Walter, that's a bit of good news. If your storage and backup were on a different physical drive, or even if it was merely a separate partition on a single drive, you're very likely to be OK. Its a very good idea to keep the operating system and applications, along with a good sized Temp Folder for them to use as needed, separate from everything else, so that in the event of a major crash-and-reinstall calamity they are all that is affected.
There are a number of good commercial backup utilities out there, and a few pretty good free ones; just google "backup utilities" and chase down reviews. I'm pretty happy with Handy Backup
, which, BTW, offers a very effective and simple-to-use email backup feature, as well as allowing backup to just about any storage format or platform, even across a network. It also provides a simple full registry backup (very handy if you do any registry tweaking), something XP itself doesn't offer. Its about US$30, and a fully functional 1-month trial is downloadable.
If you have the drivespace available, a full mirror backup scheme can be very comforting; the worst that can happen is you can get right back to the way things were at the time of your last full save. Just rember that a backup utility will only backup what, when, and to where it is told to. If you backup to removeable media, remember to label everything clearly, particularly if your backups span multiple discs.
Another good practice, when getting programs, and any other stuff you really want to keep, from the 'net is to whenever possible download to removeable media, including, in the same folder as the object, a textfile consisting of any e-receipts, instructions, and product keys or unlock codes as are related to the object. Copy that folder to your machine, and file the original unexecuted download in a safe place. Sure, its an extra step, but its a step that can spare you untold grief and inconvenience later on. Hope is not a plan, and hindsight is not a recovery tool.