Why are there so many backup programs out there? Don’t they all do the same thing? No!

There are tons of backup program (free and otherwise) out there in the market right now. I am constantly being asked “how does backup software A compare to backup software B”. Now in some cases this is a valid question. However in many instances, the two software the person wants me to compare are backup software of different nature – one is usually a file backup software while the other is an image backup software; they serve different purposes and therefore are usually incomparable.

In my post about 7 free software to image/backup/ghost your computer (free alternatives to Acronis True Image, Norton Ghost, etc.) I tried to give a quick explanation about the differences between file backup and image backup software. However the confusion between the two types of software is so vast, I figure this topic deserves a post to call its own. So here goes…

File Backup Software

What

A file backup program is a program that allows you to backup select files on your computer, such as documents, movies, audio files, installation files, email, etc.

Why

The main purpose of these types of programs is to allow you to make a backup of select files (that you feel are important) so you can restore them easily in case you ever lose them (in a computer crash, accidental deletion, etc.).

How to recognize

You can recognize a file backup program in one major way:

  1. While you may also have the option select whole partitions, when trying to create a backup you have the option to select individual files or folders to backup.

Three other clues that the program you are dealing with may be a file backup software:

  1. The files will tend to be backed up into a .ZIP file (or a similar non-proprietary archive type) since it allows for easy restore.
  2. A file backup software may have a feature where it allows you to select the data/settings of installed programs to backup, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Outlook, etc.
  3. With most file backup software, you first need to create a “task” or “job” before you can do the actual backup. After the initial time when you create the “task” or “job”, you can easily run the backup again

Examples

GFI Backup 2009

FBackup

Cobian Backup

Image Backup Software

What

An image backup program is a program that allows you to you to backup your whole computer or individual partitions/hard disks, such as your C:/ partition.

Why

The main purpose of an image backup program is to allow you make a backup everything on your computer or select partitions/hard disks and restore everything if your computer ever crashes or hard drive fails.

How to recognize

You can recognize an image backup program in one major way:

  1. When creating a backup you are asked to select a partition (or multiple partitions) or a hard drive (or multiple hard drives) but do not have the option to select individual files or folders.

Some other clues to help you recognize an image backup software:

  1. The word “image” should be all over the program. For example, when creating a backup it may say “create image” or when restoring it may say “restore image”.
  2. Since image backups tend to be large, there may be an option to allow you to “split” your image backups into equal or predefined parts.
  3. Most image backup software, as opposed to file backup software, allow you to create bootable discs/media so that you can restore your backup easily if your computer ever crashes and you can’t login to Windows.

Examples

EASEUS Todo Backup

Macrium Reflect

Acronis True Image

Now being in the IT age, developers are continuously expanding the reach of their software so some commercial backup programs are now tending to be a mix of image and file backup software (i.e. able to do both). However most free ones are still either or.

So now the question of the day: which one is right for you? Well first keep in mind while the purpose of each type of program is different, they both usually allow for selective restore (i.e. being able to restore individual files from within the backup instead of restoring the whole back). So both types of programs may work for you. However to narrow down your search, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Are all the files on my computer important or just a few?
  2. If my computer crashed would I be in desperate need to recover everything or just select files?

If the answers to the questions are, respectively, “all the files” and “recover everything” than you need an image backup software. Check out Macrium Reflect.

If the answers to the questions are, respectively, “just a few” and “just select files” than you need a file backup software. Check out GFI Backup 2009.

Hope this post helps clear up a lot of confusion!

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11 comments

  1. Janetb

    Is it possible that GFI BACKUP (which no longer has pro edition!) 2012 has removed the ability to do simple “Registry Keys” and “Email” backups??? These buttons are grayed out on my new download…..:-(….

    With all my fancy dottech and GAOTD backup programs, it seems you have to know where your reg keys, system settings, etc. email store, etc., etc. folders are located. Don’t any of them have the one-button backups for basic crucial stuff like Titan/GFI used to have….? Until I can get a larger ext HD, I can’t do full system backups, but would like to keep the basics safe. Any articles on the location of important system (and Windows Live Mail) folders so I can set up selective backups with Easeus or Paragon?

