAN. (Note to self: 5 Jan 21, pcW2020, I said "okay".)

An aside: You'll probably get the little pop up saying "You are about to send information to the internet, do you want to...?" It has a tick box for "Don't ask me this again". I tend to leave that UN-ticked. I rarely use Internet Explorer, and the pop up is easy enough to go past (Click "Yes")... and until I click the "Don't ask me this again" box, the pop up serves as an extra trip wire/ barrier to viruses, worms, etc trying to access the internet. Not a very robust barrier, but worth its modest "cost", I think.

Your security suite will probably automatically take you through at least one online update cycle, and run a full system scan. There may be a number of pop-ups saying "Should this be allowed to go through the firewall?" (etc.) For non-obvious things try to use "allow once" for things that you think are okay. Sometimes once is enough. If something is needed repeatedly, you can eventually say "allow this forever".

When the security suite seems happy, do an additional, manual, update. If it comes back with "Everything is up to date", then all is well. Each time it doesn't: Finish the update cycle, do a system restart, and try the update process again. Sometimes you are at state "A", but the world has moved on to state "C", but the only path to "C" may be via "B".

ARGHH!!!... 40 minutes wasted just now fighting with a new computer I was setting up. Be sure, once you have a third party security suite in place, to turn off the Windows firewall. A firewall in your modem and a firewall in your PC is fine... but two firewalls (or anti-virus programs) running side by side in a PC will often trip over each other.

In a similar vein, once your security suite is set up, be sure it is turned on. I just discovered that the mfg installed McAffee suite (November 2010) is set up by default to NOT block various attacks ("Firewall|Attack Detection") and the default "security level" was "Give all my programs full internet access"! (I don't like McAfee on various grounds, anyway... but when a security suite is pre-installed on a PC, you are "damned if you do, damned if you don't" when it comes to trying to change to a different suite.)

Do a "full system scan" for malware. It will "waste" a bunch of time, but you really ought to do it. Your system should pass. If it doesn't, you need to sort out whatever problem arose. And if it passes a scan now, but not later, you don't have to wonder whether your system was ever healthy... you will know that the problem is down to something you did after this stage in the journey.

Here begins a rant against Norton. You can skip over it if you wish.

Dissatisfaction with Norton, January 2011.

I have more than one computer. I'd had a bad experience with a "Free upgrade to Norton Internet Security 2011" previously, so when I again, on a second computer, saw words to the effect of "Your free upgrade has been downloaded. Click here to install. 1 minute", I groaned... and started taking notes.

Before the details, um, excuse me? Why wasn't I asked before it was downloaded? And while Norton was so busily downloading things into my computer that I did NOT want, why was I 16 days behind on Live Updates? Although not entirely a bad thing... I have time to type this on another computer while I wait for the 43 MB, 20 updates to download and install. (The computer had been on, connected to the internet, but otherwise idle for at least 24 hours before I embarked on the following.)


12:53: I clicked on the "Install... 1 minute" button.

About 12:50, we came to the first "You must restart your computer."

Shutdown was unremarkable. Reboot was exceptionally slow. I would guess that it was at least 5 minutes before the Norton icon appeared in the system tray.

12:57: I seem to be up and running again. I open Norton's control panel to discover that I only have a "Trial" version of 2011. I have a button to click to "activate" the software. That does transform my "trial" to one with the expected number of subscription days showing. Started the overdue (see above) Live Update.

13:08: Am told to restart computer. Not too surprising after a major update.

13:10: Shut down complete; reboot begins

13:14: Norton icon appears in system tray.

13:14: Ran Live Update again... 8 things to download... but at least the download and install didn't take long, or require a re-boot

(Always run AND RE-RUN Live Update until you get "no new updates available" if you have fallen behind in your updating. This may be frustrating, but there are real and unavoidable technical issues which make it impossible for Norton or anyone else to always do the job in one pass.)

So... not very happy to have been told that the "update" would take "1 minute".

