My mother came to visit last week and we engaged in Extreme Tourism. (Example: at the time I normally write this reminder, we were catching a helicopter for a tour of the Bay Area.)
The last time my mother had a computer was in 1999. It ran Windows 98. She used it for (CompuServe) e-mail and not much else, and ended up giving it to her uncle—who actually still has it, and still uses it.
Mom got an older Acer laptop a few months ago, and uses it for web browsing and Yahoo! mail. She’s started saving her bookmarks to Yahoo! as well, instead of inside her browser. When you’re essentially operating “in the cloud,” and have no local data to speak of, you don’t really need to back up your C drive.
One thing about Extreme Tourism, though: it tends to result in a lot of photographs. (Not to mention blisters, sunburn, and sore muscles, but those have nothing to do with backups.) I had my Aiptek HD video camera, which is also an 8-megapixel still camera, and Mom had my sister-in-law’s Canon PowerShot, which worked pretty well in spite of her complete unfamiliarity with it. We both had plenty of photos to offload in the course of our travels.
I copied all of them to my computer initially and waited until I’d backed them up to at least one place before deleting them from their respective memory cards. One copy is never enough.
I then put all the photos—about 1.5 GB of them—onto a memory stick and transferred them onto Mom’s computer. This meant she had something to back up.
So I installed a free online backup service for her. If she keeps taking pictures, or starts downloading those dressage videos she watches on YouTube, she’s going to need more than the 2 GB quota pretty soon, but for now, it’s enough.
And it will back up automatically when the computer is idle, which means Mom doesn’t have to remember to do the backups herself, or have the computer on at a particular time of day. My own online backup operates on a schedule basis, but I almost always have my computer on by 8 AM, and the online backup is third or fourth in the sequence of redundancy.
Mozy estimated that the initial backup would take 6 hours. As Mom had a plane to catch much sooner than that, we postponed the initial backup until she got home. And when Mom first turned her machine on, she got an error message about Mozy.
She called me immediately, of course, which is what she usually does when she’s having problems with her computer. Because Mom hasn’t use a computer since the days of Windows 98, and didn’t use it much then, she isn’t familiar with terminology like “taskbar” and “system tray” and “desktop.” That makes it hard for her to explain, and for me to understand, what exactly is wrong.
Grammar Girl will be delighted to know that even before installing the backup program, I set up GoToMyPC on my mother’s computer. In fact, I did it while in a hotel room in Monterey. GoToMyPC is basically an easy-to-use version of UltraVNC, which I used to use sometimes in order to see what was on a client’s screen, back when I was foolish enough to do computer consulting for a living. So now—or at least for the duration of the free trial, after which I have to decide whether it’s worth $20/month, I can see what Mom is talking about, and even fix it. (Hmm. I suppose I could use GoToMyPC to install and configure UltraVNC on Mom’s machine…)
So I logged in to Mom’s computer and took a look. By the time I got around to doing this (a good two or three hours after Mom’s phone call), this is what I saw:
Whatever that error message meant, clearly it wasn’t preventing the backup from functioning, and Mom just e-mailed me to say the backup was complete.
I confess I’m more excited about the ability to access my mother’s computer than about the online backup. I suppose you could consider GoToMyPC a backup tool, in that it provides you with a whole backup computer at need—and lets you get copies of files you forgot or deleted or that have become corrupted.
It’s probably more accurate to say that my mother and I are acting as backups for each other, since each of us now has a copy of both sets of photos. (Well, I have several copies, but her copy definitely counts as offsite backup.) Which makes me think, as did my headline, of CrashPlan, the social backup tool. In fact, if I’d thought of it sooner, I might have installed that instead of Mozy.
But then Mom’s backups would rely on access to my computer, and since my C drive is fairly full, she’d actually need access to one of my external or network drives. And while I am at home, online, and connected to those drives fairly often, I do take this monster heavyweight Pavilion dv8040 out with me sometimes, and I do turn it off at night, and Mom is three time zones away. Better she should have an always-on backup location.
The question to get you thinking until next week is: what kind of backup plan does your mother have? And when did she last back up her photos of her grandchildren?