August 2000


By Paul D. Warner

In the event of a system failure, the easiest solution is generally to reinstall software programs from the CD-ROM source and then restore work data from a backup archive. But, backup software is generally complex and difficult to utilize and usually requires additional hardware (such as slow and inefficient tape drives). Worst of all, the user must take the time to learn the software and remember to schedule the backup. In addition, the user usually must deal with reduced system productivity while the backup software is running.

The program AutoSave provides the user with a completely automatic, hands-off method of backing up only data files. This results in lower overhead costs, increased productivity, and a better sense of security. The author has been using AutoSave for the past year and found it to be highly dependable. The current version is recommended for Windows 95/98, NT, and 2000.

How AutoSave Works

AutoSave checks any file that is created or written to the disk to see if the file is a work file. If so, the file is compressed and saved to the backup location. This process is given a low priority, so it does not interrupt any active programs. In the rare event that the system is quickly shut down before the backup of a file is complete, the process will automatically finish the next time Windows runs.

AutoSave does not save OS or application programs, because these can always be reloaded from the original installation disks or CD-ROM. The user can override this default option, but this drastically increases the amount of backup (archive) space needed.

Limitations. AutoSave does not appear to have compatibility problems with anti-virus software, disk-compression programs, disk managers, or other backup products. To save archive space, the default setting backs up only data files, such as documents, letters, memos, e-mail, and spreadsheets. To reduce the disk space needed for backups, the default installation will not back up video clips, graphics, or sound files. The save options can be modified by using the Setup Wizard. Note that files stored on a network drive or removable media are not backed up in the archive, which saves space and time.

Backup Practices

Whenever users save (or the program automatically saves) a file, AutoSave automatically writes a copy to the backup archive. Because AutoSave backs up only a copy when the file is saved, it is a good habit to periodically save any open items; this reduces the chance of losing current work. Should disaster strike, remember that data in the computer’s temporary memory is lost; only information saved to the disk is retained.

Full backups. AutoSave does not normally perform a full backup. Users of special backup hardware and software should continue to periodically perform a full backup. A full backup may save time if the hard disk fails or a large portion of disk data is corrupted. (DOS disk drives have a bad habit of losing sectors.)

AutoSave can be used to perform a full backup, but a complete backup will take up a very large amount of disk space. Users that do not perform a full backup can still avoid major losses by reinstalling the operating system and applications from the original installation media (CD-ROMs and diskettes).

Using the Setup Wizard

General. The Setup Wizard is used to specify a location for the backup archive. Other custom options such as special file exclusions, inclusions, and number of revisions can also be set. The Setup Wizard runs automatically during the installation but can also be run at any later time.

Typical. Most users will select the typical installation. This choice (which can be overridden) automatically locates the best available storage device.

In addition, the typical installation will set the default options and file exclusions. If these values have been previously set, the options can either be left as is or reset to the defaults. A handy function can compare the default settings with those currently selected.

The default settings set the following options:

Custom. The custom option allows users to tailor AutoSave’s operation. Tabbed dialogs are available to set the backup location, include list, exclude list, and option values.


  • Backup location tab. The choice of backup location depends upon which devices are connected to the system. AutoSave uses the following selection order, which can be overridden:
    • Network drive
    • Local removable media drive (e.g., Jaz, Zip, LS120, Orb)
    • Local nonprimary hard drive
    • Primary hard drive, non-C: partition
    • Primary hard drive (C:).

    If the primary (i.e., first) hard drive is chosen, AutoSave can help save files from deletion and other destructive acts but cannot protect against drive failure or major damage to the drive partition. A backup stored on the primary drive is better than no backup at all, but disasters like a complete hard drive failure will make even the backup data unrecoverable.

  • Options Tab. The major options include:
    • Number of versions of each file to save
    • Use of compression
    • Limits to the archive disk space
    • Advanced options to control backup timing and other features.
  • Include and Exclude File Tabs. Files or directories can be selected for inclusion or exclusion through these tabs. Specific files or directories can be dragged and dropped into the include or exclude list.

    Understanding Include/Excludes

    AutoSave works by first looking for a full file name (without wildcards like * and ?) in the include list. If found, the file is saved. If the file does not exactly match an item on the include list, AutoSave next looks at the exclude list. If the file appears on this list (or is encompassed by a wildcard), the file is not saved. If not excluded, the included list is reviewed for any wildcard entries (like *.* ), and those files are saved.

