January 1999

The Windows 98 Task Scheduler

Some programs are meant to run unattended. For example, the Windows disk defragmenter rearranges the files on your hard disk to speed up disk access. Prior to Windows 98, however, Windows had no built-in way to run a program at a specific time. Now a Task Scheduler is part of the operating system.

Another common unattended task is backing up your hard disk each night. We use an Iomega Ditto tape drive for backup. The backup software that came with the drive, Iomega Tools, is a version of Seagate Software's Backup Exec. We experienced frequent crashes during the night. Sometimes the backup was complete, but often it was not.

Recently, we started to use the Task Scheduler to run the backup program instead of the scheduler which is part of the backup software. Since then, every backup has run successfully.

Creating A New Task

To schedule a task, double-click the My Computer icon, then open the Scheduled Tasks folder. (If you don't see that folder, you need to upgrade to Windows 98!) Double-click the Add Scheduled Task icon to start the Scheduled Task Wizard. You must identify the program you want to run. For Iomega Tools, the program is


but you will need to modify this later. Set it to run every day.

When the Wizard finishes, you will see a new entry in the Scheduled Tasks folder. Rename the new entry to "Full tape backup" or something similar.

Scheduling Tape Backups

Right-click on the new entry and choose Properties. Now you can change the command line. In our example, we must add two "command line switches" which tell the program to run automatically (rather than wait for user input) and to do a full backup or an incremental backup. For a full backup, the command line looks like this:


On the Schedule tab of the properties sheet, set the full backup to run every Monday night.

Next add another task ("Incremental tape backup") to handle incremental backups on the other days of the week. Use this command line:


Notice that the only difference is "/TI" (incremental backup) versus "/TF" (full backup). Set the incremental backup to run Tuesday through Friday.

For this procedure to work, your software must be designed for unattended use. If it requires user input of any kind, it won't work. Most tape backup programs are designed for unattended use, although the actual command lines will probably differ from our examples.

For Ditto Tools, it is also necessary to set up a "job," which tells the program what disk drives to back up. The unattended backup will run the most recent job. This is less flexible than the Ditto Tools scheduler, which can run different jobs, each on its own schedule. Reliability must take precedence over flexibility, however, and a single job is adequate for most computers.

Rotating Tapes

One final consideration applies to tape backups. Each Monday, before the backup begins that night, you must remove the previous week's tape and insert a different one. Every tape will then have a full backup and the subsequent incremental backups for one week. Use three or more tapes before you go back to a previously-used tape.

Note that, at least with most tape software, a full backup automatically overwrites whatever is on the tape, but an incremental backup is appended to the existing contents of the tape.

This scheme assumes the capacity of one tape is sufficient to hold one full backup and four incremental backups. If that isn't true, you will need to use a different schedule, with more frequent changes of the tape.

Softfile Reminders

Tape backup is not the only use for the Task Scheduler. We run a program at 6 a.m. each morning that creates a list of reminders for the coming day.

The reminder program is part of Softfile, an RTG software product which you can download from our Web site. Softfile gives you a place to store notes and reminders which otherwise would get scattered about on scraps of paper.

We call Softfile a memory enhancer because it becomes an extension of the user's own memory. Notes typed into Softfile are indexed immediately, so they can be found quickly using the words, dates, and numbers they contain.

Several years ago we described Softfile at some length. The January 1991 and March 1991 issues of RTG News explain more about how Softfile works. The November 1997 issue discussed a customized version of Softfile which we developed to search a library's card catalog and return Web pages with the results. All three issues are available on our Web site:


In order to create a list of Softfile reminders, we run the program remind.exe. It creates a list of records by selecting those records which have a reminder date of the current date or any previous date. The selected reminders can be viewed from within Softfile with the command View, Reminders. You can change the reminder date with the command Set, Reminder date.

Download Softfile For Free

Why are we giving Softfile away? The primary reason is that it is so hard to describe what Softfile does and why you would want it, that we have found it too difficult to sell.

Another reason is that we haven't enhanced Softfile in a long time. The current version is a DOS program, although it runs well under both Windows 95 and Windows 98. Softfile is strictly a keyboard-driven program. It completely ignores the mouse. There isn't much demand for a non-Windows PC-based program.

On the other hand, because Softfile has been around for so long, it is a very stable program. We haven't needed to fix a bug in nearly four years, and we use the program daily.

You might be surprised to learn that Softfile is Year 2000 compliant. All dates are stored with four-digit years. You can enter a reminder date of 1/1/0 and Softfile will save it as 01/01/2000.

If you want to try Softfile, you can find it here:


Let us know if you find it useful.

[Softfile is now a Windows program. It is inexpensive, but not free.]

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