Backing up your computer files is one of life's lessons that you have to learn the hard way. You start out thinking that your expensive new computer will be just as reliable as your TV or stereo. They've been humming along for 10 or 20 years, why should you expect the computer to break down?
Believe me, it will break. And it won't be pleasant. When it happened to me, I lost family photos, videos and documents that will never be replaced.
I was like most people who thought think lightning would never strike them and their hard drive would never fail. A survey last year by Harris Interactive found that 35 percent of computer owners have never backed up their computer. Among those who had, more than half back up less than once a year.
And for a long time, there were plenty of reasons to treat computer backups like trips to the dentist. You had to buy an external hard drive, install software, make a schedule, make sure your computer is turned on when backups are slated to run and clean out the external drive when it gets full.
Now we have the option of making cloud backups, those excuses are even more flimsy than they once were. Cloud backups are easy, inexpensive and painless. And, unlike an external hard drive, your files are safe if your computer and backup drive get stolen or or destroyed.
What's a cloud? It's a generic term used to describe the growing business of Internet-based file storage. Companies that offer to store your precious data might put it on a computer in Seattle or one in Syracuse. It's just out there somewhere "in the cloud." You don't care where they put your files, so long as you can get at them and they don't lose them.
Two of the most popular cloud backup services for Windows or Apple home computers are Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) and Mozy (www.mozy.com). Prices for basic plans covering one computer are almost identical. Carbonite costs $59 a year, Mozy charges $5.99 a month or $65.89 for a year.
Cloud backups work like this: once the a program on your PC or Mac, the service begins uploading your files. That process could take a few days, depending om the speed of your Internet connection. But once the collection is created, the service will only upload files or folders that are changed. You can also schedule backups to occur when it's most convenient for you - like when you're asleep.
The basic plans copy only your data files - your documents, photos, music files and videos - and only from one hard drive. You can pay a little more and get a plan that restore your software and operating system, back up external drives or back up several computers in your household.
Another valuable feature of cloud backups is you can get access to your files when you're not at your computer. Both Carbopnite and Mozy let you log in over the Web from another computer or from a mobile device, such as an Apple iPad or Android phone. You can call up a spreadsheet or a photo of your granddaughter if you're on the golf course or visiting a friend's house.