But what can you do, besides go to Linux? I don't like McAfee much better, and in January 2011 I read a review in a major magazine saying the McAfee had not performed well in their tests.

And both are as bad as the other about not selling you a license to use the software on one computer, if you renew your subscription online... you have to pay for three computers.

But what you CAN do is not be taken advantage of. While the convenience of just continuing as a loyal customer is tempting... have a look at the price in the shops, or from 3rd party online suppliers, for a NEW copy of the product you "want" to remain loyal to... you may well find that Norton and McAfee will charge a premium for letting you be cautious/ lazy, i.e. you could get the same product for less "the hard way".

Also beware the "automatic renewal" which is becoming a popular ploy. With both Norton and McAfee, at January 2011, you have probably pre-authorized further charges to your credit card when you were last spending money with them. I had trouble finding out in advance what the easy option would cost me.

End of rant.

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=== Windows Updates... groan.

Before we start on the topic of Windows updates: a small matter. If you haven't done it already, it is safe to do the Windows Activation at the next chance you get.


Now you need to do your Windows updates. (So far you have only done the security suite updates.)

If you are really sure that you know all the essentials, and don't care about some frills, regarding Windows Update, you can skip this section.

Doing the Windows updates is quite like doing the updates for your security suite. As with that, when all seems well, re-boot your PC and do one more Windows Update. If it says "no critical updates required at this time", then you are, at last, where you need to be before going on. Don't be surprised if it takes several passes through the update cycle to get to "fully up to date."

Damned if you do (they sometimes mess the machine up), but probably more likely damned if you don't...

At this stage, I would certainly restrict myself to the critical updates. You can be selective if you use the "custom" option. Don't be beguiled by the prompts current as I write this (5/10) saying that the "Express" update process is the recommended route, and it gives you the high priority updates. The "Custom" option gives you the high priority updates just as easily, and it tells you what's going on, as well. I tend, especially at this stage, to skip the updates which move you on to new versions of Internet Explorer and Media Player. (I rarely use either, why have the clutter of the overlays?)

Don't be fooled, at least at this stage, into opting into Microsoft updates. That tries to update everything Microsoft on your computer, e.g. it extends the update process to Microsoft Office, if you happen to have that installed. For now, stick to Windows update, and update the other Microsoft applications when and as you begin to use them. Maybe someday Microsoft Update will be right for you, but it probably isn't, at this early stage.

Again, like the security suite updates, you may have to repeat the update process several times to get to the point when no new updates are recommended.

If you decide you don't want one of the updates in the list of proposed updates, you can "hide" it for future Windows Update sessions... there will even be a clear message to the effect that you have hidden some updates, and an easy "un-hide" (restore to suggestions list) option. To hide a proposed update, click on the "+" sign in front of it, That should give rise to details of the proposed update. At the bottom of that, there should be a grayed-out "Don't show this update again" box. Once you untick the update as one to be made, the "Don't show..." box becomes tick-able. I usually use "don't show" for offers to upgrade (not patch) my Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. I rarely use either, and if when I do I get problems (or if it has been a while) I "un-hide" the updates, do them.

There are "High priority" updates, which I generally do, apart from the things noted already. And there are "Software, optional" and "Hardware, optional" updates. I tend to be much more relaxed, conservative, (reactionary?!) about these. Especially before I've done my first full disk image. Microsoft means well, but if your computer, unbeknownst to you or Microsoft has a bit of slightly eccentric hardware, and you've installed an "upgrade" which leaves your hardware not working, do you want to start into the "joys" of system restore? I don't take the chance of having to go there. Okay- traffic on my LAN may travel a little slower. But if it is WORKING....?

