Ghost is a disk cloning program, originally produced by Binary Research, but purchased by Symantec in 1998. Ghost was the program that originated the disk-cloning software market. The name originally was an acronym for "General Hardware Oriented Software Transfer".
Ghost was originally written by Murray Haszard in 1996, using the experience of a parallel and serial file-copying program previously produced by Binary Research. Initially, Ghost supported only FAT filesystems directly, but it could also copy (although not resize) other filesystems by performing a sector copy. Ghost added support for the NTFS filesystem later that year, and also provided a program to change the Security ID (SID) that made Windows NT systems distinguishable from each other. Support for the ext2 filesystem was added in 1999 and for ext3 subsequently.
Ghost was developed in Auckland, New Zealand and, although a few functions such as translation into other languages are now carried out elsewhere, the main development and quality assurance is still in Auckland.
The first versions of Ghost supported only the cloning of entire disks, but version 3.1 in 1997 allowed the cloning of individual partitions as well. A disk or partition could be cloned to another disk or partition, or to an image file which could be restored to another machine or the same machine later. Ghost allowed a clone or image to be made to a second disk in the same machine or to another machine linked by a parallel or network cable, and an image could be written to a network drive or tape drive.
Version 4.0 of Ghost added multicast technology (following the lead of a competitor, ImageCast). Multicast allows a single image to be sent simultaneously to many machines without putting greater stress on the network than sending an image to a single machine.
This version also introduced Ghost Explorer, a Windows program which allowed a user to browse the contents of an image file and extract individual files from it. Explorer was subsequently enhanced to allow files to be added to or deleted from FAT (and later ext2 and ext3) filesystems in an image. Files could be extracted from NTFS images but NTFS images cannot be edited. Ghost Explorer could work with older images but access was slow; version 4 images contained indexes to find files rapidly.
Version 4.0 also moved from real-mode DOS to 286 protected-mode. The additional memory available allowed Ghost to provide several levels of compression for images, and to provide a file browser.
In 1998, Ghost 4.1 allowed images to be password protected.
Version 5.0 moved to 386 protected mode. Unlike the character-based user interface of earlier versions, 5.0 was graphical. The Binary Research logo, two stars revolving around each other, played on the main screen while the program was idle.
Gdisk is a scriptable partition manager added to a growing suite of Ghost programs in 1998. Gdisk serves a role similar to Fdisk, but has greater capabilities.
Ghost 6.0 included a Console application in 2000 to simplify the management of large numbers of machines. The Console communicates with client software on managed computers to allow a system administrator to refresh the disk of a machine remotely.
Because Ghost is a DOS-based program, machines running Windows must reboot to a DOS environment to run it. Ghost 6.0 required a separate DOS partition when used with the Console. Ghost 7.5 in 2002 created a Virtual Partition instead, which is a DOS partition which actually exists as a file within a normal Windows filesystem. This significantly eased systems management. Ghost 7.5 also allows an image to be written to, or read from, an NTFS partition. Ghost 7.5 could also write images to CD-R drives, and later versions can also write DVDs.
Ghost 2003 is a consumer version of Ghost, which does not contain the Console but has a Windows front end to script Ghost operations. The machine still needs to reboot to the Virtual Partition, but the user doesn't need to interact with DOS.
At the end of 2003, Symantec purchased Ghost's largest competitor, PowerQuest. Norton Ghost 9.0 was released on August 2, 2004, as a new consumer version of Ghost, based on the PowerQuest DriveImage product.