A superior backup setup
If you're having trouble with backup, there are several possible causes. The network share may not be mounted, making it invisible to your backup program – adding it to My Network Places will avoid this. It's also possible that the PC to be backed up is off or in sleep mode, or the backup process may have been interrupted.
Make sure you buy the right type of network drive. Standard external USB drives are designed to attach directly to the USB storage port included on some routers or via an ethernet adaptor such as a NAS (network-attached storage) drive with built-in ethernet.
If you decide on a USB drive you can usually detach it from your router and plug it into a PC, perhaps at another location. True network drives, in contrast, have their own processor and OS (operating system), and can be attached only to your network. They generally have more features and will allow you to set up private user accounts (shares) as well as public areas that can be accessed by anyone.
For optimal security and performance, use a NAS drive with gigabit ethernet (you'll need a gigabit router if you don't have one) and Raid (redundant array of independent disks) 1 or 5 redundancy. Don't risk losing a 500GB music collection stored on a NAS drive without any backup – the best way to maintain a copy of your NAS drive is to mirror it using a Raid array.
Whichever type of drive you choose, make sure it's large enough to accommodate future growth. Backups often fail because the drive is full. We recommend setting aside twice the storage capacity of your current network. Double that again if you intend to mirror your network drive.
Incremental backups copy only files that have changed since the most recent backup, vastly reducing the load on your network and the length of time it takes to perform a backup. Cobian Backup 8.0 can perform full or incremental backups with or without compression and can encrypt data on shared network drives.
The need to ensure that your PC is up and running at backup time may seem obvious, but offline PCs are the most common cause of failed backups. Don't turn off your machine at night; let it hibernate. Use XP's Scheduled Tasks wizard (Programs, Accessories, System Tools) to ensure your backup software can wake up your PC.
Add a Mac
Many of us are not only multi-PC but multi-OS owners. Getting both Macs and PCs to recognise the same peripherals can be a chore, and filesharing is a concern.
In most cases Mac OS X provides everything you need to connect your Mac to a Windows network and share files and printers. You can plug a Mac into a wired network or access your wireless router, just as you would with a new PC, by selecting your SSID from a list of available Wi-Fi networks and then entering your wireless encryption key. Recently released Macs support WEP, WPA and WPA2.
To share files and printers, the Mac cleverly assumes the guise of a PC. It does so by implementing the SMB/CIFS Windows filesharing standard and using Windows workgroup naming. The default workgroup name for any Mac is Workgroup. You can change this name by running the Mac's Directory Access utility.
Turn on Windows Sharing in the Mac's Sharing Preference pane and enable each of the user accounts you'd like to share.
The Mac should appear as a member of your workgroup when you browse your network.
After selecting it and entering your username and password, you'll be able to navigate the Mac's hard drive and copy or upload files by dragging and dropping.
This works in both XP and Vista.
You can print from your Mac to shared Windows printers via SMB, although the setup process is not obvious. In the Mac's Printer Setup Utility, click Add. If your Windows printer doesn't show up in the resulting list of available printers, hit the More Printers button.
Now select Windows Printing and Network Neighbourhood from the drop-down menus. Your local workgroup will appear in the window. When you select it, you'll see a list of shared printers to choose from. Thereafter, the Windows printer will appear in the Mac's Print dialog box.
For more information on network security, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.