Several free and commercial packages make it easy to repartition an existing disk drive. In 99 times out of 100, repartitioning an existing disk drive is completely safe and will not damage or lose any of the existing programs or data on your Windows partition. However, preventing the pain associated with that one remaining time is worth the effort that it takes to back up your important data before making any changes to your disk partitions. If you're tempted to skip this step and just go ahead with repartitioning, stop and think for a moment what it would be like if you lost your computer system or it was destroyed. None of the saved e-mail that you've exchanged with friends and family, none of those letters you've written, none of your digital photographs, none of your music collection, the great American novel — all gone. Are you really willing to take that chance? If so, you're braver than I am.
Explaining how to use various Microsoft Windows backup utilities is outside the scope of this book. The critical part of backing up your data is to back it up onto removable media, such as a CD-ROM, DVD, or external USB or FireWire hard disk. The key to doing backups is to write them to a device other than the one that you're backing up. Simply making a copy of important files and directories on your existing hard drive doesn't help at all if that hard drive is damaged. Make sure that you copy your important files and directories to some removable media, and then remove and reinsert or reattach it to make sure that it actually contains readable copies of your files before repar-titioning the disk where they were originally stored. In most cases, you won't need them, but the one time that you do, you'll be ecstatic that you took the time to play it safe.
Depending on the software you choose and how your system is configured, you can either use a dedicated software package to back up your files or simply drag important files and directories onto your writable CD-ROM, writable DVD drive, or your external disk. However you do it, make sure that you back up any directories where you stored your important files. This is usually your My Documents folder, which may also contain folders called My Music, My Pictures, and so on, that also contain important data that you've created on your system. You may also want to examine the files on your desktop. In theory, your desktop usually contains just shortcuts to files that are actually stored in your personal folders, but many people also store working copies of their files there. You should also check the top level of your C: drive, because many people often create personal folders there and use them to organize their data. Remember, you're making backups of important data — this is no time to cut corners or do a fast job simply to get it over with.
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