(skip this paragraph if you like!) By the way- On the admittedly bought- a- while- ago, brought- into- use- today machine I am going through initial setup on as I write this for you, I have had to do four (I think it is) Windows Updates to get to the point where there are no "new" updates for my system. In the first update, as I remember things, I installed (among other things) .NET 1.0. The next update applied a patch to that. The next time I think that I had .NET 1.1 (The updater hadn't proposed putting 1.1 on the first time because 1.0 wasn't present). And then the next time (as I remember and interpret things), the updater said "Oh! You have the basic .NET 1.1 framework (which you didn't have before). You need the security patch that came out a while after 1.1 first came out." All of this just to illustrate for you the fact that you have to do update again and again, as often as you can stand to take the time, to be sure you are fully updated. As I said in regard to security suite updating: Sometimes you are at "A", the world is at "C", and you have to go to "B" to get ready to go to "C". Sigh.

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=== First Applications, First Settings

I next install Firefox. It has always (for me) been a quick and easy install. I think it is more secure than the Microsoft alternative, and it is the browser I like. There's a lot of web work ahead; you might as well do it with the best browser.


So far so good. If you are unlucky, and the supplier of your PC has taken money from various people to push ads at you, you may have encountered any number of "try this!", "try that!" pop-ups already.

I use the "later" option as often as possible. I tend at this stage to avoid entirely deleting anything... that will come later, if my early inclinations seem sound after I have slept on them. I don't like the fact that extra things have been installed on my computer, but I want to get to know it a bit more before deleting anything. While I will often move things out from "in front of my face", I am generally reluctant to fully delete things. They may have been put on your machine for a good, or even critical, reason.


The machine will probably not be set up as you want it. For the moment, resist doing the little tweaks that we all know and love... but, as I indicated earlier, I would, at least for the moment, turn off the automatic Windows updates. (I'd probably turn them on again after the initial set up work has been done on the machine.)

Left in, to raise a chuckle from those who remember the days: "Before very long, you may want to do a full hard disk image. If you have this, when your computer fails, you will be in a much better place than you will be without it. Note I said "when...", not "if your computer fails."

While it is tedious, it used not to be the end of the world if your hard disk failed, which is a relatively common cause of computers dying. If you've made the full disk image, you take that and your computer to your local computer shop, they copy your image to a new hard drive (not hard), fit that into your computer (not hard), and you're back to where ever you were when you did the full disk image. You will have to reload your documents and data.... you do keep backups, don't you?... but the process of getting back to a "new" machine is much, much harder if the image hasn't been done by the owner. (The process of a rebuild is explained more fully later.)

If you are a bit timid, or uncertain of your skills, now is not too soon to do this full image. I must admit, I used to do a few more basic "getting started" things before I did my first full disk image, so I will mention some of those early tidies here, and then go into the details of creating the full disk image.

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=== Windows "Recovery Disk"

Some machines allow you to burn a Windows recovery disk. Consider doing this, if one didn't come with your machine. Whether you make your own, or have one supplied by the computer distributor, don't put too much faith in it... I've too often seen discrepancies between what was on the machine and the state the "recovery disk" created. There are good reasons for this. Even if the supplier is trying hard to give you a good recovery disk, the task is formidable. And don't imagine that any recovery disk is going to put things back the way you had them. A good one... if you haven't misplaced it before you need it... will only put the PC back to the state it was in when you took the PC out of the box.

If you are going to take my advice and make a disk image or two, then maybe the recovery disk isn't as critical as it is to some folks.

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=== Recovery Partition

Some machines have a "recovery disk" on a hidden partition of the hard drive. Using this to "restore" a system may save the day for you after a serious virus infestation or similar, but in addition to the caveats above about recovery disks, be aware of the extra complications that a recovery partition entail. And be reluctant to hit the "recover my system" panic button for the same reasons that I hope will make you reluctant to use a recovery disk.

Note that the word "restore" has many uses in the world of computers. In this section I am not, for instance, talking about the system built into Windows for rolling your system back to a previous "restore point". (While we're briefly on that subject, though, if you've heard of it and wonder how to create "restore points", let me explain: Under XP (and others) if you click "Start"/"Help and Support", one of your choices will be "Undo changes... with System Restore". You can click on that without undoing changes or doing anything else! Once you have clicked on it, one of your choices is "Create a Restore Point". I guess if we are willing to click "Start" when we want to stop the computer, we should be able to manage the above. So... back to one of the OTHER "restore"s....

