What’s an ISO?

Hmm, well, you’ve heard me mention them and even try to explain what an ISO is. but for now, let’s take a close look at an ISO, feel free to download an ISO from the Puppy Linux site. (it’s only 128 MB you will need this for testing purposes) An ISO can be downloaded, created, copied, even modified, and all you need to do this, is software. Now let’s find out what ISO stands for. Wikipedia says, “An ISO image (International Organization for Standardization)” That’s useless, it’s not even in the right order, it should be IOS or IOFS, hmm ok I see how that wouldn’t catch on. Let’s see what else it says. “An ISO is an archive file (also known as a disc image) of an optical disc (CD), composed of the data contents of every written sector of an optical disc, including the optical disc file system.”

Ahh let’s simplify that. A copy of a CD in digital format. Wow! I can now carry my CD’s in a USB drive! Now i don’t have to lug around that big case full of 100 Cd’s!

This is great and all, you know what an ISO is, and you probably already started downloading the one I recommended, didn’t you!? Good. Well, how to use one properly? Well, on the internet, the ISO standard is a great format for sharing discs over the internet, such as the Linux distro i shared with you. Wouldn’t it have been a great hassle to download all the files one by one? Or to download it as a zip folder and not being able to figure out how to burn these files on a cd properly? Well, that’s when Mr. ISO comes in and saves the day. Now, what you downloaded and by now may have finished, was a Linux distribution mentioned in one of my earlier posts. (flashback! Puppy Linux Post)I may have even told you how to burn it to a cd. but now, i am going to ask you something completely different. I want you to mount it.


What is mounting an ISO? Let’s let Wikipedia explain. “One of the other noticeable features of an ISO is that it can be “mounted” or be treated as a regular Compact Disc would be inside a running computer. When an ISO is mounted, it acts as if you inserted a physical disc in the drive. Some operating systems such as Ubuntu and Mac OS X have built in ability to mount an ISO, otherwise free software can be downloaded to do the same goal.” (PS, i actually wrote this part. :)) So you can mount a cd and it’ll act as a real cd drive. Cool, in fact, one great thing about windows 7 is that if you right click on an iso. It’ll give you the option to burn it to a CD. (if you have a CD or DVD burner)  unfortunately it has no mount option, only burn option, maybe Windows 8 will fix that. Those of you lucky enough to afford a MAC or Ubuntu can mount it by right clicking and choosing the correct option for mounting. OK, but for those of you still using Windows. Feel free to download this awesome freeware program. Virtual Clone Drive Download the one that says “freeware” over there at the bottom. Install as necessary, very safe.

Once you installed, double-click on the ISO you downloaded earlier. You will notice that now you can open it an explore the contents of the ISO. Some people refer the image as a box. An ISO is a disk image and also like a box that contains many files and folder structures that are shown as they originally appeared on the disc itself. But are now replicated on the ISO. You can even copy and burn this “Virtual CD” if you like. As if you are copying a real CD. So this brings us to the next part of ISOs.


To burn an ISO, you could copy it by mounting it and making a copy, that works most the times, but to be sure I’ll show you how to do it on XP and Vista, since Windows 7 does this easily as mentioned before. First step is Download IMG burn http://www.imgburn.com/ Then install and use this nice friendly program to burn to a CD. Easy right! And free.

Now a good tip from James at school,

“If you’re looking to buy CD or DVDs to burn, one good idea is to also buy a couple of Rewritable ones, that way if you didn’t burn the ISO right or you don’t need what you burnt anymore, then you could format and use it again.” Hmm good tip, RW disks are slightly more expensive but they do save money in the long run if used and cared for properly. Also make sure your burner can handle RWs, most new ones can anyways.

Also I bet you are wondering, this ISO you made me burn looks like junk. Yes and no. It is junk to you untrained eyes maybe, but what you are looking at is the core of a live CD that has a Bootable OS. What!? Yes, in fact, if you burn this ISO to a CD and restart your computer (with the CD in the drive, and if your computer can be set to boot from a CD) it will boot into a different OS (Operating System).  Take out the disk and reboot to go back to Windows if this is too scary. (Update: Mac people can burn cds by reading this nice and easy blog post http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20060619181010389)

So how would ISO’s be useful? Well, now you now how to mount ISO’s and if you download a game or a program that orginally came on a cd, you will know how to mount it and install from the “CD” as a normal program does. However the commodity of loading and installing programs from actual cd’s is now coming to an end, now that most of the world is connecting to the magical internetwork of connections in the internet, they now can download and install without the use of a CD Drive.  Ha! In fact, they now sell computers without cd drives. MacBook Air look at the picture, no cd drive! (still too expensive for my taste) You can even install the OS from a USB! Who needs cd’s nowadays! I recently installed my Ubuntu from a USB and it was much faster and effecient. In fact. Let me show you how I did this.


Download Unetbootin for Windows and Linux. (Update Unetbootin is now available for Mac)

For Mac People, try

  1. Opening a Terminal (under Utilities)
  2. Run diskutil list to get the current list of devices
  3. Insert your flash media
  4. Run diskutil list again and determine the device node assigned to your flash media (e.g. /dev/disk2)
  5. Run diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN (N stands for number)
  6. Execute sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.img of=/dev/diskN bs=1m
  7. Run diskutil eject /dev/diskN and remove your flash media when the command completes

You Mac people are lucky you get to use the terminal, while us Linux and Windows users have to use a GUI. Ohh well that’s life. Ok now that you downloaded and or installed Unetbootin. Use the GUI to “burn” that ISO to the USB. You should be able to figure it out. The Unetbootin interface is not that complicated (in fact you can even download and put other Linux Distros straight from Unetbootin! (check out the menu for tons of other Distros available, this may take a while for it will have to download it first)

Also, it’s noteworthy to mention that a Windows XP ISO is a different method to putting on a USB than Linux distributions. However Windows 7 goes like this. Installing Windows 7 to a flash drive is much easier nowadays thanks to this tool MS made. And though this may be an extra step, it’s worth it for us tech’s who have to install OS’s all day sometimes.

So now that you maybe used Unetbootin or a Macintosh to do this, or at least read this post thoroughly. You should be prepared for the day that Compact Discs will be obsolete, like our good friend, the floppy. A moment of silence.

So please comment for any questions related to ISO’s and i will gladly help if you want anything clarified, this post actually took me long to do, an hour due to that fact that i had to research and even add to Wikipedia due to the lack of info on ISO’s.


About Zerin

But can you show me the source code?

Posted on January 13, 2011, in Computers and Internet and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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