One of the things I like best about publishing content on the Internet is getting feedback from readers. People who share their experiences or ask a question via the comments or an e-mail, keep us here at motivated to write new content.

A couple of days ago I got a very interesting e-mail from… let’s call her Christine. Christine had a lot of good questions about online backup and how to get her digital plan straight. But what colored me surprised was Christine’e age: 87-years-old. Wow, that’s older than sliced bread. But her smart questions about online backup definitely belied the stereotypes of her age.

Christine’s E-mail

We’re going to break down her e-mail into segments and answer each set of questions as we go further down.

I had Carbonite but allowed it to expire in December ’11 when I got a new computer… I decided to utilize the Win7 Backup and Restore using flash drives. I don’t like it particularly, have been warned against them because they wear out (it’s a contest though to see who wears out first, the drive or me.) and, frankly, I am confused about how to save 2 or 3 full data backups (does that mean with the incrementals?) and how to what they call archive.

The incrementals seem to use up a lot of space on my 8GB drive so I bought a 16GB.

OK, let’s see what we’ve got. First, while you can use flash drives for backup, I would not recommend it. Flash drives are pretty expensive and slow, compared to an external hard drive. Second, incremental backups (sometimes called differential backup as well) are there to save space.  Basically, the system only backs up new additions or recent changes to a folder, not the whole folder all over again.

Then I thought about a neat 500GB portable external hard drive. Same warnings though easier to manage…and I still don’t know really how to keep versions (?) on it and how often to delete older versions.

For most users 500GB is plentiful, but obviously that facts depends on your data. Windows doesn’t do incremental backups automatically. That’s why we recommend using a dedicated software for local backups on an external hard drive.

Mac makes things a lot easier with Time Machine ( here’s a YouTube link to my step-by-step guide for using TimeMachine), which is already built-in.

However, there is a Windows Software called Genie Timeline which does the same thing as TimeMachine. Genie takes care of backups automatically, and you can determine how many file versions should be keep. Obviously, more file versions will take up more hard drive space as every instance of the file is saved separately.

I think I convinced myself that I should go back to Carbonite and let them do it for me. Read your reviews of Carbonite and many others. I don’t have a tremendous amount of data but I do have photos I would hate to lose and there is a lot of personal writing…memories, journals etc. And then I see that you recommend an additional monthly backup.

Yes! An additional online backup solution is definitely the way to go. Better safe than sorry. Carbonite is a good option as long as you don’t have more than 200GB of data. If photo storage is the only concern, alongside writings and journals — getting an unlimited online backup solution would be overkill.

Probably Mozy would be the best option for your needs. Mozy is one of the better online backup solutions and it’s very stable, also Mozy Stash comes with free file synchronization. Christine still has some questions left, so here we go:

The flash drive backs up Apps… Carbonite does not… how important is backuping Apps? Can they be reinstalled like the system information if there’s a crash? Or will not having them make viewing the backup contents difficult?

Generally, a bare metal backup (backing up everything is referred to as “bare metal backup”, including apps and app data) is not very important, as you said they can be reinstalled. Most online backup services exclude apps and I would do so, too.

How can I really know how much space I really need… it might be that I can use the least expensive plan on some of your recommendations?

That is actually quite easy. Simply right-click on a folder and then select “Properties” to see how many gigabytes a folder or files is taking up. Now you can go and add all those gigabytes and come up with a number for how much needs to be backed up.

Genie Timeline and TimeMachine automatically calculate the data amount for you.

Carbonite allows me to read the contents of my backup on someone else’s computer… important, I think. Are there others that offer that for a better price or easier managing?

No, Carbonite is pretty much at the top if its game when it comes to web-based backup access. The iPhone App works butter smooth and features an intuitive interface. Actually, it’s kinda hard to find a provider who rivals Carbonite within the same price range. However, I don’t think penny-pinching is a good idea in regards to online backup.

Carbonite has a page that talks about versions… I don’t understand it enough to know how far back I can go to restore if the most recent one is corrupted.

File versions is an important topic… that’s often ignored. Actually, Carbonite is a little lazy in terms of file versioning: It stores only 1 version per day for the last seven-days, 3 versions per week for the last three weeks and 1 version per month.

Backblaze, on the other hand, goes far as one month in the past but offers hourly versions of the last two- days. So, you can restore an hour old version of any file within a two-day time period. Let’s say you’re working on a piece of writing and prefer yesterday’s version better. It’ll be available for restoration within an hour of being saved.

If I go online, should I do a full data backup on a flash drive every month and save the most recent 3 or so offsite? That sounds easy enough to me… is that a nice safety feature? If I do that, I don’t need versioning with Carbonite, right?

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Yes, I’d do a full manual backup every month just to be safe. it’s good to rely on tools but doing it oneself provides a sense of assurance. As mentioned previously, I probably wouldn’t backup to a flash drive (too slow and prone to crashes). Going with Carbonite, file versioning comes standard.

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I really hope I could  answers your questions satisfactorily, Christine. Carbonite seems like a good choice for your purposes, as I naively assume you’re not going to have more than 200GB. If you do break that threshold, consider using Backblaze instead. It is faster and in my opinion easier to use.

If you have any more questions, leave us a comment or shoot another e-mail our way, and we’ll be glad to get back to you!

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