In either case, remember that the type of restore we were talking about before my one paragraph digression, if it works will wipe all of your data, and applications you installed. It will (try to) put your PC back to how it came from the store. And not every restore disk will do even that. You are depending on the manufacturer keeping the restore disks they send out up to date, keeping them consistent with what the manufacturer is sending out on the day your PC was shipped. This is an almost impossible task for the manufacturers, and I have seen customers of "big name" manufacturers badly disappointed when trying to use restore disks. In any case... the restore disk won't have some of the Windows updates which you will have on your disk image if you follow the advice above,

One last point regarding restore partitions: If your computer dies, it will probably be down to...

If it is a dead disk, how can you use the restore partition? The only thing that the restore partition may fix for you is a computer that has been hit by a nasty bit of malware, or hit by operator error. If you are ignorant enough to delete critical system files, are you knowledgeable enough to successfully execute a restore from the hidden part ion?

Having said all of those negative things, I should add that back in Windows 98 days, when CD copies of the OS were routinely supplied with new systems, the "repair install" option worked well for me a number of times. If you have the OS disc, and things have gone south, the "repair install" option (whatever it is called) may do Good Things without creating havoc along the way.

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=== Small Applications

So... we've got our security suite installed. We've had it do a full system scan as early as possible... to be sure that nothing already in your system is already being flagged as worrisome. The sooner you do that full scan (after finishing the security suite updates) the greater your chances of avoiding the very tiresome question: "Was that always present in my system, or did I "catch" something when I visited one of the sites I've been to?"

If there are some small applications that you know and love, that you want on every machine you have, this might be the time to install them. I always have Irfan on all of my machines, for instance. I would put off installing big things like Open Office.

Of course, your machine may have come from the supplier with some large applications installed. This can be a pain, but you just have to bear that. (I say it can be a pain because even your first disk images are going to contain more than the core operating system files.)

If you are confident that you know what you are doing, you might want to tidy up the shortcuts on your desktop and the structure and contents of start menu, in particular the "All Programs" section. I usually create a "StartUp- Ex" folder. I put unwanted shortcuts from the "StartUp" folder. Then, if I've removed something I should not have removed, it is easy to move it back to the "StartUp" folder.

I then try to install all of the small applications which I like to have on every machine... All of these are available in free "lite" versions, if they aren't free even in the "full" version....

For an FTP tool, I once recommended Terrapin FTP, but that doesn't seem to be available any more. I've used Filezilla since at least 2013, but I still I miss the friendly little noises Terrapin used to generate to indicate success (or otherwise!) of an upload. Beware: It is easy to accidentally upload something to a subfolder of the folder you meant to put it in. A minor pain- and the power is useful when you want it. It is what put this file on the server you've fetched it from! (And the page was created with Textpad. Shortkeys used every time I start a new paragraph. Most illustrations on my site: Irfan.)... but I digress. Sorry.

For old time's sake. Anyone using Terrapin, 2/20?...
At 5/10, Terrapin had become freeware: Enter FRFTP - P6HAU - QCY38 in the "Unlock" dialog. Thank you Terrapin! Could this have happened because an FTP client exists in the new Windows? Another small firm's breadwinner destroyed. Sigh. Sadly, at 3/12, the old Terrapin site... tpin.com... seems to have disappeared. There are numerous places claiming to offer the software. Do you really want to install FTP software from a site you don't know is reliable? Tucows doesn't seem to have a listing for Terrapin FTP. Sigh.

(See my guide to Windows freeware and shareware for more recommendations.)

I leave installing my email software (I don't use web-browser-based email) until later because it is not a small application.

I get rid of unwanted (most of them!) desktop shortcuts.

I set up my Quick Launch bar.

I used to configure my menus, back in the days when you could... and didn't have the discouraging knowledge that just about when you have things how you want them, Microsoft will force an "update" down your throat and blow things out of the water... again.

