Be Prepared for a Hard Drive Disaster

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I know Windows very well, and I was prepared for every disaster that could come from software failures. I was using a Vista for more than four years without any format, and only couple of BSODs (blue screen of death). But I wasn't prepared for hardware failures. I thought there would be warning signs before, that my hard drive would crash at least couple of times before it becomes unrecognizable. That is why I haven't backed up most of my files, and my documents, notes, photos, music all but gone except for few that I did back up.

I learned my lesson, and from now on I will frequently use online storage services to back up my files. 

  • License and activation: This may not seem necessary if you have a setup disk or setup image, but the product key on Windows sticker fades in time or gets wiped up, and since your hard drive is broken you cannot access your setup image either. Luckily I have uploaded the activation file on my SkyDrive. I have also took a picture of the product key, and wrote it on a file, but I haven't uploaded those, and they are gone. You can use ABR (Activation Backup and Restore) for backing up your activation.
  • Personal Photos: There are dozens of reliable places online that you can upload and store your photos. Both Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery have options for uploading and syncing features. You can be sure that both Google and Microsoft's services will outlive your hard drive.
  • Documents: Again comes Microsoft and Google with their SkyDrive and GoogleDocs where you can not only store your documents but can edit them too. They both support doc and xls files.
  • Notes: There are hundreds of note taking applications, both online and offline. My favourite one is Evernote, for it is free and have a desktop application in sync with its webapp.  
  • Music: If most of your music files are generic songs and not custom dub mixes and your job is easy. You either directly upload all your files to GoogleMusic (if you live in USA), SkyDrive, Amazon CLoud Storage or DropBox and listen from there or you can create playlists online without a need of uploading. There is one disadvantage of online playlists, you cannot listen them from your mobile phone for free, or at least this music will eat from your monthly data limit. I am using three services for preserving my music preferences and listen it. Spotify and Grooveshark for music on demand, and for scrobbling and listening in a more random way. 
  • Videos: You can upload your videos to YouTube and at the same time burn them to a bootable DVDs that could be played without a hard drive. There is a program called MoviX you can use for that purpose, it is a minimal Linux distribution for creating a live multimedia cd. Note that CDs and DVDs are even more unreliable than hard drives.
  • Passwords: I am using LastPass to store almost all passwords for my various websites. 
  • Program Settings and Game Saves: Regular settings are generally not important to backup, but if you are using plugins and heavy customization it would be good to back them up. You can use DropBox for that.
  • Programs: Instead of backing up programs I think it would be better to back up a list of them. 
  • LiveCD: Have a liveCD or bootable USB drive with a Linux on it, just in case.
Note: if you are curious about the specific reason of your hard drive failure take a look at this website where you can diagnose the common problems by the sound of your drive.

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