RADIFIED
Guide to Norton Ghost

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Norton Ghost v9.0 & Hot Imaging

Continued from the introductory page:> Radified Guide to Norton Ghost

New version: 02.august.2004 - Symantec announces the release of Ghost v9.0. Ghost 9 is controversial, because it's not really Ghost. It's actually Drive Image, a similar imaging/cloning product originally developed by PowerQuest, a company Symantec purchased on 05.dec.2003.

The reason Ghost 9 (Drive Image in disguise) is controversial is because it supports a feature Symantec calls 'Hot Imaging', which allows you to to create images of/from a 'LIVE' operating system, while files are able to change.

Hot imaging
might sound attractive to the casual user, but it comes with hidden risks that concern many veterans of the program.

continued from introductory page

NOTE: For version 10, Symantec removed the words "hot-imaging" from its list of features, and replaced them with the words: Makes backups on the fly, without restarting your system .. which is the same thing. It does this from Windows.

Like Ghost 9, Ghost 2003 (the most recent version of real Ghost) also offers a Windows-based interface, but automatically reboots ("drops down") to DOS before creating or restoring the image.

Ghost 9 however, doesn't do this. It images Windows *from* Windows, while the operating system is "live". This is similar to an active sports model taking pictures of herself.

And Symantec designed Ghost 9 so it doesn't allow you to *create* images with/from the Recovery CD, which contains a stripped-down version of Windows, similar to operating in Safe mode, which would offer less chance of conflicting with other programs running concurrently.

The Recovery CD only allows you to *restore* images (rendering a copied CD useless, so you can't "share" it with your friends). In other words, the environment in which you *create* the image is different from the one used to restore it. Anybody see an opportunity for a problem here?

It would be like a football team practicing all year on real grass, then playing the SuperBowl on artificial turf. The change in environment can precipitate unexpected problems. When it really counts (when you need to restore an image), you don't want to encounter any unexpected problems.

Update 29.august.2005 - Learned that you can use a BartPE bootable CD/DVD to *create* and restore images with Ghost9. See this thread titled:> Ghost and BartPE (2002 or 9). For info on how to create and use a BartPE CD/DVD, see this thread (compliments of Brian), titled:> Using Bart's PE Bootable CD/DVD with Ghost9 (which has nearly 75,000 page views).

Another concern is that Symantec is unable to update the version of Ghost contained on the Restore CD (the ghost.exe executable). What happens if a bug is discovered? Prior to v9.0, the ghost.exe executable was updated periodically via Symantec's Live Update feature. But this is not possible with the Restore CD (because the disc is closed).

Unlike Ghost 2003, you have to *install* Drive Image, uh, I mean Ghost 9 (to Windows) in order to use the program .. which (not surprisingly) precipitates problems like this. As a side note, notice how the fix Symantec specifies involves modifying a system file from a DOS prompt.

Also unlike Ghost 2003, Ghost 9 requires product activation (within 30 days, or the program quits working), just like Windows XP.


I'm sure Symantec has their reasons, but many (including myself) feel that imaging a live operating system (*from* a live operating system) introduces risks that are better avoided by using the original Ghost product (v2003), which works from DOS, when Windows is shut down, when it's unable to modify any of its files (such as the registry hive).

Admittedly, the risk is small. But if you have a problem with the restore, the results can be tragic. Personally, I prefer to avoid *any* unnecessary risk, which is why I still use Ghost v2003: the latest version of "true" Ghost (originally developed by Binary Research), which operates from DOS.

I feel Ghost v2003 is more reliable than Ghost 9. Some disagree. I admit I'm superstitious when it comes to (creating & restoring) images, because I know how distressing it can be to lose everything on your hard drive, and have to start over from scratch.

But I've never had a problem with Ghost, either. Not one. And I've created hundreds of images, and restored dozens. Hot imaging also runs the risk of conflicting with other programs running concurrently in Windows, something Ghost 2003 can never do, since it runs from DOS.

Life can become unpleasant if you're unable to restore an image. All my trust has been built in Ghost, not Drive Image. From past experience, I know Ghost works for me. I don't have this same confidence with Drive Image (Ghost 9), which requires you to install Microsoft's .Net bloatware, uh, I mean software.

If you think about imaging the same way a photographer does, you'll realize the clearest pictures result when everything remains still. That's why pro's use a tripod. It holds the camera steady, so the picture comes out sharp & clear. DOS is our tripod to keep Windows stationary so we can take a sharp picture of our sexy operating system with our Ghost camera.

Back before Symantec bought PowerQuest, when Drive Image was still called Drive Image, I received many letters from people who had unexplainable problems with it. They were looking for help. Some even asked me to write a Radified guide for it. Unfortunately, I've never used Drive Image. But I know people who have.

Ghost 9 may be easier to use, which might be why Symantec went that route. Or maybe the bean-counters just needed a new version to sell. I don't know. But I know I'm unwilling to sacrifice reliability for anything, even ease-of-use.

The bottom line with imaging from Windows is .. you can't control all the various processes running in the background, which could generate a conflict or problem. The only way to control these processes is to image from DOS.

Ghost 9 also supports incremental and scheduled back-ups. Perhaps these new features appeal to you, but they do nothing for me. I'm interested primarily in reliability. I need to know I can restore my image & recover my system should the need arise.


