Make Your Backups Painless and Brainless

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - One day, that 100-year-old oak outside your home-office window is going to plop onto your PC, or your power supply will dry up just as you attempt to save a huge Excel spreadsheet, or you'll have the one-in-a-million "reliable, robust" hard drive that suddenly, inexplicably gives up the ghost. What, you worry? Not for a minute, because you've set your system for automatic backups.

We all know we should make copies of our files in case of emergencies, but few of us do it regularly. Taking a few steps to set up a good system, though, can make the task of backing up files too easy to bother avoiding and too automatic to forget. This month I cover Windows 95 and 98 strategies; next month I'll describe backups for Windows NT and 2000.

Divide and conquer: If you want truly automatic backups, the copied files must fit on the destination medium without your having to swap tapes or disks. Tape drives, Jaz disks, Zip disks, and network drives are ideal destinations for backup files because they can hold so much data. Even these media can fill to capacity, however, if you back up your entire system in one swoop. The solution is to create several mini-backup systems, each with its own schedule and destination. For example, if you use Microsoft Backup, you can create one backup .set file that copies your Windows and root directories on Mondays, another that copies your Program Files folder on Wednesdays, and a third that copies your data files on Fridays. Then you just have to remember to put in a disk or tape with sufficient space every couple of days--no more of a challenge than remembering to put a blank tape in your VCR.

Automation 95: If you have Windows 95 and Microsoft Plus, you can use the System Agent utility to run Microsoft Backup. Begin by choosing Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*Backup. Use the check boxes in the left and/or right panes to select the folders or files you want to back up. Then click Next Step and select a destination folder, disk drive, or tape drive for your backup. Choose Settings*Options, click the Backup tab, and check Quit Backup after operation is finished. Next, specify any other desired settings on the Backup tab of the Options menu, and click OK. Choose File*Save As, specify a name and location for this backup set, and click Save. Choose Settings*Drag and Drop and uncheck Confirm operation before beginning. Click OK, and choose File*Exit. Now double-click the System Agent icon in the tray area of the taskbar (the area near the clock). Choose Program*Schedule a New Program, and click the Browse button. For the "Files of type" designation, choose All Files (*.*). Navigate to the folder where you saved your backup set, select it, and click Open. Doing this adds the set to the Program dialog box. Ordinarily, you'd include the actual backup program here, but since .set files are associated with Microsoft Backup, simply listing the file will launch Backup when you need it. Now click When To Run, specify your desired schedule, and click OK. Close the System Agent window.

If you want to schedule multiple backups for different sets of files and/or for different locations (see "Divide and conquer" above), repeat the steps in this tip, using a different .set file name each time.

Automation 98: Now for the bad news: The Microsoft Backup version that accompanies Windows 98 does not permit automated backups. Sure, you can use the Task Scheduler to start Microsoft Backup, but it will still need input from you before it does anything useful.

If you upgraded from Windows 95 and don't mind using the Win 95 version of Backup, you can use the older version to automate backups. First, make a new folder on your hard drive to hold the old version of Backup. For easy configuration, give this folder a name containing no more than eight characters, and make sure its parent folders have short names, too (more on this later). Next, pop your Win 95 CD into the CD-ROM drive, and use Windows Explorer to locate the Win 95 .cab files, which are the compressed "cabinet" files holding the files you want. Make a note of the path.

Now choose Start*Run and type three things: the command to extract the files--namely, Extract /a /l--followed by the path to your new folder (use quotation marks if the path contains spaces or long file names); the path to the .cab file you want to begin looking in ( should work in most cases); and the names of the files you want to extract. The three elements should be separated by spaces. The /a switch ensures that the command looks through all .cab files, starting with the one you name; and the /l switch lets you specify the destination of the extracted files. If your new folder is C:\Program Files\Old Backup and your Win 95 .cab files are in E:\win95, your command would look something like this: Extract /a /l "C:\Program Files\Old Backup" E:\win95\ backup.* Chiadi.dll Chikdi.dll Qic117.vxd. (Of course, your paths will likely differ somewhat.) Then press .

A DOS window will open as the program extracts and copies files. If you don't obtain all the necessary files, check your typing and try starting with an earlier .cab file number (such as When you've successfully copied the files, close the DOS window (if necessary), and move the Qic117.vxd file from your new folder to the Windows System folder.

Now you need to associate your backup .set files with this Windows 95 program so launching them will automatically back up the specified files. In Explorer, choose View*Folder Options and click the File Types tab. In the list of registered file types, select File Set for Microsoft Backup, and click Edit.

Select Open in the Actions list, and click Edit. In the next dialog box, click Browse, find and select the newly installed Win 95 backup.exe file, and click Open.

If your backup application is stored in a path that uses no spaces or long folder names, the path you see in the dialog box will have no quotation marks.

