Updating an image daily is not really practical, so the best solution for this problem is to combine drive imaging with more conventional file backups (as detailed below). This eliminates the problem of being out of date, since you can easily schedule daily backups of your documents on separate media, and restore those after you restore your drive image if something horrible happens.
Methods of backup 2: archiving files and
The traditional backup method, and probably what most people think of first, archiving is the best way of preserving specific crucial data from harm, provided it is done regularly and sensibly.
Basically, archiving means copying a set of files and folders onto a backup media (hard drive, ZIP, floppy, tape CD, etc.) and preventing the files on the backup from being changed. Generally, backup software will create a single compressed file to store all the files and directories that will be backed up. This saves space and prevents the backups from being accessed until they are needed.
The main advantage of backing up files with this method is that it is much easier to do without disrupting your use of the computer. A backup of your important data from specific directories is easy to accomplish, and most backup software (including that built into Windows XP) allows you to schedule the operation automatically. Most backup software, depending on your preferences, will monitor the directories and files you wish to archive, and only backup the changes made since the last backup.
Methods of backup 3: Simple copying
Ah, the most common backup method, and very effective, provided you remember to do it. Round up the files you wish to save and dump them onto another drive, or a CD or floppy. Quick and easy and extremely likely to go wrong, unless you are the conscientious sort.
Some factors to consider
When deciding what form(s) of backup to use to preserve your data, there are several things you need to take into account. First, is reinstalling your operating system and the software you use likely to be a major problem for you? If the answer to this is yes, then you are going to want to seriously consider making a drive image of your root (c:) drive. The reason for this is the other forms of backup do not preserve the settings of the operating system, including the registry. Since almost all software needs entries in the registry to run, simply having the program directories backed up is not going to be enough. You will need to fully install your OS again, as well as all your software before your backups are any use to you.
Second question is, are you trustworthy? Can you rely on yourself to backup your data regularly? If you are unsure about this, get archiving software to do it for you automatically. When your drive goes down, you will be happy you did.
Third question is what can you afford? Drive images take up a lot of space, and the best place to have them is on another hard drive, which is of course also vulnerable to failure. An ideal solution is to have the image stored on a drive using a removable rack, so it is not operating all the time. This is fairly practical given that you are unlikely to make or update drive images that often.