How to use CD & DVD image files without burning discs

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With the exception of the use of flash-based removable drives, the days of portable storage in the enterprise are numbered. Sure, there are still plenty of CD- and DVD-based products in use out there. Most CIOs jettisoned the floppy drive from corporate computers years ago, but most systems still include CD or DVD drives. That said, it's easier to get along without even a CD/DVD drive these days. A lot of software used in the enterprise space is available in electronic format and is downloadable in the form of ISO images. An ISO image is a disk-based representation of a CD or DVD. In fact, ISO files can be burned to a blank CD or DVD which can then be used just like the original disc. You don't have to burn an ISO file to a disc to make use of the contents of the ISO file, though. There are a number of utilities out there that allow you to create virtual CD/DVD drives on your computer. You can then "insert" an ISO file into one of these virtual drives and make use of the drive just as if you had inserted an actual physical disc. In fact, this virtual drive even shows up in My Computer as a CD/DVD drive and works just like a physical drive. If you eject the disc from this virtual device, the disc actually ejects; that is, the software dismounts the ISO image behind the scenes, which is the same thing as ejecting the disc.
Here is a list of a few different pieces of ISO-mounting/virtual CD-DVD drive software I've used along with some note about each.  Note that this is far from an exhaustive list of options out there.  If you've successfully (or unsuccessfully!) used a different tool, tell us about it in the comment section.

  • DAEMON Tools.  DAEMON tools is one of the best known titles out there for mounting ISO image and supports CD, DVD and even BluRay images.  DAEMON tools provides both free and paid versions of the product with different capabilities in each.  However, free and paid versions all include the ability to mount the ISO images normally used in organizations.  One caveat: The DAEMON Tools Lite installer includes an optional toolbar and also offers to change your home page.  These traits are sometimes associated with spyware, so be careful during the installation.  I've used DAEMON Tools extensively and find it to be a very capable product. DAEMON tools supports both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.  DAEMON tools is managed via an icon that sits in the system tray.
  • VirtualCloneDrive.  Although many people consider SlySoft, the maker of VirtualCloneDrive, to be operating in a legal gray area with some of their other products, VirtualCloneDrive is the company's free product enabling the mounting of standard ISO images into as many as eight virtual CD/DVD drives.  I have limited experience with VirtualCloneDrive, but my experience has been very positive so far.  I'm currently runningthe software on a Windows Server 2008 64-bit computer I use for a desktop and it runs great.  VirtualCloneDrive integrates with shortcut menus on your system.  Mounting an ISO image is as simple as right-clicking your virtual CD drive and choosing Virtual Clone Drive > Mount.
  • MagicISO.  Also supporting most32- and 64-bit versions of Windows, MagicISO has been around for quite some time and supports a wide range of disc formats, including ISO images, Roxio Easy CD creator files, and Nero files.  As is the case with many of these tools, MagicISO allows you to install multiple virtual drives so you can mount multiple ISO images simultaneously.
  • Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel for Windows XP.  As it's name implies, this product works only on Windows XP.  With other excellent tools available, I don't generally recommend this product as it's relatively clunky, especially when evaluated side-by-side with the tools mentioned above.  That said, if you're uncomfortable with the free tools above and are running Windows XP, the software does perform as expected.  It has been quite some time since I've used it, but it did work very well.

 Personally, I prefer to use ISOs over physical discs. I can store them on my network in a single location, don't have to search my desk every time I need to install something, and updates can be had in a much more timely fashion.

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