Returning briefly to the backup trenches, I did get my client a new external hard drive, transferred the Ghost image from my own XHD, and set up Retrospect Express to back up her home office machine regularly.
The next time I saw her, she had just bought a beautiful new lightweight Sony Vaio laptop with an Ultra-Brite wide screen. The only problem with this lovely machine, as I discovered when I went to transfer her Thunderbird profiles and set up her e-mail, is that it didn’t come with any CDs. There was a key for Windows XP on the bottom, but no XP CD, no utilities and drivers CD, no CDs for the pre-installed software. From the moment I first booted the machine, little messages kept popping up in the notification area prompting me to create a set of 10 recovery CDs and a startup disk.
No wonder CompUSA was offering a $300 rebate.
The fact that Sony required the customer to provide the labor and materials for what used to be standard, shipped-with-every-machine installation CDs is not the problem, even if it is mighty cheap of them. The instructions on how to create the recovery CDs were clear, and my client keeps large spindles of blank CDs in her office. It was tedious and time-consuming, but didn’t require much attention on my part. Any home user could have done it.
No, the real problem with this kind of a setup is not making the “backup.” It’s what happens if something goes wrong with the computer, and it’s why I’m warning you against buying a machine which doesn’t come with proper installation CDs.
What these manufacturer-designed restoration CDs do is essentially create a Ghost backup of the factory installation. (eMachines used to use Ghost; I’m not sure what Sony was using.) That means that if anything goes wrong with Windows (and something inevitably will), you can’t use any of the repair features that come on a real Windows XP CD. You can’t even respond when prompted to insert your XP CD during an update or to install or remove optional components.
If my client’s system crashes and she can’t get her machine to boot, the only option Sony is providing her is to wipe out everything that’s on the machine and go back to what was there when she bought it.
This is bad news. It increases the risk of data loss, and also forces the user to restore bundled software, most of which has an expiration date of one kind or another, and which in this case includes Norton Security, which I would never voluntarily inflict on an otherwise perfectly-good computer.
The worst data retrieval failure I ever suffered was with a machine which was set up this way. The system got snarled up. The data was intact, but Murphy’s Law intervened in my attempts to retrieve the data safely, and I didn’t know there were problems with that backup until after I’d “reinstalled” the computer from its Ghost-based restore disks. The client hadn’t made any previous backups, and ended up losing most of his data.
The moral of this story is twofold. First, look before you leap. Check to see whether you’ll be getting a real operating system CD before you buy the computer. If you won’t, but really want that particular machine, consider buying a separate Windows CD and reinstalling the machine before you actually put any data on it. If that’s not an option for you, make absolutely sure that you back up everything you put onto the computer.