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A Complete Guide to ISO Images on Windows

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ISO files have risen in recent years to become one of most common ways software developers distribute their applications.  In earlier versions of Windows, you had to install third party tools in order to use ISO image files.  But today, it is a different story.  Microsoft first began supporting ISO files natively beginning with Windows 7 and that support is expected to remain even in its latest operating system set to be released soon, Windows 10.

However, using ISO files requires some special knowledge about what they are, how they work, and how Windows deals with these files.  Today, we give you a complete guide to ISO images on Windows so you can begin to use these types of files on your laptop.

What Is an ISO?

An ISO image is a digital file that is a perfect representation of a CD or DVD.  Any CD or DVD can be turned into an ISO file and you can burn an ISO file to a blank disc essentially making another copy of that disc.  Basically, you can think of an ISO file as a digital copy of that disc you have sitting on your shelf.

Who Uses ISO Images

There are many companies that use ISO files today.  Some of the biggest users of ISO’s are:

  • Microsoft
  • Adobe
  • Gaming Companies

Many individuals have begun using them as well as a way of backing up their discs and performing installations much faster than before using just a regular CD or DVD drive.

Why Would I Need an ISO?

If you have the discs why would you ever need an ISO file.  Well, there are several reasons that make ISO images more important today than they have ever been.

Backup Your CD’s and DVD’s

Creating an ISO file of all of our CD’s and DVD’s is a great way to back up these discs in case they are damaged or destroyed.  We have all experienced a scratched disc in our computing lives that sometimes renders the disc completely useless.  Having a digital copy of that important disc backed up onto an external hard drive is the perfect way for you to be sure you never lose any of your installation or important discs again.

Faster Installs

If you have an ISO file that you need to use to install software, you will find that when you mount that ISO file using a virtual drive that the install process will go much faster.  That is because it is basically copying the files from one place on your hard drive to another meaning you don’t have to wait on slower DVD drives to process the information.

Digital Media Is In

ISO files have now become one of the main ways software companies distribute their files when they sell them online.  It is cheaper for them in the long run and easier for you the buyer as you gain almost instant access to the software you purchase.  All you have to do is wait for the download to complete.  Linux, for example, distributes their operating systems via ISO and even Microsoft will allow you to download the ISO files for Windows right from their site.

As you can see, there are many great reasons to use ISO’s and I bet some of you out there had no idea how useful they can actually be.  Now that you know why they are good to use, it is time to take a look at how you should be using them.

Burn an ISO in Windows 7

Microsoft finally began to embrace the ISO revolution with the Windows 7 operating system.  Before, you had to use third party software to burn your ISO image.  However, now it is easier than ever.  To burn an ISO image in Windows7, just follow these easy steps:

Burn Image Windows 7

  1. Place a blank CD or DVD into your laptop’s drive.
  2. Find the ISO file you would like to burn to disc.
  3. Right click on the ISO file.
  4. Click on “Burn disc image.”

Once you click “Burn disc image,” a dialog will appear for you to burn the image to disc allowing you to create an exact copy of the ISO on that blank disc.

Burn an ISO in Windows 8

Microsoft continued its acceptance of the ISO format in Windows 8 leaving the process largely the same as it was in Windows 7, and that support is expected to continue with Windows 10.  If you are using Windows 8, here’s how you can burn an ISO:

Burn Image Windows 8

  1. Switch to Desktop View.
  2. Insert a CD or DVD into your burner.
  3. Navigate to the ISO file you would like to burn.
  4. Right-click on the file.
  5. Select Burn disc image.

That’s all there is to it.  Windows will take it from there and handle the rest of the burning process for you.

Mount an ISO in Windows 7

While Microsoft may have added the ability to burn an ISO file right from the OS without having to download and install any third party applications, unfortunately the left out the ability to mount and actually use the ISO.  Luckily, there are many different third party applications that you can use to mount an ISO using a virtual CD or DVD drive.  One of my favorites that is available for free, is Virtual Clone Drive.  This utility will allow you to mount .ISO, .CCD, .DVD, .IMG, .UDF and .BIN files.  To begin, download and install the utility.  You may have to restart your computer after installation is complete in order to begin using the application.

Mount Image Windows 7

  1. Download the ISO file you wish to mount.
  2. Navigate to the file location where the ISO is stored.
  3. Double click on the ISO and it should mount in a virtual drive.

Once it is mounted, you should be able to use it just like a CD or DVD that you have put into your drive.  It should be noted, however, that this software isn’t without its bugs.  For example, if you try to reinstall it without removing it first, you will be subjected to multiple blue screens of death.  So be sure you uninstall Virtual Clone Drive first before you try to install it again.

There are other popular ISO mounting tools out there as well.  Daemon Tools is one of the most popular available.   But there have been reports of the latest version installing spyware on your computer and the older versions do not work on Windows 7.

Mount an ISO in Windows 8

Microsoft didn’t do everything wrong with Windows 8.  In fact, with the release of Windows 8, they included many technologies that were long absent in Windows previously requiring third party applications to use them.  In many ways, Windows 8 is a much more advanced operating system compared to Windows 7, assuming you can overlook the Start Window that has stirred much of the hate for Windows 8.

Mounting ISO’s in Windows 8, for example, no longer requires those third party applications like it did before.  Now, much like burning an ISO, you can easily mount an ISO as a virtual drive simply by using the contextual menus.

Mount ISO Windows 8

  1. Download the ISO you want to mount.
  2. Navigate to where the ISO has been stored on your computer.
  3. Right click on the ISO file.
  4. Left click on Mount.

Once you click Mount, Windows will then mount the ISO in a virtual disc drive on your computer that functions just like a regular CD or DVD drive.

Unmount an ISO

Once you are finished with an ISO file, you don’t want to leave it mounted as a virtual drive forever.  You must remove it yourself.  Luckily, this process is fairly simple.  All you have to do is click on the mounted drive in Windows 8 or, if you are using Windows 7, from the Virtual Clone Drive menu and select “Eject” to remove the mounted drive from your system.

Extract the Contents of an ISO

For those of you out there that don’t really want to mount the ISO file in a virtualized drive on your computer, but you still want to access the contents of the ISO, you can always extract them into a folder on your computer.  Most modern extraction tools will open ISO images.  However, 7-Zip provides some of the most efficient compression and decompression tools on the market.

7zip ISO Extract

When using 7-Zip to decompress your files, all you have to do is right-click on the ISO image you want to extract, go to 7-Zip and then click on “Extract Files.”  Once you click that it will ask you where you want to save the file.  Select a location to save the files and then click on “Ok” and all of the files will be copied from the ISO file to the location you have selected.

Final Thoughts

ISO files can provide you with access to some of the best applications ever created on your laptop without having to run to the local computer store to pick them up or wait a few days for them to be delivered.  A variety of companies today use them to distribute their products in a manner that is much more cost effective for them while being faster for you.

The guides above show you exactly how you can use these ISO files so you can now easily download them when you want new software or use them to install a new OS when upgrading your laptop.  This prevents you from having to wait for media delivery and can even save you money as many companies have begun charging extra for media.  Knowing how to use ISO files effectively can definitely help your computing life on your laptop much easier while bring even more software options to you for both work and play.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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