Lengthy installation process
While many Symantec products are available as free downloads for a 30-day trial period, Norton Ghost is not one of them. The boxed and downloadable versions each sell for $69.95, so before you invest in Ghost--and if you plan to use it with a CD-R/RW drive--check out Norton's compatibility list. (Note: Ghost will not work with CD-R/RW drives that are connected via a USB cable.)
Backs up everything
Ghost is designed to make exact images of your hard drive, but it's not practical for everyday backups. Since you normally can't back up open files, such as the Windows Registry, you can't make an exact disk image while Windows is running. Ghost works around this by using a special boot disk, a floppy disk that you insert in the drive before starting your computer that boots your computer straight into DOS, bypassing Windows. Thus, the first step in the Ghost configuration process makes the boot disk--which is a royal pain. Thankfully, you need to do this only once.
While Ghost is good for disaster recovery, it's not something you need every day. You'll have to reboot your computer in order to use Ghost, which is not the case with Retrospect, NovaBackup, Simple Backup, or GoBack. And with Ghost, you select whole drives, not individual folders or files, so your backups result in much larger files with Ghost than with these other products.
Ghost's true usefulness shines when you're making a copy of one computer to load onto another machine, another drive on the same computer, or onto removable media, such as CD-R/RWs. It also supports DOS, OS/2, and Linux, in addition to Windows--more operating system options than the other products reviewed.
Complete data restoration
The restore feature of Ghost is as easy to use as other backup programs'. While Ghost uses a separate DOS program for backups, it ships with a Windows-based extraction tool, Ghost Explorer. When you need to restore a file, Ghost Explorer looks through the folders and files in a Ghost image. Once you find the file you need, restoring it to your hard drive is as easy as copying a file from one folder to another.
What's different about Ghost
Ghost ships with one extra nonbackup-related utility, called GDisk. GDisk replaces FDisk, a familiar DOS utility that partitions and formats hard drives and is used for working with disk partitions. It's definitely a power tool, however, so if you don't know what you're doing, leave disk partitioning to the pros.
Overall, Ghost does a complete job of creating backups that are useful after major disasters or for migrating to new hardware. However, it isn't really an everyday backup tool as Retrospect, NovaBackup, Simple Backup, and GoBack are. They give you better backup utility at a lower price.