It’s well known that you should back up your data. If your hard disk crashes, it can be a major problem to recover your information. On my Mac I use Time Machine with an external hard disk. This is better than nothing and very useful, but is still a problem if something happens to my home office, e.g., a fire. So additionally I use Jungle Disk to back up my key data nightly to the Amazon storage cloud. It’s cheap and gives me some peace of mind. I could keep going with this, and use additional remote storage schemes, but you need to stop somewhere. Another advantage of the Jungle Disk solution is that I have access to the backups of my home files wherever I am in the world.
In addition to data, I routinely have backups for the applications I use. Not the same application, but other software that more or less does the same thing. For example, on my home machine I can use Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice.org, Apple iWork, or Google Documents to create and edit documents. I don’t have, nor need, Microsoft Office for the Mac. Until recently I had NeoOffice but the current quality of Symphony and OpenOffice.org made it unnecessary.
If something goes wrong with one of these applications, I can switch to another. If one does something better than the others, I can use that. It only works if I can interchange data and, without getting into the whole story, is why I’m so bullish on standards like ODF.
Things can go wrong with software when something changes in its environment (e.g., an operating system update); when it itself is changed, updated, or corrupted; or when something it uses gets updated or breaks (e.g., an extension or plugin). This happened to me last week with the FireFox browser.
I use several extensions with FireFox, although some are still installed though they get little action. Last week I restarted the browser and accepted the proposed updates to several extensions, as usual. They were installed and I didn’t think much of it. Later that day I discovered that GMail wasn’t working, and it was complaining of a loop in the URL address redirection. I was having this problem on my desktop machine but not my laptop.
I Twittered about the problem and I got one response that someone else was seeing the same problem, but others were not. I was very busy that day and so didn’t have a lot of time to debug the problem. I just switched to the Apple Safari browser and got on with my life. I use Opera as an alternate browser in this way as well.
Had I set out to debug it it, I would have asked myself several questions:
- What changed on my machine recently, especially anything concerning FireFox or GMail?
- What did I have on the machine that worked vs. the machine that didn’t?
- Has anyone else reported the problem and found the solution?
Because I was in a hurry (and not too proud), I began with the last item. I did a web search and discovered that last week’s update to the GMail Manager extension for FireFox was the problem. I uninstalled it and, voila!, the problem went away. I didn’t use that extension any more and, in fact, for that reason I didn’t have it on my laptop. Even if it gets fixed, I’m not going to bother reinstalling it.
So make sure you have backups for your data but also make sure you have alternative ways of working should your usual applications decide to stop cooperating.