I’m an old-school PC guy. I remember when Norton Ghost was useful for cloning an entire hard drive. This came in handy when you needed to get your PC back into a fixed configuration, maybe for system testing or for building an office full of identical PCs. But the current version of Ghost appears to target folk who just want a backup of their hard drive documents.
If you are one of these people you will likely be happy with the simple copy-all-the-files-to-another-place kind of backup solution, for which there is inexpensive, or free, software available. These simpler programs allow you to find your files later, even if they don’t allow for some advanced functionality.
Ghost takes a different approach of packing all of the files to be backed up into a single image, which in turn needs Ghost when it’s time to read back the files. While this approach allows for smaller backups (via compression), it’s a complexity that most backup scenarios don’t need, especially when compression formats like .zip are more widely available and would work much the same way.
Ghost has some nice touches, though. In addition to its imaging capabilities, you can mount backup files as if they were additional discs. Ghost also understands writable optical media and other backup type devices, and you can convert your backup files into VMWare discs, which is useful if you use that particular technology. Ghost also integrates with Google desktop search to find archived files.
User Interface (5 out of 5)
What’s Hot: Ghost’s user interface is tab- and task-driven and very well laid out. The contents of each tab are obvious and almost all of them use a wizard-type approach to find the options you need.
What’s Not: The only really issue is that some of the wizards are a bit long. Though some of the options are hidden behind ‘advanced’ buttons it’s still fairly complex for a simple backup.
Price to Value (3 out of 5)
What’s Hot: At the time of this review, Norton Ghost cost $70.
If you need a backup system that allows for some of the more advanced options listed in this review then Ghost is a pretty good value.
What’s Not: If you’re looking for a general backup system, or a hard drive copying program, there are better and cheaper alternatives.
Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)
What’s Hot: Ghost’s installation is a standard windows installer. It checks drivers for all your hard drives to make sure they are compatilbe with Ghost and checks for, and installs, any updates from Symantec. It does install some drivers and requires a reboot.
What’s Not: I’m always nervous when a program without hardware starts to install drivers. I would like to see an explanation of what functionality I lose if I choose not to install them.
Continue onto the second page to read about the product features, performance, and quality of support.
Product Features (4 out of 5)
What’s Hot: Ghost offers two kinds of backup: supported-disc based and file based.
Disc based takes an image of the entire disc and file based allows you to choose files and folder to add to the backup.
Disc based can fill up space quickly so Ghost allows you to define a base backup and then future backups just add in the differences.
Backups can be scheduled based on day, time, and events, such as log in/out, run a certain application, or install an application.
Disc-based backups can be compressed in different levels–it appears that file-based backups are compressed but there is no choice of compression level.
Backups can be converted to VMWare discs; this is useful if you use that application.
Ghost can notify you of errors or backup status in several different ways, including via email or SNMP–useful for network administrators.
Backups can be controlled on other network computers from a single instance of Ghost.
What’s Not: There is no option in Ghost to back up files without being converted to their backup format. You always need Ghost to restore the files.
I use Microsoft Virtual PC in preference to VMWare, so an option to convert to those disc formats would be useful to me.
Performance (3 out of 5)
What’s Hot: Overall, Ghost’s performance is good. There are advanced options for controlling the CPU and network throttling, if you have these issues.
What’s Not: There were a couple of times when the backup running on my very fast desktop machine was visibly affecting other applications. This didn’t always happen so I am not sure of the issue. When I tried to check Ghost for status it seemed to hang when ‘connecting to the backup service’.
Network backup didn’t seem to match the throughput I get with simple file copies.
Help & Support (4 out of 5)
What’s Hot: Ghost ships with a help file, which covered all of the things I searched for. There is an online FAQ and knowledge base.
Online instant chat is free for support.
What’s Not: For phone support you need a support contract or you can pay $9.95 per incident.
When it comes to backups Norton Ghost does a pretty good job, and it has some interesting features such as the virtual machine creation, but it’s in a crowded field of backup software including free programs that come as part of your operating system. Unless you need some of the special features it has, Ghost is probably not worth the money.
However, if you need network backups, complex imaging-based backups, event-triggered backups, Google desktop integration, or other features described in this review, you’ll find Ghost is a solid product.
Bottom line: Norton Ghost is a good product; it just may be more product than you need.