January 07, 2010


Norton Ghost 15.0. Windows 7, Vista or XP/SP2. Symantec. $69.99.

     Symantec’s Norton Ghost may have been too aptly named. It sometimes seems like a wisp of a thing, spotted rarely in the real world, true and meaningful to those who believe in it but irrelevant and for all purposes nonexistent for everyone else. It is a top-notch product that delivers exactly what it promises, but it is also a product that makes sense for only a limited number of business and personal computer users.

     Norton Ghost is essentially a backup utility – one among many, and at $70 for use on a single computer, a very pricey solution. What makes it worthwhile for backup fanatics – there are such people, and arguably should be more of them – is the thoroughness of the job it does and the number of ways it allows users to protect their data. The new version, Norton Ghost 15.0, adds something not available before: cold imaging, which means the ability to back up files without actually installing the product. This is a very neat trick – it certainly saves time – but it is merely the latest in a series of backup availabilities within the Ghost line.

     Consider: the software backs up a PC automatically if a serious security threat is discovered through Symantec’s ThreatCon, a complex indicator of potential malware. Ghost does a full system backup – not just files and folders, but everything – through a process called imaging; and it can back up an entire drive or only part of it, if the drive is partitioned. Ghost can also back up selectively – only specific files and folders, only certain types of files and folders (such as documents or photos), or only files that have changed since the last use (incremental backup). Norton Ghost 15.0 is the first version of the software designed for compatibility with the Windows 7 operating system. It is also the first version that supports use of 25G and 50G Blue-ray discs (as well as such backup media as external hard drives, networked drives, CDs and DVDs).

     Now consider: is all this information fascinating, or are your eyes glazing over? Only in the first case should you even consider Norton Ghost 15.0. The fact is that this software does very little that is not done elsewhere for less money or with greater utility. You can back up two gigabytes of selected files and folders online using Mozy, for example – for free (larger backups are available for a fee). You can buy a 250-gig Seagate Replica external hard drive for not much more than the cost of Norton Ghost 15.0, plug the drive in, and have automatic full-system and incremental backups running constantly while your computer is turned on – no tweaking required. If you are impressed with the way Norton Ghost 15.0 stores recovery points at offsite locations using FTP, you may want to consider the software. But if you simply like the flexibility of being able to decide whether to do backups based on a schedule or based on an event (such as new-software installation), you have plenty of other options. If enhanced data security through Windows 7 Bitlocker is crucial to you, then the fact that Norton Ghost 15.0 is supported by this protective feature is a big plus for buying it; if this is not a factor in your everyday personal or work life, the Ghost approach is overkill.

     And that is finally the weakness of Norton Ghost 15.0, as it was of earlier versions of the product. This is a top-notch, full-featured backup utility that gives users more control over the backup process, in more ways, than they will find almost anywhere else. But the reality of computer use today is that too few people do any backups at all, and those who do them usually want them to be as simple, seamless and uninvolving as possible – so the people can get on with their everyday work, not spend time configuring and managing backups of it. For individuals and businesses that need tremendous flexibility and high-level data protection, Norton Ghost 15.0 is an excellent investment and as robust a program as anyone could want. But it is not simple; it is not straightforward; and it does not provide substantial advantages over less-complex, less-expensive (or even free) forms of backup for people simply seeking basic data protection. Power users and corporations with significant security needs should certainly consider Norton Ghost 15.0. For most people, though, the product will remain as hard to grasp as the spirit for which it is named.

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