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=== Hard Disk Image: The ultimate backup

As I said... this material about full image backups is dated. I gave up a while ago, and now hope I can even back up my data.

I once advised: "It is now time to do a full image of your disk..."

I'll leave what followed that in place for now, but you can skim this section!

I know you may have done one earlier, when you had a "hardly disturbed" machine. You were wise! You may have much more setting up to do... e.g. Open Office... but at this point you have got the basics, you have not yet (we hope!) done anything unhealthy... Give yourself an image of the disk before....

To make a full image....

Download Paragon's Backup & Recovery Free Edition. (It used to be called Paragon Drive Image, but it is still the program to use... even if you have a CD/DVD-less netbook, as long as you have another PC on your LAN which DOES have a CD/DVD writer, or a USB hard drive. (For more on this excellent piece of software. and backup and syncing issues, see my guide to good Windows freeware.)

In May 2010, I seemed to encounter all sorts of weirdnesses trying to install Paragon's "Backup & Recovery"... but I'm delighted to say... as I predicted then!... that it seems that was a temporary "thing". I'd had GOOD experiences with Paragon's products in the past, and in March 2012, I installed their free (for personal use) Backup and Recovery, which looks like it is going to be a splendid tool, offering the disk imaging I want, AND various backup tools, which can be used in simple modes, or more subtly. All this on a netbook, with no DVD drive. (I will probably do the image to a USB attached hard drive. It can, I believe, also be done across a LAN connection to a separate PC.)


One remarkable thing about the whole business is that I can usually put several images of the whole disk on the disk itself, in the early days of using a new computer. (The Windows XP netbook I'm backing up just now (Mar 2012 has 149 GB on it, which the software estimates will take 8meg to store, in compressed form.) Obviously, those images must be moved someplace else very soon. If the only copy is on the disk which has crashed, it is of no use to me! And the images are quite large, so when they've been moved elsewhere, disk space becomes free again. But it does speed the disk imaging process if you write the image to a hard disk on the system being imaged... and most of us don't have more than one hard disk on a given system. (At one time, for these purposes, a USB hard disk didn't count... However, in March 2012, the software allows you to do this. (A USB hard disk has always been an excellent place to move the image to, once the image has been made. (USB hard drives are the best thing since USB!!))

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=== File sharing

Again... the details given here are out of date. The idea of folder shared across your LAN remains good.

Especially if your PC doesn't have an optical drive you may want to set up file sharing at this time so that when you've made an image of the hard disk, you can move that image to a different PC across your LAN to burn the image to a CD or DVD.

If your machine will normally operate only on your own LANs, you might want to change the workgroup name to something non-standard, to give malware something extra to trip over. (Workgroup name of an existing PC on your LAN available, under Windows XP, from the "Computer Name" tab of the System Properties, available from the "Properties" right-click item for "My Computer". Things work best when all of the PCs on a LAN are set to be members of the same workgroup. I do workgroup names all in upper case letters, as you can only enter upper case in some workgroup edit boxes.

In Windows XP, at least, there is a Network Setup Wizard (NSW) in the control panel which you can use. I connected an Ethernet cable between laptop and LAN before starting the NSW. I also had a wireless unit in the laptop I set up 3/12 that was in "flight safe" mode when I started the NSW the first time. The NSW warned me about the disconnected interface. I canceled out of the NSW, enabled the wireless unit, logged into the wireless network, and started the NSW again. For my simple needs, the right choice on an early page was "... connects through residential gateway..." (i.e. my modem/ router connecting me to my home user broadband internet connection, aka DSL, aka ADSL.) For "Computer description" and "Computer Name", I prefer something short and without spaces in the name/ description. (Same entry, both fields. It may be better to be more clever... but a long entry in the wrong one of these fields will clutter various displays later.)

Near the end of using the Network Setup Wizard, you are asked "What do you want to do next?" Often the best choice is "Just finish..."

