I've never been a big fan of traditional backup applications. I normally find it simpler to back up my files with something like Robocopy, which is a free command-line utility that Microsoft has shipped with all versions of Windows from XP onwards. Or if you don't like command lines, there's a similar utility, again free from Microsoft, called Sync Toy.
But if I did want to use a conventional backup program, something like Apple's "Time Machine" would appeal. You just point it at a backup drive, and it gets on with the job. All your files automatically get backed up, every time they change. There's nothing to configure, as you just "set and forget".
If that sounds like the sort of backup regime you want, and you run Windows rather than a Mac, then you might just be interested in a free (for non-commercial use) app called Genie Timeline. You can get it from http://www.genie-soft.com/free_products/free_timeline.aspx.
The download is relatively large, at around 30 MB, and it runs on XP and above. Both 32- and 64-bit versions are available. Once you've downloaded and run it, there are really only 2 things you need to do. First, point it at a backup drive. This will normally be an external USB device, or you could (as I did) point it at another machine on your LAN. Alternatively, using something like NetDrive (http://www.netdrive.net), you could even point it at a remote FTP server.
Next comes the screen shown below, where you can configure which types of files get backed up. Personally, I just clicked the "Next" button, and left everything on the default setting.
And that's it. Your computer is now protected via something called Continuous Data Protection. Every new file you create gets backed up automatically within a few seconds, as does every file you change.
To restore a file from your backup, just browse to the backup drive and navigate it with Windows Explorer. Or right-click the Genie Timeline icon on the system tray and use the built in facility to look for the files you want.
If you're looking for an easy, free backup solution, then this just might be it. But remember, if you're backing up to an external USB drive that's connected to your main PC, a disaster such as a fire, flood or theft could easily deprive you of both your main machine and the backup. When you're planning a backup regime, choice of software isn't as important as choice of storage location. Off-site, or at least a drive that you take away from your house once the backup is complete, is always the way to go.
TIP: Make sure you select the "Free" version from the download page not the "Home" or "Pro" versions.
My thanks to reader Danni Dunleavy for telling me about this great product. If there's a Hot Find you want to tell everyone about, start by telling me. See http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/submit-product-review.htm.