How many times has any of these happened to you? You're visiting a website and see some great new software. You install the software and you're not satisfied with it, but when you try to uninstall the program, it doesn't uninstall properly. You finished working on your masterpiece in your text program or graphics program and a day or so later your hard drive dies or your PC gets a virus. Windows Restore in XP or Vista can help you go back to a previous time when your PC worked correctly but it does not uninstall installed software and it doesn't always resolve the problems you are having. You start to wonder if it's time for the dreaded Windows re-install.
To avoid having to re-install Windows you can use Imaging software to back it up. With drive imaging software you can take a snapshot of your hard drive before you install new software, for example, and save it to a different drive, partition or CDs/DVDs so that if the need arises, you can go back to the way things were. There are many different Drive Imaging programs for purchase. If you'd prefer not to pay, there is a freeware alternative called DriveImage XML DriveImage XML that seems to be popular and gets very good reviews. I use Acronis Drive Image. It's chock-full of options and at $49.99, very reasonably priced.
Imaging programs take time to create an image. If you don't want to create a drive image frequently, you can keep some PC headaches at bay by creating regular backups or synchronizing data in between image creation. There are many freeware programs to create file backups, Windows Backup is included in Windows XP and Vista. A very basic way of backing up your files or folders is to drag and drop them into another drive in your PC or a CD/DVD for safe-keeping. To avoid having copy all the folders or files every time you back-up, you can use synchronization software that will only backup folders or files that have changed. Again, there are many available for purchase, but if you're looking for freeware, you can take a look at the very capable Microsoft SyncToy or 2BrightSparks SyncBack.
Once you have your PC image saved you can install new software and also go to Windows Update without worrying that if something goes wrong you will be up a creek without a paddle. I always make an image backup with Acronis True Image before visiting Windows Update for my monthly updates and before installing new software, just in case. The many times that I've had a problem, restoring my PC to an earlier image was fast and painless.