Life Beyond Ghost

I like to think Symantec's purchase of Murray Haszard's Ghost program in 1998, and the Binary Research software team he assembled to develop it, was something of a landmark in the development of the New Zealand computer industry.

Not because it was the first New Zealand software company to do well worldwide­ I believe Cardinal Technologies' development of Linc was probably the pioneer ­ but because it showed that our ability to produce and market software internationally wasn't just a one-off fluke. And it was good to see Murray Haszard flung on to the Rich List ­ it proved it was possible for the IT boom of the 1990s to reach down to our corner of the world and work its magic.

At the time, I remarked on how long it had taken for this happy state to come about, and how much work it had required of Mr Haszard. And as it turns out, he wasn't the only one in for the long term.

Sorting out US distribution of Ghost was a task that fell to the husband and wife team of Geoff McIntosh and Annette Dow. They did such a good job of it that they've been carrying on the work ever since.

"When Murray first took Ghost to market he was doing everything from his front bedroom," says Ms Dow. "As the product began to grow he asked Geoff to give him some time to help deal with technical support, deal with sales and write the first manual for the product. Geoff and Murray have been friends for years and years and have both been in the computer industry forever.

"Murray eventually went to MCINTOSH, GEOFF the US and set up a master distributor for the world, and also appointed a distributor in England ­ this was November 1996.

"The guy in the US had only ever run a one-man business, so he asked Geoff if he could go over and help set things up and get them moving; and when he learned that I had some expertise in management and running companies he asked us both to go over for a couple of months.

"We found that although the business was doing very well, there were many opportunities that were not being followed up on ­ so eventually Murray asked us to set up a subsidiary of Binary Research, the parent company, in the US. We did this and eventually took over world-wide marketing.

"When Symantec purchased Binary Research New Zealand and the Ghost product, they did not purchase the US entity, Binary Research International. Over the six months following the sale we handed over support of the product to Symantec.

"In January 1999, Geoff and I purchased the US entity. At that stage we had a strong relationship with Symantec as a reseller. But obviously we were looking at other opportunities.

Eventually we took the business in two directions. We had done quite well with developing Ghost from a small Annette 1 product to an international market, so we decided to search out other small development companies with niche products and picking up distributorships for them and doing their marketing.

"We also developed training programmes for Ghost, and we have been running them ever since. We've also continued to run our reseller business."

Having effectively off-shored themselves, the couple have been free to look at products from all over the world. "We handled Remotely Anywhere, from Hungary, which was a remote administration program not unlike PC Anywhere," says Mr McIntosh.

"But we've had a somewhat disparate product portfolio. For example, we had a negotiation package for lawyers that we eventually decided wasn't right for us."

Another product, Skunklabs' Liquid Media, is a presentation tool that Mr McIntosh believes is likely to make an impact on the market when its next revision is released.

And he believes the assistance Binary Research International gave Mail Marshal was instrumental in getting the New Zealand-developed product launched in the US. Although BRI isn't exclusive about it, it does tend to have a slightly higher number of New Zealand-developed products in its marketing portfolio than pure chance would admit.

"News Clipper, Click to Convert, Pure Page ­ we've taken on a range of products over the years, but we've refined it to a point where it's clear our market is the utility space," says Ms Dow. "We've got a huge database of customers and we now look for products we can take to market for the smaller developer and which are targeted at network administrators." And they're still looking for suitable product.

"We're no longer as closely involved with [Symantec]," says Ms Dow, "in fact, we're really just another one of their resellers now. Their focus on security these days isn't completely compatible with Ghost," says Mr McIntosh. "I believe the writing is on the wall for Ghost as we knew it."

"One of our former contract trainers realised that it was a shortcoming of Ghost that it required multiple image files to cater for different hardware platforms.

With the help of a Canadian developer he came up with UIU, Universal Imaging Utility, which is a program that extends all the other imaging programs such as Acronis, Altiris, Novell ZENworks, and of course Ghost, so the images they create can be installed on any PC.

"When we first saw the product I immediately saw an enormous potential market."

The business has expanded to include a UK-based operation in addition to the US office. McIntosh and Dow shuttle between the various operations and homes in France and Waiheke Island.

"Thanks to the internet we can flit about anywhere," said Mr McIntosh. "We still have an apartment in the US, and typically Annette finds herself there every four weeks or so. But we have not forsaken New Zealand ­ we try to get down there whenever we can ­ and we're constantly flying the New Zealand flag."

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