Ghost with the most
GCN Lab Review | The latest version of Norton Ghost gets a lot friendlier, while still performing first-rate backup and image restoration
- By John Breeden II
- Aug 24, 2007
ABOVE: At a glance you can see how much of your system is backed up. RIGHT: You can throttle back the speed at which a backup occurs, which means it might take longer to finish but won't hog system resources while Ghost works.
Ghost has been a mainstay of techies since the early days of desktop computing. But unlike Casper, this Ghost has been anything but friendly ' until now.
The GCN Lab started using Ghost as a standard tool in the test lab back at Version 8.0, and off and on even before that. The lab uses the program before software reviews to replicate a standard system image with a very basic configuration onto test systems. This way, we know the exact environment in which a program is being tested and don't run into situations where we might blame the software we're evaluating for acting funny when the culprit is another test program previously installed without a clean image. After each software review is complete, we use Ghost to wipe out everything on a test system and restore its plain-vanilla default configuration.
The process is pretty seamless at this point for us lab rats, but it's not exactly intuitive and did require some training to learn how to build the image files and properly replicate them from the master system to each client. Plus, the program had limited applicability. It was perfect for the lab environment, but standard users didn't have much need for it.
On the plus side, Ghost has always been reliable. Once you figured out how to use it correctly, it did its job well. By now, we have restored systems hundreds of times and never once ran into a software-related glitch.
So with Version 12.0, Symantec smartly decided to keep that same ironclad, reliable technology but make it accessible to everyone. The features of the program also have been expanded so it can be used as a standard backup program and not simply a way to replicate images across multiple PCs.
The interface for 12.0 is surprisingly clean. You start with a window that has five tabs running down the screen, each accessing different menus ' Home, Status, Tasks, Tools and Advanced. The Tools tab is the most powerful and contains most of what you need to start making backups.
From the Tools menu, you can back up an entire hard disk or set what files are to be backed up and how often. You can also create virtual disks to store your backup information if you choose. Most of those tasks are somewhat advanced, but are all presented in an easy-to-use format that anyone can pick up without formal training. You can also manage your backup location from this menu, which is helpful if you need to change the file format or otherwise optimize your backup device.
The Home menu also will show you the status of your backup device and you can do something about it from the Tools menu if you are, say, running out of space. If you are using a CD or DVD-ROM for backup, you can simply change the disk out, but if you are using a supplemental hard drive, the Tools area can help you optimize it to eke out a little more room.
Like other versions of Ghost, Version 12.0 makes backups quickly. But unlike previous versions, it doesn't have to. We know: Why would anyone want their backups to perform slower? With backups, while you often want them to be as quick as possible, you would not want them to perform quickly if it means you can't do anything else while it's running.
Ideally, systems administrators schedule backups for a time when the system isn't being used. But 12.0 seems aimed more at users, who might not always have that option. They might shut their computers off at night and need to run backups during the day when other tasks such as e-mail, writing reports, database queries and even Web-browsing are taking place. Given that a full backup can take the better part of an hour, so much unproductive time is not acceptable.
So Ghost 12.0 adds a throttling control with which you can slide a bar and change the performance levels of other programs on the system by controlling the memory, disk access and processor activity of the backup process. You are adjusting the speed of the backup, but Symantec explains it as if you were controlling the speed of other programs. In any case, the throttling controls work great and enable a user to conduct full backups while working on other things, even though this makes the backup process take as long as several hours.
Another advanced option presented in a simple, straightforward way is event-based backups. Here, you can create contingency plans for common events, such as starting a backup if a new program is installed or if the amount of data you are storing suddenly increases by a significant amount. This way, you can help ensure that important information is backed up even if it's relatively new on your computer.
Finally, Ghost 12.0 can be used with backup files from either older versions of Norton Ghost or even Norton Save & Restore. As such, we were able to use our older image files with Ghost 12.0 to take advantage of the new features without having to remake them.
Ghost 12.0 gets a lot friendlier but keeps the same level of reliability found in earlier versions. Because the friendlier interface increases functionality but the price stays about the same at $70, Ghost gets all A grades in our testing.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.