    For example, the include and exclude lists could have the following entries:

    Includes Excludes
    *.* *.EXE

    This example will save the CONFIG.SYS file and all other data files except those with an extension of EXE, COM, HLP, or SYS. Note that AutoSave will save CONFIG.SYS specifically while excluding all other .SYS files.

    The default include and exclude lists have been preset by AutoSave to save data files while excluding programs, help, and other special data files such as video, sound, graphics, and cache files that are usually not work files.

    The user can easily modify both the include and exclude file lists or reset them to the default choices. Exclude defaults also let the user easily control selective groups of files. For example, to back up special drawing files from applications like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator, selecting the “drawings” group removes the special drawing file extensions from the exclude list.

    Depending on where the wildcard appears, it may include a limited directory or drive, or it can indicate every directory and drive (remember that AutoSave always excludes backups of network and removable media).

    Modes of Operation

    AutoSave has five modes of operation: idle, active, logging, suspended, and stopped.

    Idle. This is the most common mode, where AutoSave is monitoring to see if any files need to be backed up. No files are currently being backed up (physically written or prepared) in this state.

    Active. AutoSave has one or more files in the queue to back up and may be saving (writing) those files to the backup location.

    Logging. If the backup location is unavailable, AutoSave saves the names of any files that will need to be backed up once the location is available. If the backup location is on a network or removable media and the network connection is down or there is no media in the removable media drive, AutoSave will enter the logging mode.

    Suspended. Any files already in the queue to be backed up will be backed up, but no new or changed files will be backed up in suspend mode.

    Stopped. No files are being backed up or logged.

    A status indicator icon in the system tray indicates the current status of AutoSave by the color and shape of the disk drive:

    • Gray: Idle; no files to backup
    • Green: Active; files being backed up
    • Purple: Logging; logs backups for future
    • Yellow: Suspended; no new backups
    • Red: Stopped; no backups

    Current Activity Window

    A current activity window shows the status of AutoSave and introduces manual mode, which can be used to view reports or perform special backups and restores. Help is available on all these functions. The following information about a file can appear in this window:

    • Backed up. This file has been copied into the archive within the last hour; after an hour, it will be cleared from the activity report.
    • Pending backup. When a file is in use or opened and is unable to be backed up yet, it is marked pending backup.
    • Not backed up yet. The file is now ready to be backed up. A time counter starts when the file is closed and saved, and after a time-out period (typically one minute) elapses, the file will be backed up during idle time. Immediate backups can be forced.
    • Original deleted. The original file was deleted before a backup could be made (this usually occurs with nonstandard temporary files that do not need to be backed up). After 24 hours, they are cleared from the activity report.

    Common Problems

    Backup media unavailable. Laptops are often switched between mobile and desktop configurations, meaning a network or removable media device may not always be available for backup purposes. AutoSave will warn users that the archive location is temporarily unavailable. Users can then choose to stop all AutoSave operations or, preferably, enter the logging mode. When the archive is available again, backups are made of all the logged files.

    Removing files from backup. A single file or group of files can be removed from the backup archive. If AutoSave runs out of room, a dialog box presents the following remedies:

    • Allocate more space for the backup. • Change the maximum size limit in AutoSave. • Remove all backed up files that no longer have an original (files you previously deleted). • Remove old versions of files in the archive.

    Restoring files from backup. The Restore Wizard may be used at any time to restore—

    • all files from the backup
    • one or more files
    • an older version of a file.


    In the event of a total loss of data, several things should be kept in mind. The first and most important step is to be absolutely sure the data is not recoverable. If all the data is truly lost or damaged beyond repair, it may be time to rebuild the system. AutoSave needs to be disabled when restoring files from backup. Otherwise, AutoSave will attempt to re-save these newly restored files in the archive and possibly run out of disk space.

    Backup data may be lost if a drive failure or complete data erasure occurs on the AutoSave archive device. To avoid this situation, backup data should not be stored on the primary hard disk.

    Paul D. Warner, PhD, CPA
    Hofsta University

    L. Murphy Smith, DBA, CPA
    Texas A&M University

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