The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I recently purchased a new Windows 8 computer. I brought it home, set it up, and then installed an anti-virus program. Then I cloned the hard drive. That is, I made a copy of every bit and byte on the computer's hard drive and preserved that copy in a manner that can later re-create an exact image of the computer as it was when it was new. Unlike normal backup copies, the cloned copy includes the boot record and all hidden files.
I happened to do this on a Windows computer but anyone can do the same thing on all modern Macintosh systems as well as on most versions of Linux.
NOTE: Macintosh users should see my note at the end of this article.
Why? I want the safety of having a complete copy of the hard drive available at any time. If I ever have a problem in the future, such as losing a critical Windows file or picking up a virus that proves to be too stubborn to remove, I want to go back to a known good state. If I have a copy of the hard drive available, I can do that much more easily than other methods.
I also make periodic new clones of the hard drive for the same reasons: I can always revert to an earlier version of the hard drive, complete with all installed programs and all of my data.
Another reason for cloning a hard drive is when I decide to replace the existing hard drive with a new, larger capacity drive. I can first clone the existing drive, then power off the computer, remove the old hard drive, install the new hard drive, turn the power on, and then copy of the drive image back to the new (larger) hard drive. I will then have an exact copy of the original computer's operating system, all installed programs, and all the data. The only difference is that I now have more room to add new data and applications.
Anyone who has ever replaced a hard drive knows what a convenience that can be.
To be sure, most of today's Windows computers ship with a "restorable copy" of Windows stored on the hard drive in a hidden partition. In essence, this is a clone of the hard drive as made at the factory. It is possible (with most computers) to reformat the hard drive and revert to the factory-supplied image it shipped with. However, that will mean the loss of all newly-installed programs and, worst of all, loss of your stored data. By making periodic clone copies, you can preserve your data and your installed programs. You can revert back to your earlier clone at any time.
Back in the "good old days" of six or eight years ago, I used Norton Ghost to make clone copies. In those days, Norton Ghost was a single-purpose program that did one thing and did it well: it made copies of disk drives. However, since those days, the producer of Norton Ghost has been guilty of "featureware:" adding more and more things to the product so that it has now lost its original focus. Norton Ghost became a bit like a Swiss army knife: it does many things, but it doesn't do any of them very well. In all cases, a tool designed for one specific task will do a better job and will be easier to use than the multi-purpose Swiss army knife.
Symantec apparently agrees. On April 30, 2013, Symantec announced it was withdrawing Norton Ghost from its list of products.
Fortunately, there are alternatives available today, programs that are still designed for one purpose and then perform that purpose well. In fact, my favorite disk cloning tool is available free of charge.
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