wd-1Try as they might, the hard drive companies just can’t convince consumers to backup their precious computer data. Only about 14 percent of consumers use an external hard drive, according to hard disk maker Western Digital.

That’s why the company is introducing backup drives today with smarter software on them that makes it simple to do a backup. This is part of a consistent theme these days: innovation makes things simpler to do, not more complex.

The WD SmartWare software gives users visual feedback (see below). When I looked at the demo, it reminded me of Apple’s iTunes software, which gives you a color-coded graphic that shows how much storage space you’re using on an iPod. The WD software shows all the files you need to back up on a computer by category, such as documents, videos, photos, and music. You can click on the files you want to back up, or you can delve into folders to pick particular files.

wd-4Once you select them and start the back up, the files that are being transferred are marked a certain color, such as orange. Then you can see the contents of the backup drive, and the color-coded files begin to appear in the backup drive’s graphic. You can tell how much time it’s going to take and how much space it requires. Now you know exactly what your backup system is backing up and whether it’s working or not.

WD used to have a bunch of different software utilities that did this. Now the single WD SmartWare program does it all. While it seems simple, WD worked on it for 18 months.

WD has built the software into its newest line-up of drives. These include the My Passport Essential (pictured top), My Passport Essential SE (pictured below), My Passport for Mac, My Book Essential, and My Book for Mac. The drives are smaller, more power efficient, and priced better than prior models. The My Book Essential drive ranges from 500 gigabytes to 2 terabytes of data. One terabyte can hold 120 hours of high-definition movies. The drive comes with hardware-based encryption. If someone steals your drive, they can’t get the data on it unless they know the password. The 500-gigabyte My Book Essential is $99.99 and the 2-terabyte version is $249.99.

wd-2These drives are a lot easier to use than the typical CDs, DVDs, and flash drives that most Americans use. They also automate the tedious process of backing up. The backups happen silently in the background, and they pause for a moment when the computer is using the processor for some other task. You can also use the backup system to figure out the differences between different versions of a file. You can, for instance, retrieve up to 25 different versions of a file. Restoring a file is a matter of dragging and dropping it.

WD competes with rivals such as Seagate, Hewlett-Packard, ClickFree, and others. While ClickFree is a backup device, WD’s drives can also be used as extra hard drives; that is, you can run programs on them beyond just doing backup.

Parks Associates estimates that the average household now has 120 gigabytes of data. That’s a lot to lose.

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