The following article was prepared by Mike Taylor, C.P.M. for distribution to NAPM affiliate newsletters. 

October 2001

Back Up or Die 

Lessons learned from a system crash.

Yep, even the best of us sometimes have system problems. Here are a few suggestions and lessons I leaned when my system crashed a few weeks ago.

I don't know if it was a virus or a errant program (I think it was a (X*&^%%$ dumb program). Either way, when your system starts acting funny, files not found, very slow to close and open, programs acting strangely, it's time to consider cleaning house. 

Even if it isn't a system crash, after a few years of loading programs, updates and incomplete program deletions, you may decide the best solution is to completely erase, reformat and reload your hard drive. It's a time for careful reflection, but sooner or later you've got to push the FORMAT button. Before you do that, be prepared.

  1. For every program you install and intend to keep using, make sure you have the original installation disk(s) AND the key codes. Store them all in a safe place and keep the codes where you can find them! I was amazed at how much time I spent just trying to find all the disks and codes. It took me almost an hour to figure out that the system code for my PC was pasted on the bottom of my PC! 
  2. Obviously, you should back up all of your data files on a regular basis. A backup that's a year old, is a year of your computing life lost. I keep all of my data files on a separate hard drive as well as on regular backups. This was a lifesaver. When it came time to erase the hard drive I knew all of the data files were still safe somewhere.
  3. Change the options in Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. to store your user files, address books, email messages, in the same place. This makes the backup and restore much easier. Even if you have to move to a new computer, you still have a life. I have a folder called Mikedata and subfolders for mail, correspondence, web files, Quicken data, etc. Outlook is the worst. Unless you carefully configure your personal folders, all of your address books, message folders, etc are stored in the same place as the Windows system. They're history! 
  4. My computer came with a complete system restore disk. This made it easier, but it still took me almost 12 hours of work to reload programs. When you buy a new computer, make sure you have the disks you will need to restore the system.
  5. As you download program updates, bug fixes, security upgrades, etc. from the internet store the downloaded files in a backup folder or else you'll have to go back and find them all again. 
  6. Make sure you have a boot disk. In windows go to the CONTROL PANEL> ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS and create a startup disk. Make sure it will boot up your computer AND make sure it is set up to start the CD player so you can use CDs to load programs. Test it! Too late to create it after your system crashes. I suggest giving yourself a new boot disk as a birthday present each year. (Right after you check the batteries in your smoke detector)

O.K. That was the easy part. Here's what I forgot.

  1.  Save your collection of Favorites from Internet Explorer. I used to have links to web help sites and all of the places where I could download system and software updates. In Internet Explorer go to the FILE menu > IMPORT and EXPORT. Follow the wizard to export your favorites to an HTML page. Then save the exported file along with the rest of your data files. If you crash, you can go to the same place to import the file and reconstruct your favorites.
  2. I spent a lot of time looking for passwords. If you let the system remember your passwords (for browsing the internet, updating web sites, accessing programs, etc.) take the time to create a written file somewhere you can find it. It's surprising how quickly we forget, if we don't need to retype them on a regular basis. It's obvious now, but anything you let the computer remember for you can be lost in CYBERSPACE. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! 
  3. Speaking of the Internet, take the time to make screen prints of your dial-up Internet settings. Go to the MY COMPUTER folder and open the DIAL UP NETWORKING folder. Open each dial up connection and print copies of each tab. Get copies of the phone numbers, passwords, network settings, DNS and servers,  modem settings, etc. If you can't dial up the Internet, you can't go to the help sites to figure out what's not working or even find the phone numbers for your software vendors! 
  4.  If you manage a web site(s). Download a complete copy of the web site, including graphics files and put it in a safe place. Don't forget passwords, login information, IP addresses, URLs, administrator help files, etc. 
  5. When I started the install process, I was amazed at how hard it was for me to gather all the disks in one spot and find all of the KEY CODES needed to prove I was the proper owner. Now they are all in one spot. Next step is to make a backup copy and keep it somewhere else. That way, if the house burns, my copies don't get toasted with the originals. 
  6. If you make the decision to start over…….. Count to ten….. Check the backups and copies…. Don't rush into it. Unless you are very lucky, FORMAT is forever. Make sure you are prepared first. 
  7. Reload the operating system and all of the hardware first. Get the scanner, camera, sound and whatever else, working properly before you start on the big dogs like MS OFFICE, Publisher, Front Page, etc. Load your antivirus program early in the process and make sure it has the latest update so you don't reload a virus and have to do it all again. 
  8. AND THEN???? Go back into each program and fix al of the settings to put the backups and data files where they belong.

Just in case you are interested. My 12-hour re-load problem could have been a disaster. I have over 3.5 GIG (about 14 CDs) of programs I had to reload. That's bad, but imagine how upset I'd have been if I had to reload the 4-5 thousand personal files or lost the thousands of email files I have in various folders. As it turns out, I'm still tweaking personal settings in all of the programs and I keep running into stupid problems, like the sound card stopping the first time I used the scanner. But it could have been a lot worse!

As an Eagle Scout, I was prepared…. just not quite as prepared as I would have liked to have been.! I'm sure you can do better.

MLTWEB is assembled and maintained by Michael L. Taylor, C.P.M. 
Materials and articles prepared by Mike may be shared for purchasing education provided that this source is cited and no fee is charged. The rights for any other use are withheld.
Copyright;  Michael L. Taylor, C.P.M.
Last Updated: 02/26/2012