Re: Really really simple backup question
I'm going to give it a shot at answering your questions, one by one, and including a bit of information about "the question I think you were trying to ask" in addition to what was literally there. The questions will all be repeated, with a > at the beginning of the question quotation.
> What is the difference between a backup, a differential backup, an integral backup, a system backup?
A generic "backup" could be nothing other than copying files off to another drive by hand, but that's really not what the focus of the latest go-rounds was, nor will be here.
A system image backup is, essentially, a snapshot of your computer's state: all installed software, including the operating system, user accounts, all data associated with all user accounts, etc., taken at a given point in time and saved in a format that would allow you to restore that state, exactly, if you had a catastrophic failure of your hard drive and needed to replace it.
Both differential and incremental backups are backups taken after a full system image backup, that collect the changes that have occurred since that last system image backup, but in slightly different ways. Please see the article, Incremental vs differential backup – what is the difference?, which explains the differences better than I can and in non-technical terms.
> What if I wanted to get a complete backup of my system, and had no idea at all which program to get?
This is sort of the crux of the earlier discussions. Clearly Image for Windows is great and accessible if you are willing and able to pay just under $40 for it. But if you can't, my parallel thread about other options, whether fully accessible or just accessible for maintaining your backups, is in its infancy. Watch that space.
> Where would be even a good starting point for a person who has never once done an image or complete backup?
I guess my only answer is deciding whether you wish to purchase backup software or to use a free version. Then to decide whether whatever you use has to be 100% accessible or whether you can live with having an assistant to help you set up the system image backup and/or user data backup and, heaven forbid but it could happen, do the recovery.
> Would I need an external drive with nothing else on it?
You definitely need an external drive. If you are using backup software, which I highly recommend, it can have lots of other stuff on it. The backups will be placed in a folder of their own.
I do not recommend disc cloning, which requires an external drive that's dedicated to nothing but the backup, and, ideally, would not be a regular external backup drive but a regular disc drive you could "pop in" to your machine for which you would purchase a USB enclosure where it would live while being used as an external backup drive.
> Is the Microsoft product a good starting place for a person who has never done anything like this before?
This question is a bit to vague to answer as posed. Microsoft includes a built-in backup and recovery that's been around since Windows 7, at least. They have, however, stated that it is officially deprecated and state that users should seek out third party options, which is why I don't discuss it. This utility was for system image backup and recovery.
File History, which exists under Windows 10 (and Windows 8.1, I think), is an excellent starting place for taking user data backups. I just suggest that those starting out with File History pay very careful attention to both the frequency of backup and the backup retention period. The default frequency is hourly, which is way too often for your average home user, and retention is forever, which is a space hog particularly if you know you really generally only care about the most recent version of a file once it's more than so old. This is why I suggest retention of three months, as this will keep all versions of the same file in File History that are younger than three months old then, as the oldest version becomes three months and one day (or more) old it gets booted out. Versions older than your retention period get booted out successively until what's left is only the most recent version of the file from the date you last touched it. The retention period is NOT about the age of the current and last copy of the file, but of its previous versions that were collected along the way. The current and last version will be retained until or unless it is deleted or, if you start working on it again, as versions with the changes you've done.
By the way, I saw your comment about knowing that you don't necessarily expect total accessibility, but I thought a comprehensive answer for other readers would be useful. Your options are a lot wider in this situation, and I can still recommend EaseUS To Do Backup Free without hesitation if you don't object to needing assistance with the setup of your backup regimen nor if recovery were ever necessary. The part you have to deal with to take successive full system images, or incremental backups, is entirely accessible. I don't think the free version supports differential backup, but I could be mistaken. My own protocol is generally to take full system image backups about once per month, then deleting any of these older than the previous month's backups since I wouldn't want anything from "the wayback machine" if I have a more recent backup.
Brian - Windows 10 Home, 64-Bit, Version 1803, Build 17134
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
~ Dorothy Nevill