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In this column, I constantly talk about backing up your data. We have discussed ad infinitum various methods of backup, such as external hard drives ...

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

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In this column, I constantly talk about backing up your data. We have discussed ad infinitum various methods of backup, such as external hard drives, USB drives, SD cards, etc. But what do you actually need if a computer crashes, fails, is destroyed, or stolen?

Most backups consist of data files, images, documents, and the like. If you have a new computer or hard drive, it is not just a simple task of "putting in the old data." You are not up and running until you do something else.

The data is not useful by itself. It is attached to programs that first have to be installed before you can use the data. If you are asking if the programs can be backed up, the simple answer is no. (There is a type of backup that makes a duplicate of the hard drive, but this is not typically done daily.)

First, you have to install the programs that make the basic computer operate. If this is a "clean" installation, you will need to find your original Windows disks. The disks come with a special code that is necessary for the installation.

But if you install Windows on this new hard drive or computer, you will have to "activate" it. Microsoft may refuse since this code has been used already – you are not allowed to buy one copy of a program and put it on several computers. The little box you click that says "I have read the rules" has this in it.

You may actually have to call Microsoft and explain that the original computer/disk is gone. Then you will want to put in your basic programs, such as Microsoft Office, Quicken, Quickbooks, etc. The same issue just described could occur again, so make sure you have those original disks.

Keep in mind that, over the time you had these programs, several updates have occurred. These are the annoying windows that pop up when you are in a hurry to shut down your computer, and you have to wait for the updates to be installed.

This means that after you have installed these programs, in order to be where you were before that catastrophe, you might have to wait until the old updates catch up to the current ones.

Then you have to install your practice-management software. This is where the data comes into play. You might want to call the practice-management company before you do this.

If this was not your server, it could be simple. The data is on the server already and many of the practice-management programs install the original software on a workstation. Then when you log on, it automatically applies previous updates. If this was your server, it is more complex. So reinstalling that data in the right place is critical.

Many dentists are collectors. We not only keep the original disks, we have the boxes they came in. All of the papers and manuals are probably on a shelf or in a file cabinet, or in a box somewhere. When you have to set up a new computer, the scavenger hunt begins. Think about this and prepare.

Take a look at each computer in the office and make a list of the critical applications. There are not as many on the workstations as you would have at the front desk or on your desk. Remember that printers or multifunction devices may need installation disks, too.

I must say that Windows 7 has been very good in setting up a network, printers, and other hardware. Also there are applications that the front desk runs, such as e-claims, that may have to be reinstalled. Think about antivirus programs. If you had them running on a former computer and had paid for the subscription, then hopefully you will have the records so you will not have to pay for these programs again.

To prepare for this, first go to an office supply store and get a package of CD/DVD disk cases. Gather up your boxes, take out the disks, and put them in the cases. Get several 6-inch x 9-inch clasp envelopes, put the disks in them, and label the envelopes "Practice Software," "Digital Radiography," "HP Printer," etc. You do not need the original boxes. Then think about the order of the installation. Windows first, followed by general utilities, such as MS Office, antivirus, printer installation, e-mail application, etc.

Should you keep all of the installation disks in the office? In a total disaster, they would be lost, too. Although copying is "illegal," you should be fine if you make a back-up copy for your use but not for resale or distribution and keep the copy set of disks off-site.

Am I making you paranoid? Good.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@toothfairy.com.

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