Norton GoBack 4.0

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, PhD, June 2005
Published by: Symantec
Requires: Windows 98 or higher; 32-128MB RAM (depending on Windows version), 10% or more free hard drive space
MSRP: US$49.95

Ever since the movie Back to the Future® I always thought it would be great if I had a flux capacitor installed in my very own DeLorean, or at least a flux capacitor by itself. Although Norton GoBack doesn't allow you to go back in time, it allows your computer to do so (thankfully without the movie's requirement for plutonium). GoBack is a unique backup-like utility that allows you to restore your computer to previous states. The tool has been around for some time in various incarnations, and most recently was purchased by Symantec which has provided its most current update.

"Hey wait," you may be thinking, "isn't this capability already built into Windows?" Well, yes and no. At one time GoBack was the only player in the field, but as with other good ideas, Microsoft adopted this one too and now everyone has basic revert capabilities. Then again, there is reverting and there is GoBack reverting.

The primary purpose of GoBack is to give you the ability to revert to previous states. Utilizing about 10% of your hard drive space GoBack continually takes snap shots of your computer and when the inevitable, “Oh No!” happens, you can simply press the space bar upon booting and select a time to which you wish to revert the system. Your computer will then be restored to that previously working state and you are good to go. Using the native Windows XP restore function, you have the ability to restore a complete system state, but many files created subsequent to the restore point will be lost. GoBack goes one better, providing you with many more frequent time/state stamps and the option to selectively restore specific files, such as your e-mail PST file, from different time stamps.


Beyond the core revert ability there are a number of other related tools that round out GoBack. The file recovery tool is especially interesting. You can recover files deleted from the Recycle Bin as well as previous versions of files! You also have the ability to use the Post-Restore File Rescue option. As previously mentioned, there may be times when you need to restore your computer to a previous state, but still want the current versions of certain files (such as Word documents or e-mail). After you've restored your computer, the Post-Restore File Rescue tool will let you restore individual files that are newer than the state you reverted to, thus circumventing a potentially devastating problem.

When restoring your computer you may have a question as to which state you should choose. Usually you want the most recent, but sometimes that doesn't cut it. The further you go back, the more the changes there are and this is where the Disk Drive Compare tool comes in handy. It allows you to compare your current state to any of the virtual states stamped by the system. With the Advanced Restore you can also select from more than one of these dates and see all the details and different states of the files that can be restored. The end result is that you'll be better prepared to restore to a specific state and also know which files you may want to subsequently rescue with the Post-Restore File Rescue option.

If you work in a computer lab or have a computer set up for a child, there is another tool you may like. GoBack’s AutoBack feature enables the creation of a standard state to which you can revert to at any time. You can even set the system to revert on a timed basis such as every time it is booted or once a week. This can be a real time saver and prevent the need to continually refresh the computer with a drive image tool.

Safe Try mode is the other key feature of GoBack. Although this feature requires more space (at least 3 GB), it does allow you to safely try out new software without having to worry about how it might corrupt your system. Putting GoBack in Safe Try mode allows you to download and try various programs and then, at any point, revert back to the point at which you turned on Safe Try mode, or if everything is good, turn Safe Try mode off and keep the new state.

Rounding out the package is LiveUpdate, Symantec’s update tool that continually monitors Symantec’s site to ensure your GoBack software is up-to-date.

With all of these tools, the key thing is do they work as advertised? I had previously used GoBack 3.0 with my laptop and successfully recovered from a couple disasters. Since using 4.0 I fortunately have had no disasters that I needed to recover from, but in simulating problems and trying the various features I was pleased to find that everything I tried worked as advertised. For users of previous versions, I would recommend the update, not only because of the additional tools, but also because of the improved user interface.

Given all this are there downsides? Although GoBack performed well, I encountered one problem that I found less than pleasant: installation. While the installation itself is simple, if you want to use the Safe-Try mode or simply increase the amount of space used for GoBack, you may be in for a surprise if your drive is nearly full. The problem arises because GoBack not only requires a certain amount of free space on your hard drive, but it also must be uninterrupted, contiguous space. That means even if you have 4GB free and only need 2.5GB, the installation can still fail. That in itself is not bad, but unfortunately GoBack goes through its whole installation process, taking 5-10 minutes before it decides it can't install and then must uninstall. Changing the installation script so the check for uninterrupted space occurs earlier would solve this small problem.

One other thing to note is that if you use a disk defragmenter program, you need to make sure you exclude the Norton Snap Shot file. Not all defrag utilities have an exclusion feature. On the bright side, I've got one that does not allow me to exclude this file and GoBack still worked, but the instructions strongly recommend against this practice.

Overall Norton GoBack performs to specs and provides a much needed improvement over the built-in restore function in Windows. If you care about your data, you are probably doing back-ups. If you are not or you simply want a quicker solution for smaller problems, Norton GoBack is a good choice for you. With its comprehensive revert capabilities, Norton GoBack makes controlled restorations a snap, providing you with a solution that doesn't result in the loss of any valuable new data.





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