Strictly speaking, year-end backups aren’t really backups; they’re archives. You make copies of all your important computer files from the year in question to store with your paper files. You need to keep anything relevant to your taxes (like your Quicken or QuickBooks data, bank statements, invoices from vendors, invoices to clients, and so on) for seven years.
That means that if, six and a half years from now, the IRS wants to see those files, they’d better be able to read the CD or DVD you put them on. (Or, yes, tape, if you’re really that kind of masochist. We do know that tapes, if not in use, can last 30 years and still be readable.)
Inexpensive generic CDs work fine for short-term backups or anything else which you consider disposable, but if you want the disc to be readable even one year from now, make sure you use high-quality brand-name CDs and DVDs. Otherwise they may start to rot, and when you take them out of their jewel cases, you’ll be able to see through them.
And yes, jewel cases do provide the best protection against scratches and dust, though you can get away with plastic or paper sleeves if 1) you can seal them and 2) you’re not putting the disc in, say, an overstuffed archive box where the surrounding papers will exert the pressure of 20,000 leagues under the sea.
And, finally, don’t use rewritable CDs or DVDs for archival purposes. First, you don’t want to write over this data, so there’s no point. Second, you’ll be wasting your money: rewritable discs are always more expensive than write-once discs. Third, if the disc has been written to numerous times before, it will be more vulnerable to data loss in the writing phase and won’t last as long in storage.
And finally, CD-RWs are not compatible with all CD drives, particularly those on older machines. Though it’s unlikely that you’ll be trying to read your year-end backups seven years from now on a Windows 98 machine, it’s possible that you’ll need to get into your archives one year from now on an older machine that you’re using while your new, top-of-the-line computer is in the shop for repairs. As “Dr. Gizmo” advised in Wednesday’s Syracuse Post-Standard:
The ‘RW’ method was added to the ways CDs work long after the technology of recording CDs was invented, and could not have been more troublesome if the inventors of the CD had decided to use hot peanut butter as the method of making rewriteable CDs.
The pits etched by the recorder’s laser on a CD-RW are much smaller than the CD standard calls for. Most old CD drives and many current home and car CD players can’t figure out what’s on a CD-RW.
Don’t take chances with your important business and financial records. Copy them onto good quality media, put them into jewel cases, and store them in a safe place away from your office.
Then you can ring in the New Year with confidence.
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