Beware: Your anti-malware suite may kick up a fuss... which is probably for the best. But it should accept graciously your instruction to allow the machine you are configuring to become part of your LAN.

It helps me to have a folder on each of my machines called NetShrFrmXXX, where XXX is the machine's name. In every case, these folders are read-only to the other machines on the LAN. I never regret this restriction; it is easy to live with. (If you have some older machines on your net, e.g. Win98, Windows ME, for them to see the shared folders, you may need to create a folder with a name not longer than 8 characters. I use "NetShr" and put it in the root of C:. I have one of each on each PC on my LAN, which still has a Windows ME machine on it.)

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=== Large applications and further settings changes.

Finally, I install any remaining large software packages I need... OpenOffice, email client, etc. After this, doing disk images becomes a slower process, eating up much bigger chunks of storage. One of the joys of Open Office is that you really don't need to back up that system software. I might keep a copy of the setup file, in case I don't like a future release of the suite, but it installs quickly and easily. If you are using Microsoft's "Office", and have to rebuild your system on a new drive after a disk crash, even if you have a Microsoft-supplied CD with the setup software on it, you may encounter difficulties.

In some cases you will also want to put old documents and other data (photos, databases, etc) on your machine, and this is the time to do it.

Indulge me? A few notes to myself here. (I actually use what is on this page when setting up my own systems: Delphi 4 on CD6057(UK), 6059(US). Kith&Kin on CD563... or online? (Note: ICS comes in versions for 1-6, and for 7 up.)

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=== The Big Question

The Big Question:

Will It Work???

The question arises not only if you have created a drive image as per my suggestions, but in general with all forms of backup and restore options.

As an illustration of the problems that I'm worrying about, let's say you've built a hotel. You've fitted it with sprinklers, in case there is a fire. How do you test them? Not easy!

And so it is with backups. It is a major pain to test some of the options you have available to you.... but better to have them, than to not have them. They might work!

As I said before: If your system dies, you will use your disk image as follows: You will need your image and an empty hard drive, preferably a new one. It can be a different size than the one you had before. I say "you" in what follows. It may be a case of using a geek friend or commercial venture. You take them to a working system, and install the drive as a second drive on that system. You go to the Paragon site and get the appropriate software. You use the software to write the disk image onto the empty disk. You take that disk out of the system where you did the copying, install it as the main disk in the system you are trying to restore, cross your fingers, power it up, and... all being well... you now have a working system again, complete with whatever was on the one that died at the time you did the disk image.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it will often beat the alternative: Starting from scratch with a new computer. That's not to say that there is never a case for just starting from scratch... Sometimes it just isn't cost effective to try to rebuild a sick machine. It depends on your faith in the idea that the rest of the machine is okay, and on how heavily customized the system was for your wants and needs.

I hope you will never need your disk images! But if you want the option of considering doing a "restore from image", the above should have taken you through the things you need.

(Return to Table of Contents)

=== Ongoing backups... especially documents and data

Is making disk images the way forward for your backup needs once a machine is up and running?

What do you want from your backup routines? Full disk images will become more tedious as the material on your PC expands.

I think the best way to protect yourself from losing documents and data in the event of a crash is to be very methodical about where you put things, and keep second copies either on thumbdrives or other hard drives. Those drives might be connected from time to time via USB, or they might be elsewhere on a LAN, or even out in cyberspace.

When you are thinking about a backup policy, consider syncing software as well as backup software. ("Syncing" is perhaps a simpler concept.)

Besides backing up the obvious things... your documents, pictures, databases, etc., consider things like your email address book, browser bookmarks.

A decent essay on backup would be longer than all of what I have written here about good steps to take during the initial set up of a new machine. I'll try to write such an essay one day. In the meantime, be careful. Ask yourself what you would lose if a thief stole your PC today... and find a way to protect yourself from the consequence of such loses!

(Return to Table of Contents)

=== In conclusion

Once again, I am guilty of a rather abrupt end to this essay. I hope you feel you've learned useful things. For a review of what is here, return to Table of Contents)?

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