A friendly ghost, a helpful boot, and a little lab noir

A friendly ghost, a helpful boot, and a little lab noir

Loose cables is an irreverent look behind the scenes at testing computer products, in particular at IDG's Infoworld lab in the US. Our insights are gleaned during the long hours spent testing, and even longer hours spent sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funby Eric Hammond and Dylan TweneyWith nearly 300 clients to configure when we're building a test bed, installation floppies and CD-ROMs aren't a rat's best friend. Fortunately, there are a couple of tools we use to make the installation and configuration process a bit more bearable on such a large scale.

We've been a fan of Innovative Software's Ghost for a while. We reviewed version 3.1a last fourth quarter. Ghost matched up well against Image-Blaster Pro 2.1, another software-based disk-image duplicator, by offering greater compression and handling disk-surface problems. Meanwhile, Ghost has revved to a 4.1a version, and a version 5 beta release is now available. We currently use version 4.0a.

If you really must know, Ghost actually stands for General Hardware Oriented System Transfer - it remotely distributes images to client machines from a central server. The product works with a variety of server operating systems and several different network protocols. Ghost also doesn't care what the client operating system is. We always find a way to blast out images as quickly as possible.

We also like Ghost's multicast capability which reduces traffic on our network and makes high-volume configurations much easier. You can get more information about the product at

The second tool of choice is System Commander from V Communications ( System Commander is the easiest way we've found to load multiple operating systems on a single system.

The product can handle Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 3.x, Windows NT, DOS, OS/2, and all PC-compatible Unix flavours. The latest Deluxe edition also includes disk-partitioning capabilities and universal mouse support.

As a system boots, System Commander presents a menu offering a choice of the various operating systems available. In addition to stand-alone benefits, the software lets us occasionally share systems across different projects. In the rat-eat-rat world of completing Test Centre Comparisons, sharing skills are sometimes hard to come by.

It was a rainy afternoon. The sky outside the Test Centre was gun-metal grey. We were wondering where our next enterprise-class case was going to come from when suddenly, there it was - tossed in through the transom with a gleaming press kit and a stack of colour glossies.

It was a looker, all right, from its chrome handle to its futuristic black trim. It was nothing like the racks of anonymous beige work- stations we spend most days with. It had style, and it knew it. This could make a great review, but there was one small problem: it was a razor - a shiny new Gillette Mach3 sent our way by a confused public relations agency trying to get someone's attention.

We knew the razor came from the other side of the tracks - the good side. It just did not look too comfortable here in the Test Centre among the wiring, database servers, and scattered installation disks. Even with three blades, it was clear the razor couldn't stand up to enterprise-level workloads. Besides, we were fresh out of shaving cream.

In the end, the razor went home with one of the editors, but we think the relationship is probably doomed. After all, the editor is a lab rat, and the razor doesn't even use electricity.

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