Symantec's Norton Ghost 9.0 takes a major leap forward by allowing Windows XP and 2000 users to create byte-by-byte hard disk backups--useful for mirroring standard software configurations across new office desktops--without rebooting their PC or leaving Windows. Ghost 9.0 now lets you make a duplicate "image" of your hard drive's contents--copying all the files, programs, and settings--by incorporating technology from , an imaging tool that Symantec acquired when it purchased PowerQuest Corporation in 2003. Version 9.0's predecessor, , forced you to reboot and load DOS before running a backup, a clunky design that made Windows inaccessible until the backup was complete. But while Ghost 9.0 shows great promise, its backup and overall performance speed still lags behind that of , a product that also offers more features for the same price. Norton Ghost 9.0 is best for upgraders; everyone else should choose Acronis True Image. Norton Ghost 9.0 installs in just a few minutes. A helpful setup wizard steps you through the basics--a few mouse clicks and you're done--before automatically rebooting your computer. It's very easy, but we have one gripe: Ghost drops an icon in Windows' Taskbar tray, a narrow corner of screen space that's often jam-packed with too many icons. According to Symantec tech support, there's no way to delete the tray icon.
Overall, though, the Ghost interface is quite good. Like most Symantec utilities, Ghost sports a clean and cogent look. Task descriptions, such as "Copy one drive to another," are easy to understand without a lot of geek-speak.
There's room for improvement, however. The Drive Backup Wizard, for instance, lists three backup options (standard, medium, or high compression) but doesn't explain the pros and cons of each. Does a medium archive take longer to compress? What's the file size of a standard backup? For answers, you'll have to search the help file or manual. By comparison, Acronis True Image estimates the file size for each compression choice and gives you a ballpark figure of the time it'll take to perform a given backup.
One of Version 9.0's best upgrades is its new backup scheduler, a must-have tool that was surprisingly absent from Ghost 2003. Now you can schedule one-time, weekly, or monthly backups in the Backup Job Wizard by setting a day and time (for example, Sunday at 10 a.m.) and letting Ghost run unattended. Once again, however, True Image does it better by providing several schedule options not found in Ghost, including the ability to run backups when you first log on to Windows or when your PC starts or shuts down--the only times when your Windows system files are available to be copied.Norton Ghost 9.0 blends the best of version 2003 and PowerQuest Drive Image into a solid backup utility. Its crowning glory, borrowed from Drive Image, is the ability to create disk images without leaving Windows, a major improvement over Ghost 2003's awkward approach of rebooting into DOS to run backup and restore jobs. Ghost 9.0 also works with USB, USB 2.0, and FireWire removable storage devices, as well as with CD and DVD writers, and it offers optional password protection, easily configurable via the Drive Backup Wizard. These are all good standard features to have.
But there are a few caveats. Firstly, Ghost 9.0 works only with Windows XP and 2000 Pro (SP2 or newer), although its retail package includes a separate copy of DOS-based Ghost 2003 for Windows 95/98 users. Secondly, Ghost 9.0 is backward compatible with the Windows-based PowerQuest Drive Image but not the DOS-based Ghost 2003, so Ghost 9.0 users can access and restore only copied data created with Ghost 9.0 or previous versions of Drive Image.
More shortcomings? Unfortunately, yes. Unlike Acronis True Image, Ghost 9.0 won't partition and format drives, which is a helpful tool when copying an image to another disk. Rather, Symantec recommends that you purchase its $69.95 Norton Partition Magic for this task. And Norton's disk-wiping tool--handy for destroying all data on a disk before reusing it--is available only on the Ghost 2003 CD (in other words, its doesn't even load with the standard Ghost 9.0 installation).