Monday, June 20, 2016

Backups... You Know You Oughta

I had a minor disaster today. I inadvertently wiped a file containing hours of research; I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but that's immaterial... what matters is, there wasn't a second copy of the file that could be used to recover the data.

Several months ago, I had an even worse calamity, when I was working from a Linux boot disk, and mistakenly wiped the hard drive in my laptop... my intention had been to wipe an external drive of similar size.

In both cases, there were warnings I ignored before shooting myself in the foot... my bad. Also in both cases, had I followed the backup rules I suggest to all my clients, there would have been no real harm done... definitely a case of "Do What I say, Not What I Do."

Three Simple Rules:
1. There should be at least two copies of ANYTHING that matters to you.
2. You should backup your personal files every day or two; more often if a particular file represents any significant amount of work.
3. You should back up your entire hard drive... programs, operating system, the whole shebang... every few months.

And backups are so easy to do nowadays, there's just no excuse not to do them. I wasn't a big fan of the backup utility that came with earlier versions of Windows, but starting with Windows 7, it seems pretty easy to use and does a good job.
Start => Control Panel => Backup and Restore; from there, it's pretty self-explanatory.

I prefer a couple of alternative programs. Don't ask me why, I just do. I've had good luck with both of these.

  • Macrium Reflect is a commercial program out of England, but it's free for personal use. The version in the link will work with any Windows version from XP SP3 on; if you still have XP SP2, drop me a line, tell me whether you have 32- or 64-bit Windows, and I'll send you a link to Reflect Free version 5. The free version will only do full partition- or disk-image backups, not individuals files and folders, but it will let you restore individual files and folders from the full disk images.
  • Clonezilla is a free and Open Source backup and restore program. You need it if you're using your computer to make a buck and don't want to buy the commercial version of Macrium Reflect. You might want it for personal use, just because it's fun to play with. As far as I've discovered so far, it's only good for full disk images, and only for full disk restores... you can't recover individual files. I could be wrong...
Daily backups of your personal files can be accomplished by the built-in Windows Backup utility, just using different settings. I prefer using this DOS batch file I wrote, and its partner file for restoring files from the backup.
  • Once you download each file, move it to your desktop; right-click it, and select Edit.
  • Press and release Windows-E (the Windows logo and the letter E at the same time) to open Windows Explorer.
  • Connect a large thumb drive or external drive, just the one drive, and see what drive letter appears in the Explorer window; in the Notepad window, scroll down to the series of letters in parentheses, and remove the letters corresponding to CD and memory cards, making sure the external drive you inserted is still in the list. Close Windows Explorer, Save and close the batch file. Remember to do this for both batch files.
  • Lastly, move the Restore... batch file to your personal folder: C:\Users\[your user name]; it might even be displayed on your desktop, in which case you can just drag the file over the icon and release it to move it.
Got any questions? Click this link to send me an email; I promise I'll respond PDQ.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

To Be, Or Not To Be... (a Windows 10 User)

I posted on this subject back in December, but there's lots more needs to be said, so...

More and more, I see folks, on social media and in emails from my clients, saying they got a free gift from Microsoft, in the form of a drive-by installation of Windows 10. And so far, none of them have been expressing their gratitude and pleasure at receiving the gift.

Don't get me wrong here... Windows 10 is a vast improvement over Windows 8.1... if you currently use Win 8, you should get a full disk image backup of your computer, then upgrade to Windows 10.

But if you have Windows 7, Windows 10 isn't an improvement. The learning curve is considerable, and there's no commensurate improvement in speed or usability to make it worth the trouble. Here's step-by-step instructions on how to avoid having Windows 10 inflicted on you.

  • From the Win 7 desktop, click on Start => All Programs => Windows Update (in the list of programs ABOVE the first folder).
  • In the Windows Update window, near the top of the left pane, click on Change Settings.
  • In the Change Settings window, make sure all boxes are checked, then use the drop-down arrow under Important Updates to change the setting to Never Check For Updates. Click OK.
    (If you're running WinPatrol, you'll get a dialog within a couple minutes, asking if you want to accept the new setting; click Accept.)
  • Back in the Windows Update window, near the bottom of the left pane, click on Installed Updates. Wait for the progress indicator in the Location box to sweep all the way to the right, then disappear... then click the Name heading in the list to sort by name and number.
  • Scroll down past the Office Updates, the Hotfixes, and the Security Updates, to the plain old Updates for Microsoft Windows. They should be in numerical order.
There are three updates you need to find and uninstall. You might not have all of them. They are...
  • KB3035583
  • KB3123862
  • KB3150513
For each of these updates you find on your list, highlight the listed item, then click Uninstall => Yes. Wait for the uninstall to complete. If you get asked about rebooting, click Restart Later; if you just get an Uninstall Complete message, click OK. Scroll down and look for the next update on the list above.

When you've found and removed all three suspect updates, or verified they aren't there to be removed, reboot the computer. After the reboot, come back to Windows Update, and click on Check for Updates. Wait... When the update check completes, look at the list to see if any of the updates listed above are there; if so, remove its check mark, then right-click and select Hide Update. When you're done, click OK. No need to install updates right now... after the next step, it will happen, eventually.

Finally, click on Change Settings again, change the setting to Check For Updates But Let Me Choose Whether To Install... (Again, if WinPatrol asks, accept the change.) Every now and then Windows will offer you updates. Accept all Security Updates, but look down the list of plain old updates and make sure you're not getting one of the three listed above.

One last thing: If you're running Advanced SystemCare, un-check the box next to Vulnerability Fix before you scan. IOBit Tech Support insists they're not restoring the hidden updates, but I'm not sure I believe them.

And, as always, if you have questions, just click this link to send me a trouble report.

Till next time...