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Norton Ghost installs painlessly, thanks to its familiar Windows interface with wizards that guide you through the process of creating and restoring a disk image. This front-end shell is deceptive, though: the Windows interface acts only as an intermediary between the user and the DOS application that does all the work. Unlike Drive Image and True Image, almost all of Ghost's functions require it to reboot into DOS--the command-line operating system that preceded Windows--which may take time, depending on which Windows OS you're running.
Thankfully, Ghost 2003 has kept pace with the competition in other arenas. This version can copy an exact image of a hard disk or a partition onto an internal hard disk, a network drive, an external USB 1.1/2.0 drive, or a FireWire drive. It also supports removable media, such as recordable CD and DVD drives, and can clone a hard drive onto another system via a network, USB, or parallel connection. Plus, the Ghost Explorer utility, which looks like Windows Explorer, lets you view the contents of an image--both the folders and the files contained within--and extract a single folder or file. The only key feature that's missing is the ability to conveniently schedule backups for a specific time, something that Drive Image 2002 makes easy.
Unfortunately, Ghost's practice of shutting down to DOS while performing basic tasks has several downsides (in XP, Ghost uses its own version of DOS). Namely, it makes your PC unavailable for any other tasks. And in order to run in DOS, Ghost creates a virtual partition on your hard drive. Acronis True Image, on the other hand, switches to DOS only to restore a system disk; it performs all other functions within Windows itself. Drive Image 2002 needs to run in DOS to back up or restore a system disk, but it can image other disks within Windows, as well. If you're looking for a product that will back up and restore key files while you're doing other things, avoid Ghost.
Symantec has done an impressive job of documenting Ghost 2003's features. The app comes with a helpful quick-start guide; a detailed, 200-plus-page written manual; and extensive online help. All of this documentation is necessary, though, since some of the included DOS-based utilities, such as the GDisk partition manager, require cryptic, old-school command-line parameters to operate. The company's Web site offers detailed FAQs, a searchable knowledge base, and free e-mail support. However, phone support is overpriced, at $29.95 per incident or $2.95 per minute, and is available only during business hours on the West Coast.
The bottom line is that Norton Ghost 2003 is still too intimately tied to DOS for us to recommend it to a modern Windows user. For those who've grown to know and love Ghost over the years, this upgrade offers welcome improvements in features and ease of use. We recommend that first-time users select the easier-to-use Acronis True Image or PowerQuest Drive Image 2002.