If so, everything's fine. If not, you need to revise the path to address some quirks involved in using this program in Windows 98: Start by deleting the quotation marks; then edit any long folder names or names with spaces to delete all but the first six characters and eliminate the spaces. Finally, add ~1 to the end of each truncated folder name. For example, if you used the path from the above example, your edited text would read C:\Progra~1\OldBac~1\Backup.exe.

Again, your specific path may differ. When you've finished trimming the path appropriately, click OK and Close twice to close all dialog boxes.

Now you can start the old backup application by double-clicking the backup.exe file (or a shortcut to it). Follow the instructions in "Automation 95" above to configure Backup and to create a custom .set file. (For easiest configuration, save your .set file with a short file name in a path with short folder names.) This time, however, you will use Task Scheduler instead of System Agent:

Double-click the Task Scheduler icon in the taskbar's tray area (the area near the clock), or double-click the Scheduled Tasks folder in the My Computer window. Then use Explorer to locate the .set file you created, and drag it into the Scheduled Tasks window. Right-click the icon and choose Properties. If the path in the Run box has any long folder names, long file names, or spaces, trim it to eliminate the quotation marks and the excess characters, just as you did with the path to backup.exe. For example, if the path in the Run box reads "C:\My Documents\My Backup.set", edit it to read "C:\MyDocu~1\MyBack~1.set".

Click the Schedule tab, and specify when you want the backup to be made; then click OK.

If you don't happen to have a Windows 95 CD-ROM, you can find an alternative approach described on at

Speed Up Repetitive Printing Chores

Do you frequently print copies of the same document? It's probably not cost-effective to send the document to a copy shop and then store the extras in a drawer, but the process of launching an application, opening the document, choosing File*Print, and exiting the application isn't very efficient either.

You can print in a jiffy by saving the printing instructions to a file and creating a shortcut that sends the instructions to the printer whenever you need a copy. One caveat: This tip will not work with Postscript printers.

Open the document in the application you usually use to print it. Choose File*Print to open the Print dialog box, and check the Print to File option.

Some applications, including Notepad, don't have a Print dialog box, and others don't have a Print to File option. In such situations, choose Start*Settings*Printers. In the Printers window, right-click the icon for the printer you normally use, and choose Properties. Then look for an option that specifies ports; frequently, it appears on the Details tab. From the Ports list, select FILE: (Creates a file on disk) or the equivalent. Then click OK.

Return to your application, and choose the Print command. Click OK in the Print dialog box. The program should prompt you for a place to save the print file.

Select a convenient location, and type a name (such as printme.prn); then click OK, and exit the application.

The next step is to create a shortcut that sends this file to the printer.

Right-click the Start button, and choose Open or Explore. Navigate to the folder where you want to keep your document-printing shortcuts. If you have several such documents, consider making a new folder in the Start Menu folder so that the shortcuts are available from the Start button. After opening the proper folder, right-click an empty area and then choose New*Shortcut. When the the Command line prompt appears, type /c copy /b "C:\My Documents\printme.prn" lpt1:. The name and path of your print document may differ. Be sure to use quotation marks if any part of the path uses spaces or long file or folder names. If you print to a port other than lpt1, you'll have to change this part of the example to match your printer's port. To identify the correct name, return to the Ports listing in the printer's Properties dialog box, as explained above. Common port names are "com1:" or "com2:" for serial printers, or entire paths (usually beginning with \\) for networked printers. Once you've entered the proper command line, click Next and type a name for your shortcut. This name will appear on your chosen menu within the Start menu. When you're done, click Finish.

To add some finishing touches, locate the icon you just created, right-click it, and choose Properties. Click the Program tab. Your command line is shown here, in case you need to edit it or correct a typo. From the Run drop-down list, choose Minimized to hide the DOS window that appears when the file is sent to the printer. Make sure Close on exit is checked. If you like, you may click Change Icon and select a different icon to give your shortcut a distinctive or more meaningful look. When you're done, click OK as many times as necessary to close the dialog boxes. Thereafter, whenever you need a copy of your document, just choose your new shortcut from the appropriate menu on the Start menu.

You'll find files mentioned in this article at, and you'll find more tips at Send your tips and questions to We pay US$50 for published items. Scott Dunn is a contributing editor for PC World and a principal author of The PC Bible, 2nd Edition (Peachpit Press, 1995).

Windows Toolbox

Take Charge of PC Operations With Process Control 2You may not realize how many programs your computer is running at any given time. You can press -- to see a list of these and shut down selected items, but you might inadvertently shut down something vital and crash your system.

Leading Interactive's $18 Process Control 2 has a task manager that lists all system processes and highlights vital ones in red. You can start, stop, and change the priority of each process. The utility can take the place of the Close Program dialog box whenever you press --.

A demo version of Process Control 2 is available at FileWorld or from the program's developer at

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about FileWorldMicrosoft

Show Comments