I need more advice on backing up hard drives, including the programs as well as the files. I have old tax programs I want to keep.
For programs, I favor backing up the installers rather than the programs - that is, unless the installers are busy downloading a bunch of stuff from the internet while showing you a bunch of ads. (I’ve seen installers that were bigger than the program being installed, in spite of not containing any part of that program - the installer has to download it all, while also downloading ads - and not giving any choice of optional components to download or not, so there’s no reason the installer couldn’t have included the program. I HATE that.)
If you’re in the situation where you need to back up installed programs, then you want an image backup. The catch is, you really don’t want an image backup to include all your user data - the stuff that frequently changes - or all the empty space, and the default Windows installation puts everything in one partition which is approximately as large as it possibly can be. The image backup is, by definition, of the whole partition (if not the whole device) including all the empty space. (There are a few image-backup programs that are smart enough to find out what sectors are actually occupied, and “back up” a solid block of zeroes - extremely compressible - for the ones currently vacant.)
Me, being a retired computer geek, I’m not dealing with Windows much anymore. I have the installer for even my OS (Linux Mint). I don’t bother with image backups. And I have my OS and my user data on separate partitions anyway.
(Also, the fact that I’m running Linux is why I’m not recommending any specific backup software to you. I could, but the stuff I use doesn’t run on Windows so would do YOU no good.)
I have four regular backup jobs, going to two devices. Both of which are formatted with a file system that can be set to automatically compress everything that goes into a folder (NTFS also has this feature), and guess what, I have that turned on for the folders the backups go into.
Oh, and since I mentioned file systems, EVERY PC file system in common use, EXCEPT THE FAT FAMILY, fully supports a single file existing in multiple directories simultaneously. NTFS is definitely included in that “EVERY”. This is a huge benefit for backups - if a file is unchanged since yesterday, today’s backup of it can simply consist of a directory entry pointing at the file for yesterday’s backup. Which, if the file hasn’t changed in a while, might be the same file included in last Sunday’s backup, and the backup from the end of last month, and so on. Any decent backup program will take advantage of this, saving vast quantities of time and disk space. (And every snapshot will be a “full” backup - you can forget the old “incremental” and “differential” backups.)
#1 backup job runs 10 minutes after booting the computer, and hourly thereafter. It basically backs up the current state of the operating system. These backups go to an external hard drive (which is a half-terabyte SSD).
#2 runs every five minutes, and backs up only my writing (the most volatile stuff I care about) and a tiny selection of other stuff most of which is directly related to my writing. It goes to the same external hard drive. This job is basically protection against me having a fat-fingered-idiot moment.
#3 runs every night and backs up pretty much all my user files to, again, the same external hard drive.
#4 also runs every night and backs up rather more than #2 but quite a bit less than #3 - to a 64GB thumb drive. I have two identical thumb drives for this purpose; the one not currently in use is in my car, and I swap them weekly. So even if a disaster takes out my home and everything in it, I still have that. Some people use cloud storage for this; for various reasons I choose not to.
Note that if nothing within scope of a backup job has changed, the backup job does NOT bother creating a new snapshot.
Something sort of parallel but dissimilar, that I can recommend specific software on: file-syncing between devices. Don’t confuse this with backup software; in the context of a damaged file, it’s kind of the opposite - if the most recently modified version of a file is bad, it makes sure the copies on other devices are bad too. (So keep backups, using actual backup - not file-syncing - software.)
But sometimes it’s useful to have a file on multiple devices, and keep all copies of it in sync.
And the thing about file-syncing software is that, by its nature, it needs to have versions for multiple devices running different OSes.
SyncThing is the one I use, because it’s the first one I happened across. It’s available for most common operating systems, including Linux, Windows, OSX, and Android - but not iOS.
ResilioSync is extremely comparable and is also available for most common operating systems. Including iOS.
Neither relies on cloud storage, or on someone else’s server if the devices involved can see each other on the local network.