I admit it: I was stupid. Worse, I was lazy. For months, e-mail had accumulated in the inboxes on my hard drive, and I never backed it up or even printed out crucial correspondence. This slothful strategy proved excruciatingly painful when, suddenly, the system went into spasms and wouldn't boot up. The only cure was to reformat the drive and reinstall all the software. That's no big deal--far less onerous than newbies fear it will be . . . if you've backed up your key files.
I hadn't, and I paid the price. I had to beg clients to remind me what we'd agreed to. In losing my e-mail, I'd lost my to-do's, contract terms and lists of appointments. I basically seemed the fool for a few weeks. Never again. Now I scrupulously back up my e-mail on a weekly basis.
The strange fact about e-mail programs is they don't make backing up easy. AOL, for instance, seems almost to hide the key files, and Eudora is no better. And here's the worst news: Once identified, the e-mail files that need backing up probably won't fit on a floppy disk. To back up files of this size, you need a Zip disk (or a similar high-capacity disk), and if you lack that, you've got to sign up with an online backup service such as iFloppy.net (http://www.ifloppy.net), which will provide you with 10MB of storage space for free. But just what needs backing up?
Wonk stuff bores me as much as I'm sure it bores you, but listen up. Master the how-tos of backing up e-mail, and you'll thank me, especially on that day your inbox turns to dust.
How to back up? With AOL, for instance, in Windows Explorer, find the main AOL folder, then drill down to the subfolder, Organize. It's probably huge. Mine is more than 2MB, and that's just for a few months of e-mail. Drag that sucker to a Zip disk, or upload it to an online storage bin, and your e-mail is safely backed up. If your hard drive dies, reinstall AOL and then, just copy the Organize subfolder from the Zip disk to the AOL folder on the hard drive, and you're in business.
Using Microsoft Outlook? Click File, Import and Export, and a screen pops up. Instruct Outlook to export to a file. Click Next. Then select "create a file of type . . . personal folder file (pst)." Click Next. Select the folder to export from "Personal Folder," and select "include subfolders." Name the soon-to-be created file, click Finish, and you're done.
What about Microsoft Outlook Express or Eudora? You could back them up manually, but my advice is to surf over to http://www.seemdirect.com and download Express Assist or BackDora, utilities that automate backups for these e-mail apps. Both programs have proved easy to use and reliable in my tests. There's a free 15-day trial--after that, the cost is $29.95.
Know other backup techniques? Use them. The key isn't to be " right"--it's to safely make a copy of the stuff that needs preserving. However you get there is good enough . . . as long as you do it at least once a week.
Robert McGarvey started exploring the online world over a decade ago with Genie, and has been writing on--and complaining about--the Net ever since. He writes about the Web for Entrepreneur, BizTravel.com and Upside.