3. What to Back Up

It is often impractical to back up the entire contents of your machine's hard disk(s). Although doing this might completely remove the possibility of losing anything important, the volume of data involved often makes this an unfeasibly complicated and time-consuming exercise and the large majority of the material would not be of any use on your restored system. The files and folders that you do need to back up are the ones containing material that you yourself have created.

The specific files that should be backed-up can vary according the version of Windows you are using, what applications you use for activities such as email, web-browsing etc., and your own working practices. The guidance below is based on a typical Windows XP system where you have followed the Windows convention and stored all your own files within the My Documents folder. If you have valuable material saved elsewhere, it is up to you to identify this and to include it in your backups.

Note - you cannot back-up Windows software applications - these will need to be reinstalled from scratch using each application's original installation procedure.

3.1. Windows XP

Windows XP has a top-level folder on the C: drive called Documents and Settings. Within this is a subfolder for each username that exists on the system, plus a folder called All Users. These folders are used to store a variety of information, including each user's My Documents folder, and also data relating to applications such as Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and most other common applications. Ideally, you should make a back-up copy of the folder for each username, and also the All Users folder. The whole of the Documents and Settings could be very large (possibly several Gigabytes).

Alternatively, If your back-up space is limited, you could back up just the most important individual parts of each user's Documents and Settings subfolder. On your back-up drive, for each user you want to back-up in this way, create an new empty folder named with person's username. Then copy to that new folder, any of the following subfolders from the person's Documents and Settings on the machine's main C: drive:

  • My Documents - the person's main personal documents folder
  • Application Data - data from various applications including Microsoft Office and the Outlook Express address book
  • Local Settings - the Application Data/Identities subfolder includes Outlook Express local (e.g. POP) mail folders (probably not needed if you use an IMAP mail service and have no local folders). Note that this folder is normally not visible when running Windows.
  • Favorites - the Internet Explorer Favorites list
  • Desktop - the person's desktop folder
  • Cookies - small data files used by internet sites to record your preferences etc.

3.2. Other Applications

A few non-Microsoft applications store important data in other locations, typically within the program's own software subfolder in C:\Program Files. It may be possible, however, for this location to be changed by the user to some other place.

3.2.1. Endnote

The Endnote bibliographic program by default stores Styles, Filters, Templates, and Connections in correspondingly named subfolders of C:\Program Files\Endnote n (where n is the Endnote version number).

Endnote library (.enl) files are stored wherever the user chose to locate them - this may have been in the Endnote program folder, or maybe in the Examples subfolder.

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