It is more difficult to troubleshoot problems with Ghost9, because imaging from Windows involves so many more variables. Imaging from DOS (with v2003) eliminates all the variables associated with Windows.

For an idea of what I'm talking about, head over to the Wilder Security forums, which host a bulletin board dedicated for True Image, a similar Windows-based imaging product. Read some of the posts there and you'll see what I mean. (I mention alternatives to Norton Ghost later in this guide.)

This might be a good place to mention that it doesn't surprise me Symantec shut down their forums prior to releasing Ghost9. The reason can't be financial, because it doesn't cost much to host a forum, and Symantec certainly has the financial wherewithal.

Rather, I feel it's because forums are public. They create a fishbowl effect. Everybody can see the problems others are having. It's true that misery loves company, but corporations would rather be able to claim your problem is an isolated case.

And they can't do that when 50 other people are posting complaints about the same problem. Anybody who has ever dealt with tech support knows how they rarely admit your problem is their fault. It's always due to some "other" factor. They play the blame game on a professional level. You don't stand a chance. (I admit that some tech sppt people are worth their weight in microchips.)

You might be interested to learn Symantec did not convert their Corporate version of Ghost to the Windows-based (Drive Image-based) application, like they did with the Home user version. Could this be because businesses demand more reliability than the casual home user? (who prefers ease-of-use)

To make myself perfectly clear, I am not claiming Ghost 9 is unreliable. Rather, I feel it's simply NOT AS reliable as v2003 (.. for reasons already mentioned). There exists no official database comparing the reliabilty of the two versions. And there never will be. But we can read posts in forums and get a good idea.

Note that Ghost v2003 comes with the retail version of Ghost v9.0. Ghost 2003 is contained on a separate CD that comes tossed into the same box with the Ghost 9 CD. Note where Symantec says the following on their list of features for Ghost 9:

Norton Ghost 2003 is included to back up and restore data to: Windows 9x, Me, NT; Linux®; and DOS systems.

You cannot have both versions installed on your system simultaneously. If you try to install v9.0 with Ghost 2003 already installed, the program will first prompt you to uninstall v2003.

But you don't have to install Ghost 2003 in order to use it, either. Rather, you can simply copy the Ghost executable (ghost.exe) to a bootable floppy diskette, and launch the program from DOS (even with v9.0 installed on your system). Or, you can make yourself a bootable Ghost CD/DVD. But this method is more complicated (> as discussed here).

Hear what somebody who has experience with several different imaging programs (Michael_G.) has to say, in this thread titled: Crazy SATA Image Problrem.. PLEASE HELP!

This is my advice I'd give to other people having problems:

Forget about Ghost 9 and ANY other software that does ANYTHING from Windows ... NOTHING from Windows would work. Not Ghost 9, Ghost 2003, True Image 8... NOTHING would get past the Blue Screen with the Windows logo.

No matter how sexy the GUIs may be, and how cool it is to do a drive copy while in Windows... forget it!!

Make a boot disk, run Ghost 2003 from there, and that's it!!
I wasted 14 hours trying every other way!

Admittedly, his experience is atypical. For more depth on the topic of Ghost 9.0 & the reliability of hot-imaging, see the following letter (posted with permission) from Dan Goodell, who has been using imaging/cloning products since they first came out. He uses them frequently (professionally), and has much experience with DriveImage, upon which Ghost 9 is based. His letter begins like this:

I'm not ready to accept hot-imaging as reliable, but I also think it's too early to judge Ghost 9 until it builds more of a track record. Yet, since it's based on the clearly inadequate Drive Image 7, I'm not holding my breath.

I do take issue, though, with readers who argue Ghost version 9 is a mature product, just because the name has a good reputation. Ghost 9 is a rebranding of a PowerQuest product and bears no resemblance to Ghost 2003 other than the name on the box. It would be more appropriately called
"Windows Ghost version 1".

See here for Dan's commentary on > Norton Ghost 9.0: Reliability of Hot-imaging.

If you're having trouble with Ghost 9, or simply have a question, head over to the Rad forums, where you'll find helpful folk that have experience with this version. You might begin by skimming these 5 threads:

  1. Topic: Ghost 9
  2. Topic: NSW 2005 Premier / Ghost 9.0 / Ghost2003
  3. Topic: Ghost 9.0 rescue disk
  4. Topic: Ghost 9 - BSOD!
  5. Topic: Ghost 9.0 gives an error for undocumented PQI file

Many others are posted.

NOTE: We also have plenty of forums members who use, like and recommend Ghost 9. For a perspective from the other side (Pro-Ghost9), see the thread, from the ever-eloquent Mr. Pleonasm (aka Pleo), who has responded to the points I made here. You deserve to hear both sides, as I have never used Ghost 9. He makes valid points. His (well-written) thread is titled:

One more thing: if you're using Ghost 9.0 with Windows XP Service Pack 2, see this document from Symantec about modifying the Data Execution Prevention (DEP) policy and the Boot.ini file to allow Norton Ghost 9.0 to launch its services during startup.

Also, see this thread titled: Unmounted Drives, where Brian says Ghost 9 works fine for him *without* implementing the DEP fix Symantec claims is necessary to work with WXP SP2.

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