Symantec Norton Ghost 12 Review - Good but Overpriced Disk Imaging Tool

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Before virtual machine technology became mainstream, the preferred method for saving the contents of a computer at a specific state and then restoring that computer to that state was to use disk imaging (or disk cloning). When I was first introduced to this technology, there was really only one game in town, DriveImage Pro by PowerQuest. DriveImage was billed mainly as imaging software, not as backup software. Ghost came on the scene around the same time and competed with DriveImage. Both products were later brought into the Symantec line under the name Ghost when their parent companies were purchased by Symantec.

With the popularity of virtual machine technology, the need for imaging per se diminished particularly as a means of saving the system state. However, the power of imaging software could still be leveraged for creating and managing file or disk backups. Imaging software essentially creates a compressed copy of files or disks and maintains the structure and properties of those files or disks. This means, large amounts of data can be stored in a smaller space and then restored with no loss of fidelity, structure, or attributes. Symantec is now selling version 12 of Norton Ghost mainly as a backup utility.

Norton Ghost 12 does everything one would expect from a backup utility. The interface is easy to use and the product is robust. Less clear is whether a product like Ghost has enough flesh and bones to make it worth buying. Many security suites now come bundled with backup software and even Windows Vista has a robust, built-in backup system that uses imaging technology much like Ghost’s. Is Noton Ghost 12 worth the money? Read on to find out.

Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:&nbspInstallation of Norton Ghost 12 was fairly standard. Symantec uses a typical wizard-based, MS installer. There were no unique dialog boxes or non-standard system modifications. The installation did require a reboot so the installation does add some runtime applications to the computer. My free disk space shrunk by a modestly substantial 209 Mb and 2870 registry keys were created. The product can be uninstalled by rerunning the setup package. The uninstaller left roughly 24Mb of files on the system and deleted only 45 of the registry keys created by the installer.

Price to Value (3 out of 5)

What’s Not:&nbspAt close to $70, Norton Ghost 12 is overpriced. It’s overpriced not because it doesn’t do its job well but because similar (and in my opinion, better) products like Acronis TrueImage do the same job for less money. If you’re looking at Norton Ghost 12 for backup functionality only, make sure your security software doesn’t already have backup software included. If you’re using Windows Vista, save your money and use Backup and Restore.

User Interface (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:&nbsp

The Norton Ghost 12 user interface is clean and generally clear. It uses a tabbed interface with a common content area. The UI is broken down into five main areas: Home, Status, Tasks, Tools, and Advanced. The Status tab provides a clean view of all the backup jobs currently scheduled and a calendar view of past and future jobs. New backup jobs can be created by right-clicking in the backup job’s table.

Product Features (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:&nbsp

Once I got my mind around the fact that Norton Ghost 12 is billed as a backup and recovery utility, it made it easier for me to understand the feature set. From the perspective of a backup utility, Norton Ghost 12 has everything one would want. It allows for on-demand or scheduled backups and for on-demand disk or file recovery. It also includes a few extras.

Norton Ghost 12 supports full Recovery Point management. Recovery Points are full system backups. Recovery points can be “mounted” from within Norton Ghost 12. This enables users to view the files contained within the recovery point and restore them if necessary.

In my opinion, it is this ability to mount a backup set that gives a product like Norton Ghost 12 most of its power. As a backup utility, its usefulness is margina,l particularly for users running Vista or a modern security suite that includes a backup tool.

Features: Imaging (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:&nbsp

Norton Ghost 12 functions mainly as a disk imaging tool. I used Norton Ghost 12 in a corporate environment to create “clean machine” disk images which can be restored to a specific computer in order to have a clean environment on which to test. Symantec is attempting to expand that rather utilitarian purpose by billing Norton Ghost 12 as a backup utility. The Easy Setup tool allows users to back up their entire hard disk and their “My Documents” folder with a single click.

Performance (3 out of 5)

What’s Not:&nbspThe Norton Ghost 12 user interface performed admirably although sluggishly at times. I had some problems with some UI behaviors where windows would open when I didn’t explicitly ask them to open. Also, operations either wouldn’t cancel or would take a while to stop after pressing the cancel button. The backup and restore features seemed to perform more slowly than other similar applications.


Easy Setup

First Run

Install options

Live update

Mount restore point

Create restore point

Main UI

User Interface: Status

User Interface: Tools

Suggested Features

  • Include the ability to save data to a mounted restore point.
  • Tighter OS integration (Vista positioning).
  • Update the look and feel.
  • Speed improvements.


Norton Ghost 12 does its job well. It’s been an industry leader for years and functions like a mature product. Symantec’s positioning of Norton Ghost 12 as mainly a backup application may undermine its position somewhat. Backup software, while becoming more important as more data moves to digital format, is becoming commoditized. One of the strongest assets of Norton Ghost 12 is the ability to create a disk image and mount that image as a Windows disk drive. Unfortunately, Norton Ghost 12 does not support saving data to the image after its loaded. This puts it a step or two behind strong competitors like TrueImage by Acronis.