Running Ghost on modern PCs

Existing users of Ghost will be most familiar with the process of creating boot packages using the built in wizard tool. These packages load a version of MS-DOS and the 16 bit Ghost client. Typically they have to be customised for the specific type of network card in the host machine. On some modern PCs, such as Toshiba laptops, the 16 bit Ghost client hangs and cannot be used. I tried every which way to get Ghost to startup on a Satellite Pro S200 recently. I did CDROMs with Universal driver and NIC specific, I did USB key boot and I did PXE with our WDS/RIS server. None of these worked. Ghost would load and never get past the first screen. Eventually I decided it was time to try a 32 bit boot platform and the 32 bit version of Ghost.

One such platform is Windows PE. There may be others but I have not looked as yet. Barts PE is one of the available ways of getting PE capability and they do include a plugin for Ghost. However there were two big issues with BartPE when I set up the CD to boot from. It couldn’t detect the Toshie’s hard drive and it couldn’t load its network card drivers. We have Vista so rather than try to fix up BartsPE I decided to install the Windows Automated Installation Kit and press ahead with Windows PE. That turned out to be a lot simpler to get going than I thought. Even though you have to use a whole lot of new tools, especially with the new WIM image files, getting my USB key set up to boot WinPE was dead easy, and it didn’t need any special configuration to recognise the Satellite’s HDD or NIC. Off we went with Ghost, and unicasting was not only straightforward, it was also very fast with gigabit NICs in both the PC and the server. Next issue is that Ghostwalker (32 bit) doesn’t work on WinPE. So I had to sysprep my source machine before I imaged it. But that was fairly straightforward to do.

The real issue is the license for WinPE. I haven’t looked too hard at it yet, but I suspect in reality we can only use it to deploy Vista, not XP. Sometime in the future we probably will be deploying Vista, but will we be using Ghost? My frustrating experience with the 16 bit Ghost has convinced me that Symantec should just forget about the ancient DOS technology and get on the WinPE or some equivalent 32 bit platform. They should get some sort of WinPE license with Ghost so that their customers can be assured of having access to something that works.