  2. Shankar

    Yes, I want one for file & image backup software to do incremental and the other differential. Since I experiment with lot of softwares, Disk space is not a problem.
    Secondly, what your opinion or rating on Paragon Drive backup 9.0 Free Edition which is free for non-commercial use as per their website.

  3. WC

    @Tortuga:
    if you’re talking about full backup, with 30GB -60GB normal Windows PC, this backup schedule will not work for most users, besides, not every people can trust friend than themselves( ask yourself, if the data is important, would you leave it on others’ house? what if got lost out there? and routinely knock on their door to swap backup? ), for a practical offsite backup, consider pay small fee for online backup, periodically spot test restoration, those service usually config one time and you can let it run on the background with minimum management. you have the most control of your data.

    as of paranoia, lock a HDD image in your safe( in the bank or your house) many safes will sustain hours of fire.

  4. Dan Laemont

    Ashraf:
    Thanks to you, I have been using Reflect for over a year now and find it to be an excellent choice for either backup (or both). The image capability has saved my bacon several times (after installing an application that fouled things up) and the File backup has done as well for me.

    I must add their tech support is excellent and responsive.

    Thanks for all you do for us!

    Dan
    (unpaid, unsolicited ad)

  5. Tortuga

    Hi Ash :D

    Useful info as always.
    Big thanks!!!

    Totally agree w you DavID – Always off site, otherwise, whats the point! Even better, rotate 2 different Bkups made at different times, in case one gets corrupted or you need to go back to an older one.

    Peace

    ************************

    Sometime ago I got a good recipe from someone:
    • Make bkups every week, for a month w-out deleting any.
    • As one starts the following month, start deleting from the 2nd week of previous month. Always keep the first of ea month (or last, or 3rd, depending which week is the most important in one’s business)
    • At the end of 6 months, you’ll have one for ea month, plus the last 4 weeks.
    • At the beginning of the second semester, also start deleting the oldest month. Or keep 1 per trimester, depending how important the data is.

    Of course, one needs quite a bit of time, patience & discipline to keep up w this regimen!!! ;)
    I keep putting it off, even knowing how risky it is …

  6. DavID

    I would be remiss if I did not comment on this subject of backup.

    “FAB” or First Another Backup, should be made ASAP. Now. I’ll wait.

    The next point I would remind folks is that your “FAB” backup drive or DVD or BluRay copy should be stored off site, That means out of your house such as at work or at a close friends house. Think destroyed.

    If it’s sitting in your computer room next to your PC and your house burns up, or gets robbed, or a hurricane or tornado hits your house it won’t do you much good to say “Well it was backed up and sitting next to the PC the last time I saw it.”

    Chances are that your friend’s house or your office at work won’t be vandalized or destroyed at the same time your house was.

    That being said, it’s a good thing to have YAB, Yet Another Backup, sitting right next to your PC in case the hard drive fails and that’s all it was.

    I sincerely hope none of these scenarios ever happens to Ashraf’s Bloggers here.

  7. Jeanjean

    Ok ! Thanks.
    I used it on many occasions without any problems!
    At the end of the process, it synchronizes the files of the directories you’ve specified, so you don’t lose any new important file or mail.

  8. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Jeanjean: I don’t have any personal experience with EAZ-FIX Pro but I just read about the program from the developer’s website and I would say it is not totally a backup software, but rather a hybrid software that has the features of an image backup software (since it can create image backups) + Windows System Restore.

    As for how good the program is I don’t know because as I said I have never used it but personally I agree with your comment that Windows System Restore is not the best.

  9. Jeanjean

    Good morning ashraf,

    Thank you for the clarification and … for sharing your knowledge.
    A small question: how do you judge a program like EAZ-FIX Pro (GAOTD last year and to be classified in the category “Software Image Backup” of your ranking I suppose !).
    Its use is certainly more “heavy” (insofar as it operates continuously) and its use may repel some, particularly those with a “small” PC, but it allows the restoration of the system so much better than Windows and, in my opinion, nothing sells to the other programs on the market…