Drive Cloning Software Simplifies the Set-up Chore

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, January 1999

The word clones makes most of us a little uncomfortable. Images of bad science fiction novels. Movies like The Boys from Brazil, with its host of identical little Hitlers. Or new stories of genetical manipulation?even cloning fuzzy animals like sheep aren?t enough to make us feel at home with the concept.

Despite that, software to clone entire systems can prove useful in a number of cases. Businesses, faced with setting up tens, hundreds, or even thousands of newly-purchased systems can appreciate the time saved in having to install the collection of software just once, then cloning it onto as many machines as needed.

Individuals may appreciate cloning software as a replacement for traditional backups, with some unique advantages.

And companies producing or distributing hardware may find it an ideal way to easily produce systems with just the configurations desired by their customers. Vendors or system OEMs can use them to create image disks to distribute with new systems, allowing customers to restore their machines to the original state.

We looked at two system clone utilities: Drive Image 2.0 from PowerQuest Corporation (, and Ghost 5.0, originally produced by New Zealand?s Binary Research, but now sold by utilities giant, Symantec (

Both offer some many similar features?both are, at heart, DOS programs. Drive Image will happily add icons to your Windows Start Menu, but will insist on running in single-tasking MS-DOS Mode. This is required because when multitasking, it becomes difficult to properly backup  or restore files that are in use by the operating system. Booting to DOS enables either program to create an image file of everything on your drive?including the long file names and Windows Registry items that are sometimes not properly backed up by traditional backup utilities.

Both are really simple (in fact, Ghost ships on a single floppy diskette?what was the last program you bought that did that?). All that?s needed is to create an image file of everything on a computer?s hard disk, saving it to some appropriate media.

Then, run the utility?s Restore function, creating a clone of the original machine on another one.

Both programs support cloning of multiple operating systems, including DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 9x, NT, Unix, Linux, Netware, and OS/2, and can support restores across a variety of connection methods.

Drive Image uses a Windows-like look and feel, even though, like Ghost, it is really operating under DOS. While Ghost doesn?t try to clone the Win95 user interface, it offers both a usable graphical interface, and a quick and dirty command-line mode.

Both support re-partitioning the target machine ?on the fly??if the target machine is not currently partitioned the same as the source, they can re-partition as needed. And both are smart enough to not try to create a partition larger than the existing hard drive! Both are faster than traditional backup/restore software because they do not work file by file, but instead clone the total drive contents. In fact, creating a system from a drive image can reduce setup time from several hours to five minutes or so.

Each program has a way to work around a potential barrier to cloning: NT uses a System ID #, which needs to be unique on each machine on a network. Earlier versions of each program was unable to deal with this. The latest versions, however, provide workarounds?single floppy Ghost, for instance, includes a second diskette, with Ghost-Walker, an NT  SID-Changing utility. Drive Image works with Microsoft?s new NT System Preparation Tool to resolve this potential problem.

Ghost, however, has a feature not currently supported by Drive Image, that may make it the product to buy for some situations. It supports network multicasting?a single drive image can be sent, at one time, to multiple workstations, over a TCP/IP network. The company reports that it can take as little as 5 minutes or so to multicast a 300 meg image across a network to multiple machines. That?s not going to help an OEM preparing computer systems one at a time, but could be a tremendous time-saver in a corporate environment.

Drive Image Pro costs US$695 for a license that allows a single user to work on an unlimited number of computers. The company also offers the US$69.95 Drive Image 2.0, with a license limited to a single user and a single computer. Both products are available at a variety of retail and software distribution sources, as well as directly from PowerQuest.

Ghost Professional 5.0 costs US$750, plus $3.50 to $15 per seat up to 10,000. Symantec has no plans to make it available via traditional retail channels?they are distributing it in a plain brown box, only. To purchase Ghost, contact Binary Research at 1-888-GHOST-98 (1-888-446-7898) or e-mail at A trial version is available for download from

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan