Among office calamities, unexpected loss of data on an office computer from a virus or hardware breakdown ranks right up there on top of the list. Are you prepared?

One study shows that while 90% of small businesses intend to back up daily, less than half of them actually do. Daily backup provides peace of mind and continuity of business should your hard drive fail or files become corrupted.

Nowadays, backing up data using either an external hard drive or an online backup service is a lot easier and less cumbersome than using CDs or DVDs.

There are two types of external hard drives suitable for a small or medium sized office. One is a portable hard drive, which gets its power from the computer and runs at 5,400 revolutions per minute. The other is a plug-in desktop drive, which has larger capacity and spins faster (7,200 rpm), resulting in faster access time. Both types are available in multiple storage capacities, with desktop drives offered up to 1 TB (1,000 gigabytes).

The drives come with software that automates the backup process to various levels of sophistication. Most external drives connect to a computer via either a FireWire or a USB connection and can be left, untended, to do the job.

For example, the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus (www.maxtorsolution.com) comes with installation software already on the hard drive. It backs up files on the external hard drive either automatically on a user-selected schedule (usually daily) or anytime at the push of a button. It's an easy set it and forget it solution that you would be very relieved to have in place as a safe haven for all your files, particularly if you encounter a computer hard drive problem.

Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus also features the Maxtor SafetyDrill, which automatically creates a snapshot of the entire contents of your PC's hard drive (Windows only) that can be readily booted for easy and complete recovery. If you have to change your computer hard drive because of damage or failure, SafetyDrill will install into the new hard drive the operating system, all your programs, program updates, settings and files without your having to find and install the computer's original disks.

Also, the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus enables synchronizing of data between two or more computers as long as they are using the same operating system every time you connect or disconnect the drive so you are always working with the most current data.

The solution, which comes with data encryption and password protection, is available in four capacities, 250 GB to 1 TB (street prices: about $80 to $250).

Online backup

Automatic online backup services are generally inexpensive for unlimited storage (about $50 to $60 a year). Some work in the background, so you might not even be aware the backup is happening, while others back up at a scheduled time. Unlike data on CDs, DVDs or hard drives stored in the office, the data backed up online is secure offsite and accessible from any computer, regardless of any calamity in the office.

Here's how one popular service, SOS Online Backup (www.sosonlinebackup.com), works. The software, which can handle multiple computers per account and network drives, is installed on the end-user computer.

The user elects which files to protect (any or all) and each night at a scheduled time, the service backs up any files that have changed since the previous backup. (Management can also opt to back up instantly at any time.) The saved data is compressed, reducing bandwidth consumption.

Recovering the data any time requires a username and password. The backup system also saves daily versions of the files, which can be handy if someone wants to refer to an earlier draft of a document.

Promo videos update

A couple of months ago we covered software that facilitates posting promotional videos on your Website and/or on YouTube. Technology marches on, so another way to take and post videos online is by using one of the new point-and-shoot camcorders that make it very simple to take videos and download them via your PC directly to the Web.

For example, the recently introduced streamlined Flip Video Mino (Pure Digital, www.theflip.com, street price: about $155) can record up to 60 minutes of VGA-quality video. Weighing in at just 3.3 ounces and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, the user-friendly camera features a 1.4-in. LCD display, one-touch video and fingertip controlled 2X digital zoom (which does degrade the image a bit).

Once you turn the camera on, you push a center red button to start videoing and push again to stop. Running on a rechargeable lithium ion battery, the camera comes with a built-in USB arm that plugs directly into a PC or Macintosh USB port and software for instant upload of any clips to YouTube or your Website, as well as for instant viewing.

The camcorder also supports custom editing of movie mixes, with the option of adding your own music. In addition, you can capture still photos from the video for emailing or other purposes.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com.