Norton Ghost 15: the famous disk cloning tool reviewed

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This article appeared in the June, 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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Norton Ghost 15: the famous disk cloning tool reviewed

Norton Ghost has come a long way; once a simple disk-cloning tool, it now combines imaging features with incremental backup at the disk, partition and file level, to deliver what Symantec calls "professional grade backup". That makes it a rival to Acronis True Image Home 2010 - but it isn't a direct equivalent.

Most glaringly, there's nothing here to match Acronis' Nonstop Backup service, which maintains an almost real-time roll-back history of changes to files and folders. Nor is online storage integrated into the package.

True Image Home also makes Ghost feel rather clunky to use. The latter is arranged largely around settings rather than actions, and each of the main tabs exposes a completely different interface.

At the same time, Norton does have some strengths over Acronis' package. The Ghost bootable CD environment is the most versatile we've seen, allowing you to slipstream storage and wired network drivers into the package as required, along with signature updates for the built-in virus scanner.

We also like the off-site backup feature, which can mirror your backups to a remote destination at the same time as they're written to a local disk. If your off-site storage is unavailable, you can specify a fallback destination, or let Ghost upload the backup as and when the original host becomes available.

Incremental backups can be scheduled, or triggered by events such as a user logging off or Symantec raising its "ThreatCon" virus alert to a user-specified level. The software can also be set to run batch files or VBScripts before or after a backup job - handy if you need to close down an application to back up its data files.

As with many modern imaging packages, Ghost lets you mount images as virtual drives in Windows, or convert them into VMware or Hyper-V volumes for access within a VM. You can also set up and launch backup and restore jobs across multiple networked PCs - although you'll need a licence for each machine.

This manageable approach, coupled with Ghost's reassuring approach to off-site backups, makes the package well worth a look for anyone running a small office. At $100 per client, though, it isn't cheap, and for home use we'd have preferred to trade some of Ghost's "Professional" sophistications for a more accessible interface.

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