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A quick, cheap, versatile Windows file backup: Windows Briefcase

When I used Windows XP daily, I also carried around a USB memory stick with a complete backup of all my important documents. Yes, this was several GB in size, but maintaining this backup was pretty easy. You see, I used a not-very-well-known Windows utility called Briefcase that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

How you can use this tip

Before you begin:

  • ensure all your documents are in subfolders inside the Windows Documents folder. (This ought to help you keep track of your files more easily, instead of having them scattered around on the desktop.)
  • Invest in a USB memory stick that will hold your important documents. I recommend a 16 GB memory stick, since that will continue to serve you for some time. (This likely won’t work if you want to back up, say, a massive iTunes collection or hundreds of videos. If you need backups greater than, say, 16 GB of data, invest in heavier-duty backup options.)

To get started:

1)   Use these instructions from Microsoft to create a Briefcase on your desktop (Instructions have stayed the same over various versions of Windows).

2)   Copy the folders inside the Documents folder to the Briefcase.

3)   Move that Briefcase to your USB memory stick.

Voilà! A simple, quick backup of all your important files.

  • Continue to do work using the files on your primary computer.
  • At least once a day, plug the USB memory stick into your computer, right-click the Briefcase on the stick, click Update All and follow the onscreen instructions. By developing this habit, you will never lose more than one day’s worth of work.
  • Only the initial creation of a Briefcase takes time. Updates rarely take more than a minute or two.
  • If you need to work on another Windows-based computer, use the documents in your Briefcase. Remember to Update All when you get back to your computer to save the latest changes onto your computer.
  • Keep all your files in folders inside the Windows Documents folder so they’re all backed up.

Briefcase does have a few shortcomings:

  • On Windows XP, a Briefcase would sometimes (not often) get corrupted. Simply delete the old Briefcase and create a new one on the USB memory stick.
  • Briefcases only work on Windows-based computers.