Symantec's Norton Ghost 15: Capable Imaging and Backup
At a Glance
Symantec's Norton Ghost 15 ($60 as of January 11, 2010) substantially improves one of the most capable disk-imaging programs on the market. Some of the new features are of interest only to business IT managers, while others will appeal to consumers. And all of the enhancements make this a powerful tool for anyone serious about backup and recovery.
For the average user, Windows 7 support, Blu-ray disc burning, and a feature Symantec has dubbed "cold imaging" are the most intriguing new features.
Though most imaging products have offered cold imaging--the ability to create a backup image using the recovery CD--for years, it's certainly a welcome addition to Ghost. (I've complained for ages about the feature's absence from Ghost and other Symantec imaging products.) Ghost 15's version of the feature, which copies only entire partitions, performed quickly and perfectly in my tests. A notable annoyance: You must enter the program serial number each time you use the feature. Recovery doesn't require a serial number.
The only real drawbacks with Ghost relate to using the Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE)-based recovery CD. It's slow to boot, but more significantly it requires 1GB of RAM. While that may not seem like a lot these days, plenty of PCs top out at 512MB or less.
Unfortunately, the recovery CD has severe limitations, too. Once upon a time, in lieu of creating an image, Norton's recovery CDs offered a file browser that allowed copying at the file level. The browser is still there, but all file functions have been disabled. I wish Symantec would reinstate the file functions and stop assuming the worst of its users, who deserve to be treated as valued customers and not pirates.
IT managers in small and medium-size businesses will appreciate the ability to schedule conversion of images to VMware ESX 3.5i/4.0i and 3.5/4.0 virtual machine format. The new version also offers support for Microsoft's Hyper-V virtual server format.
Norton Ghost 15 is a powerful, extremely reliable imaging program, and its PE-based recovery CD usually works on the few machines where Linux-based recovery CDs do not. Its conversion of full backups to virtual machines is top-notch, as well. However, though I keep the program in my recovery toolbox, Symantec's recovery-CD restrictions mean that it will see use only when other products fail.
For users who mostly stay inside Windows and use the boot disc only occasionally, Ghost 15 should provide stiff competition for Acronis True Image. However, the Acronis recovery disc's faster boot time and lighter memory requirements make it a far better tool for cold imaging.