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Norton Ghost 12.0 is no phantom of its former self

First INQpressions Tomb with a view
Tue Jul 17 2007, 14:56

Product: Norton Ghost 12.0
Website: WWW.SYMANTEC.COM
System Requirements : Windows Vista Home Basic/Home Premium/Business/Ultimate, Windows XP Pro/Home/Media Centre with SP 2 Home, 300MHz or higher processor, 512MB RAM, 160MB HDD space, Microsoft .NET 2.0 Framework, DVD or CD drive, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher
Price: €60, £40, $70

THERE HAVE BEEN many changes to Symantec Norton Ghost over recent years. Changes from being just a file based back-up program, to a sector based back-up product after PowerQuest was enveloped in the company.

This was a big change, as their DriveImage software now became Ghost 9 and helped drive it to more respectability in advanced users and the enterprise. Now entering its umpteenth edition, shipping as 12.0, a bit misleading as it's not really the 12th iteration. This time it's the 2005 acquisition of Veritas to become a part of the fold and incorporated into Ghost with some of those suites.

Symantec decided to drop a release and skip a year, missing version 11 altogether. They did release the Norton Save & Restore during this time, a junior version of-sorts, built on Ghost technology and filling the gap in a way.

Just for a real comparison on features and what's so great about version 12, we went to install Ghost 10. This proved to be troublesome to say the least, throwing up “Program has known compatibility issues” or "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" as we saw it. Not all that surprising, seeing as this is the first version to support Vista - beside even run on it.

Now, I won't harp on about Ghost recovery points or how Norton 12 back-ups as nothing much has changed. Those who have used it, know, those who haven't need to know Ghost primarily back-ups live from within the OS or hot-imaging. As I'm sure you're more interested in what's new as compared to the previous, just as we were.

After installation back-ups can be taken straight away, with the option of My Documents, Program Files, plus temporary files being backed up separately from the OS and for the first time. Creating more usefulness rather than a tool for just backing up the OS.

A word here about files and folder backup within Ghost 12, a plethora of file extensions can be recognised and individually backed up. From our testing and random selections, there isn't one that wasn't included. Ideal seeing as you can now search in recovery points for your files and their various iterations. All from Google Desktop, if installed, via a plug-in that comes with the software. Technology for this derives from, yep you've guessed it, Symantec Backup Exec Retrieve - a fine product from the Veritas side of the business.

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Ghost 12 file back-up functionality

Ghost 10 didn't impress us, more so now we see 12 in comparison. There's a feature, which should have been in every version so far, just hammering our point home. It's the ability to create a customised recovery-disc based on the hardware in the computer and its working drivers. Saving all that F6 pressing and selecting optional drivers for use with the bog-standard boot disc supplied. This disc is to be used when the system won't boot into windows and the back-up image is accessible.

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All there really was to Ghost 10

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Sample of features in Ghost 12

Whilst we're on the subject of recovery disc, one of the most bothering features of Ghost 10 was its boot up time. On our rather cutting edge Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM, 80GB S-ATA HDD system it took over 6 minutes. Whilst the Ghost 12 disc took less than 2, a great improvement we think. Especially seeing as systems have become more advanced in the last two years and not simpler in design. The quick boot-up time could be down to the recovery disc being now based on Windows PE 2.0 and having as rather Vista-ry feel to it.

Absent from the recovery disc and sorry to dwell, is the feature to cold-image. As in take an image of the HDD or partitions without impacting the system by installing software. This is normally done through the boot CD provided. As to restore a whole OS, you need to boot to the recovery disc anyway.

It's a feature that has been missing-in-action and since Ghost 2003 (four editions ago). In saying that, there was a cheeky, undocumented way to do it in Ghost 10. All in all, it's a very useful tool and is sadly missing from 12.0, we still hunt around for it every time a new version of Ghost arrives.

For one, you could take an image of a dead system before you restore, obtaining valuable files to recover at your leisure. With that in mind, there's a new feature coming across from the LiveState recovery Veritas software that enables you to convert a Ghost 12 image into a virtual machine image. This would be excellent if doubled up with the cold-imaging function for use in corrupt system recovery.

We were told in our briefing by the Symantec Ghost product manager that this new software was able to restore previous images, so we tried just that. It failed to restore the Ghost 10 images or even recognise the old .gho images via the recovery disc. Not the best for legacy images then, even though two years does not equal legacy in our books.

Just a quick note on dual-boot systems and non-Windows file systems back-up and recovery. It's possible and supported within Ghost 12, just as long as it's hidden initially from the OS - it can be seen from Norton Ghost. We tried this and all seem to work rather pleasingly.

A nice touch and excuse the bad pun is the integration with Ghost 12 and Maxtor OneTouch external HDDs. Sadly we weren't able to test this out, as the unit we requested hadn't arrived in time - it sounds a useful feature. If all goes as well and it reads just to be that, pressing Maxtor recovery button automatically backs-up the system with Ghost.

The above falls into the range of Symantec event triggered back-ups for Ghost, a few others exist that are worth a quick mention. Automatic back-up to kick off every time a new application is seen to be installed, also when a new user logs on/logs off are all worthy triggers. Just don't get too trigger happy, as hard drive space can be a precious thing.

Another key feature in Ghost 12 and one they're keen to promote, is the LightsOut Restore. This is new technology built in to Ghost 12, from the Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery suite. The software can now remotely restore a computer. Great to see tools being shared across the ranges, we're sure enterprise customers will find this useful. Although we're not so sure the more advanced tech enthusiast, to whom the product is aimed will - plus two licences are needed.

Normally around this mark we're produce some screenshots around benchmarking, unfortunately there are no benchmarks for Ghost or backing-up so bear with us. So instead, we managed to install Windows XP, installed Ghost 10 and show a comparison of back-up and recovery times just for your reading pleasure.

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Norton Ghost 12 Back-up

Hot-imaging of two partitions, 5GB and 30GB with 18GB in total of date, took 27 minutes. It took around the same time to restore from the recovery disc - a good all around time with no bother.

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Norton Ghost 10 Back-up

Hot-imaging from the same sized partition but with 5GB LESS in the OS, produced a 10 minute time difference. However, in restoration it was over 10 minutes longer than Ghost 12 - this is where it counts in our opinion, not in the backing-up.

There are two types of people that back-up regularly. The first are the cautious type that always has from day one of owning a computer. The second have been hit with a system failure, lost everything, have now learnt from the experience and do so from then on. Unfortunately, this reviewer falls in to the latter, as just before going to press with this review it happened. I only lost what I was working on just before and everything else was fine, but a few pieces of work were hit and I had to start all over again.

In Short

Take a word from the wise, or not so wise in this case - back-up now, use Norton Ghost 12.0.

The Good
OS and file backup, Vista support, Virtual imaging, remote restore

The Bad
Lack of Cold-Imaging, lack of support for legacy images

The Ugly
Many of these features should have been in the previous Ghost

Bartender's Report
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