Backup Your Research Data

You do back up your data, right?

Both Google Chrome 5 and Mozilla Firefox now, or soon will, support synchronization of bookmarks, preferences, and other settings.  That is great if you are working with more than one computer or want to have a backup of your basic settings.  But it won’t give you a backup of your actual browser or the extensions you’ve added.  When you are planning your backup routine for your practice, if you are not doing a full-disk image, you need to know where your important research settings and information are stored.

Since most lawyers use Windows PCs, let’s look at the places that your research might be located.  Microsoft has done a good job of putting most program data into the My Documents folder and subfolders.  If you install Microsoft OneNote, for example, it will create a folder within My Documents to house all of your notebooks.  Similarly, you can direct most applications to save documents in a set location, so that whether you are using Microsoft Office Suite or the Open Office Suite or other applications, you can configure them to store their data in a specific location.  That can make it much easier when you are looking for information to retrieve, and when you are trying to back up and store your data.

Unfortunately, the Web browsers do not work that way so you will need to pay special attention to managing your Web browser information.  Microsoft Internet Explorer users will find their information spread across the PC.  The easiest way to handle Internet Explorer is to use a special utility designed to back it up, like BackRex’s free Internet Explorer Backup.   You can point it at a particular folder to save the backup, so you can save your IE backup to the same directory as all your other data.  You can also schedule it, so that you do not have to remember to perform a backup.

Many of your other applications, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, will store their data under an often hidden folder.  To access this folder, you will need to to go C:Documents and Settingsyour_Windows_usernameLocal SettingsApplication Data.  If you get to your documents and settings folder and cannot see your Local Settings folder, it is because it is hidden.  You can do one of two things.  First, in Windows Explorer, type in the full destination of the folder.  Just because it is hidden, doesn’t mean you can’t access it.   Once you type in the address, you should see folders, usually with Adobe being the first one.

Application Data Window Snapshot
Snapshot of the Application Data Window with Location Typed In

You can also make this change permanent.  When you are in your Windows Explorer, select the Tools menu, click on Options and then select the View tab.  You will see that there is an option to Hide or Show Hidden Files and Folders.  You can click on the one you want to change to, either hiding all hidden files or showing them.  Keep in mind that this means you will suddenly see new folders and files all over your computer.  The reason this defaults to Hide is because you can damage your Windows operating system by deleting some files.

Show Your Hidden Files in Folder Options
Show Your Hidden Files in Folder Options

Whichever option you choose, once you can see the folders in Application Data, you are well on your way.  Look for the software developer of the application you want to back up – Mozilla, for Firefox, for example – and you can then see what is stored for that application.  The Mozilla Firefox Profiles folder keeps all of your profile information, including bookmarks and extensions.  In Google’s Chrome folder, there is a User Data folder that contains similar data.  Other applications, like Evernote and Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outlook, also have folders in Application Data.  Depending on the size, you may want to back up the entire Application Data folder.  Otherwise, you can selectively copy these folders into your primary data folder or incorporate them into your backup routine.  Keep in mind that there are two folders called Application Data in your personal folder, each of which has different information in it.  They are:

c:Documents and Settingsyour_Windows_usernameApplication Data

c:Documents and Settingsyour_Windows_usernameLocal SettingsApplication Data

Both are hidden, and both can be reached either by showing all hidden files or typing in their address.  But the second one is the folder that contains your Web browser and many other research programs’ data.  This does not backup the application, which is often located in your C:Program Files folder.  But having the ability to recreate your data and environment quickly is often harder than getting the latest copy of your software.

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