As a Windows Admin, you must know how to work with ISO files and how to gain access to them. In this article, I will cover why you should care about ISO files and how to mount them in Windows 7 using freely available tools. Want to install any major software application, operating system, or access any virtual CD/DVD disk? If so, you need to know what an ISO file is and how to access it.
What is an ISO File and why do I need to access it?
An ISO file is a disk image file format defined by the International Standards Organization (ISO). Thus, the file format is named after the organization that created it. Likely, any time that a CD or DVD image is stored on a hard drive (instead of an optical disk), it is stored as an "ISO file". These files end in the extension of ".iso".
For example, if you download Windows 7, Windows 2008 R2, or Microsoft Office, all of those will be in the .ISO file format. Also, desktop and server virtualization software is able to mount these .ISO files in the virtual DVD drive of the virtual machine. If you are using VMware Workstation or Microsoft Virtual PC, both of these mount .ISO files to install the operating system or applications. Still, there are times when you just need a single file out of an ISO image. Or, there are times when you want to mount an ISO image on your local computer (without a virtualization solution) to install an application.
In Windows 7, if you double-click on an .ISO file, you will be prompted to burn it to a CD/DVD disk, like this:
Besides the built-in Windows 7 software, 3rd party CD/DVD burning/authoring applications will all burn these images to a CD or DVD and create physical media for you. Sure, this is no problem. However, Windows cannot show you what is in that file and you cannot retrieve files out of that .ISO file. And, while those CD/DVD authoring tools will burn the image to an optical disk, they would not allow you to retrieve files out of the .ISO file. Thus, all you could do is to burn the optical disk, stick it in your drive, then explore it to get a file out of it.
What you need is an application to mount .ISO files on your local computer and you should not have to pay for it.
(My personal opinion is that this application should be included in Windows just like ZIP/UNZIP file archives are today but we will save that for another article)
Free Tools you can download to mount ISO files
Fortunately, there are a number of free tools out there to mount .ISO files in Windows. However, not all of them are compatible with Windows 7 so BE CAREFUL. In fact, I have even heard that if you perform an upgrade with some of those tools installed, they would not work after the upgrade and an upgrade for the tool would not install. So, make sure that the tool you are using with Windows 7 is Windows 7 compatible.
I have always relied on one particular tool for mounting .ISO images and that is Daemon Tools (which I will cover in the next section). In doing research for this article, I have found that there are a number of other ISO tools that are Windows 7 compatible. One of the applications I like that acts like a compression tool (like a ZIP program) and doesn't mount ISO files as virtual disks is the free and open-source 7-Zip. I tried it on Windows 7 and it works fine:
Here is a list of some other ISO mounting applications that say that they are Windows 7 compatible:
- Magic ISO
- Virtual CloneDrive
- PowerISO (can read ISOs for free but free version has limitations on creating and editing ISO files)
Finally, keep in mind that the "Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM" tool you might find on the web is not compatible with Vista or Windows 7.
How to Install the Free Daemon Tools Lite in Windows 7
As I said above, my favorite ISO tool is "Daemon Tools" and it has been for a long time. Today, the version with the feature-set I am used to using is called the "Lite" version and there is a commercial version with more features. Still, even the Lite version allows you to emulate 4 CD, DVD-ROM, HD-DVD, or Blu-Ray drives. With this, you can mount ISO images and access the files inside. Daemon Tools also allows you to create ISO images and even create passwords on those ISO image files.
You may find on the web that "daemon tools is not compatible with Windows 7" but that is not true if you use version 4.35.5 or later.
Daemon Tools Lite works by installing software (reboot required) that allows you to mount ISO files as a drive letter. From there, you can get started mounting ISO files or creating ISO files using a daemon-tools tool that will appear in your taskbar.
Installing Daemon Tools Lite is easy. Download the 8MB file from here (make sure that you download it from that site on the web, not some site who copied it and posted an old version on their site).
I ran the installer and took the default of English as the language.
I clicked Next and then accepted the license agreement. From here, I chose to install the Free Version instead of the paid license.
You can choose to install whatever components you choose (the minimal required components will do the job) but I chose to install the start menu shortcuts, the Windows sidebar gadget, and the integration with Windows Explorer.
I opted not to change my browsers start page and the installation started. I had to accept the security warning on the sidebar gadget.
When done, I rebooted my PC.
After reboot, I had my new Windows 7 desktop gadget and I could run daemon-tools from the start menu (I could have used the desktop gadget but I am just used to running daemon tools from the start menu).
Either method allows me to mount the ISO image and access it. To do that, I clicked on the Virtual Devices, my new Virtual CD drive "drive E:", and then Mount Image.
I specified the path to my ISO file from there and, the ISO file was mounted as virtual CD/DVD drive "drive E:".
From here, I could go into My Computer, to Drive E:, and browse this DVD image.
By the way, Daemon Tools Lite supports a lot more image types than just ISO. As you see in Figure 9, below.
Being able to mount ISO images is a critical skill for any Windows Admin. Surprisingly, the Windows OS does nothing to help you do this. Fortunately, there are a number of free tools available that make this easy with daemon-tools Lite being one of my favorites. Plus, I really like that it is Windows 7 compatible and the new desktop gadget is a great new feature!