When most of us think of making a backup of a computer file, it typically consists of taking all of your information on the hard drive and...

When most of us think of making a backup of a computer file, it typically consists of taking all of your information on the hard drive and making a copy of it onto some other kind of mass storage medium. Optical media — CDs and DVDs — can hold large amounts of data at a low cost. But you still need lots of these discs, given the large capacities of hard drives.

Flash drives are good for quick, minimal backups, but their capacities are relatively small and they’re expensive.

So given the low cost of hard drives these days, many of us make our backups to another hard drive. The cost per megabyte used to make such backups prohibitive, but multigigabyte hard drives can be had for about a hundred bucks, so it’s a viable alternative.

But there’s one major problem with all of the above backup methods. When you’re done, the backup you just made is usually where your computer is. So if your place burns down or your office is burglarized, there go your backups.

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But there is another solution and it’s really coming into its own now that broadband connections to the Internet are becoming commonplace. It’s called online or off-site backup.

Seamless integration

Online backup lets you back up any or all of your data and safely stores it at a remote location. Typically, online backup works in the background or overnight when you’re not using the computer. I recently discovered one that I really like because it does all of the above, but it does it by seamlessly integrating with your computer’s operating system.

Carbonite.com (www.carbonite.com) is an automatic, online backup utility that installs on your Windows-based PC. The yearly fee of $49.95 gives you what the company calls unlimited backup storage.

After installation, Carbonite’s online backup service automatically begins to back up all of your computer’s data via your broadband Internet connection.

It has safety in mind because no one can see your data since your files are encrypted before they leave your computer.

I like how Carbonite works within Windows. The folders that are backed up have a small blue dot on the lower left corner. If a folder is not backed up but contains subfolders that are, a small gray dot appears in the same location.

Files work in a similar fashion. A small green dot means the files have been backed up; a yellow dot means it’s awaiting backup; no dot means it’s not backed up.

As you continue your normal computing day, Carbonite monitors what has been changed and updates your backups. Changing a file’s backup status is quick and easy. Just right-click on a folder, for example, and you’ll see a Carbonite sub-menu.

If it has a blue dot, the option will be to change its status to not being backed up. If no dot is there, you can add one. If a file has a yellow dot and you want to back it up immediately, there’s an option that lets you do so at that moment.

Carbonite’s really very simple and intuitive.

Background work

All of the backing up goes on in the background and never interferes or slows down your Internet connection. It does its thing only when you’re not using the bandwidth it needs.

But whenever you add or modify files, Carbonite keeps track of everything and will make its backups automatically. It’s always on.

Restoring data works much the same way. Right-click on the drive or folder to restore and select the options.

Carbonite works with the Windows platform; a Macintosh version is in the works.

If you’re looking for a neat, safe, inexpensive, easy and secure method of backing up your computer, then check out the Carbonite Web site for a free 15-day trial.