Disk-image duplication software has saved my day more than once.

When Windows 95 heads south, I can retrieve the image of a proper configuration from my network and have my system back up in a matter of minutes. I compared the latest version of Innovative Software's market-leading Ghost with Quarterdeck's just-launched DiskClone Corporate 1.0, and I found the mature Ghost is still your best bet for reliable, fast system installation and disk duplication.

Ghost 5.0d boosts the product's already ample complement of features with the capability to handle partitions and support for multicasting, as well as an even better user interface and faster performance. I liked DiskClone's capability to make a self-extracting executable, but I found its user interface quirky and other aspects of the product inconvenient. DiskClone has a way to go to match Ghost and PowerQuest's Drive Image Pro software.

We like to think that everything's up to date. So it comes as a surprise to some that disk-image copier programs, including Ghost and DiskClone, are DOS-based. At a very low level, multitasking operating systems muddy the water - making it difficult to create a reliable disk image and impossible to use one.

An advantage of running under DOS is that these programs can support extensive command-line options which can cause the programs to run from a batch file without human interaction. It's easy to create a floppy disk that can boot a PC to a server, or to load drivers for a parallel port disk system and to automatically start a data transfer. This can also be a boon to someone who has to upgrade or configure lots of PCs.

Rolling out different systems

Both of the products produce disks that are functionally identical to the master disk. That's great if all of your computers are identical, which of course is rarely the case.

Innovative Software gives excellent advice on how to use Ghost to roll out images to different systems. But Quarterdeck recommends onscreen that you use DiskClone's disks only on the system from which it was copied.

Windows NT's SID

Another issue to consider when rolling out PCs is Windows NT's System ID (SID). Each NT system is given a unique SID at installation. If you use disk-image copier software to duplicate the NT machine, the SIDs will be the same on the copy and source machines. Once again, Ghost comes through on this issue. Its SID changing software, Ghost Walker, takes care of the matter. DiskClone's documentation doesn't mention the problem, and the product has no apparent way of dealing with SIDs.

During the past few years, disk-image duplication products have become much faster. I'm making disk images that are four times larger in half the time. In my tests, Ghost proved to be somewhat faster than DiskClone.

DiskClone is the first disk-image copier I've encountered that required me to reboot my PC before copying a new drive image onto the disk. If the copy changes the partition table, DiskClone wants to reboot after destroying the existing disk partitions. During the past few years, I've taken to having a DOS partition on my hard drives and a boot manager. So when it's time to redo the drive, I boot to DOS and run the disk-image copier.

This approach didn't work too well with DiskClone. When DiskClone rebooted my PC, the PC discovered its hard drive was no longer bootable. I scrambled around to find a DOS boot diskette and continued the drive image copy with no further problems. Needless to say, the whole process was very inconvenient.

DiskClone is a good program, but it is outpaced by the seasoned competition. Ghost is easily my first choice. Comparable in features, Ghost is way ahead of DiskClone in copy speeds. vGhost 5.0dInnovative Software's Ghost created this market and still has an edge in robustness and compression.

Pros: Supports multicasting; can work with partitioned disks; Ghost Walker System ID (SID) changing softwareCons: None significantPlatforms: Runs on DOS only but can copy disks for most platformsPrice: Single access technician licence is $1200 RRP; educational multicast starts at $10 RRP per PC; configuration licence starts at $8 per useProtocol Information TechnologyTel (03) 6224 7222 fax (03) 6224 7422DiskClone CorporateAlthough DiskClone has some good features, such as the capability to create a self-extracting and -installing image, rough edges and poor ergonomics remind us it isn't Ghost.

Pros: Can make a self-extracting executable; prevents data from being copied to bad areas on target diskCons: Strange user interface; doesn't support SID changing; requires a reboot when changing the target disk's partition tablePlatforms: Runs on DOS only but can copy disks for most platformsPrice: Not available yet.

Quarterdeck Australia

Tel (02) 9545 4072 fax (02) 9545 4069