I’m helping my aunt with her computer, which has some stability problems. It’s a Dell, purchased about a year and a half ago, and her customer service experience was horrible. They eventually replaced her computer with a different model, but she’s never been confident since then.

But this post isn’t about the decline in Dell. It’s about Norton Ghost, a product I used many years ago. Ghost’s core feature was creating an image of the user’s entire hard drive, which could then be restored if needed. It didn’t matter how the drive was partitioned, because it was a sector-by-sector copy, rather than depending on the file system.

My aunt’s computer has the Ghost version that comes with SystemWorks 2006 Premier. I also evaluated, a few weeks back, Ghost 12. There’s still a feature called “Copy Disk”, but it only allows copying a partition, not the entire disk. This is a problem on many recent computers. They often include hidden partitions that contain the factory image, if the user needs to restore the computer to its factory condition. (The fact that this has become a common feature is, frankly, awful. How often are support people telling customers “We can’t fix your problem. Just start over. Oh, and you’ll lose all your data (unless you have a backup), other software installations, and settings.”?)

In effect, if I have a catastrophic disk failure, I can’t restore the machine to its factory state because I can’t create an image of the entire disk, including those hidden partitions. I don’t know if Dell includes instructions on recreating those partitions.

Isn’t it odd that a product’s original–and core–feature has been watered down to be essentially absent? Ghost seems like good backup software, but nothing special. (note: the ability to convert an image to a VMware virtual machine looks pretty cool.)

Acronis True Image is a competing product that I also evaluated. It seems to have a true disk image feature, but I wasn’t testing with a partitioned drive, so I don’t know for sure.

Backups and disaster recovery have been important to me starting with my second computer. I’ll talk more about backups in a future post.

Any thoughts and/or experience out there using Ghost or True Image? What do you use for backups?