Imaging software or backup software? If you want to know which will suit you best, you need to know the difference. Are the terms "image" and "backup" interchangeable?

Not quite. Though these terms are often used as if they mean same thing, there's a big difference. While backup software programs generally copy just your data, image software makes a full, exact copy of your hard drive -  a mirror image of the operating system, software, data, file organization - everything.

This means if something in your system goes bad and you only have a data backup, you must reinstall the operating system and all your software, then restore your backup data to the hard drive. After that, you must individually reset all your settings and preferences. Just backing up data isn't enough, not if you want to keep your computer's "personality" intact.

Imaging is also convenient when you are ready to upgrade your computer hardware. Just image the old disk to the new disk and you're done. Backing up and reinstalling computer software the traditional way takes five to ten times longer because you have to restore your computer to its original condition one piece at a time.

If you create images of your entire hard drive regularly, then when things go wrong you'll have an instant fix; just restore and you're done. You can conveniently schedule images automatically with top imaging software. No valuable data is lost, and you won't have to reinstall your system.

But backup software is handy for those whose primary concern is data loss. For example, those who use top-of-the-line computers and upgrade their operating systems and software frequently aren't as inconvenienced by reinstalling, since that will happen on the next upgrade anyway.

Also, many businesses backup important information on a computer in a separate building to secure data from fire and other physical damage. Such businesses prefer the speed of incremental data backups instead of imaging full hard drives. Imaging takes far longer and backing up only recent data changes is more cost-effective.

The choice between imaging and backup software depends on your needs. If you want to avoid reinstalls, imaging is the way to go. If you just want to copy data, backup is top choice. Fortunately, several top backup software programs offer full imaging as an option, and many imaging programs allow you to backup only specific files if you wish. If you pick software that excels at both tasks, you can't lose.

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