Open ISO Files: a quick tutorial on how to use iso files

Need to know how to open iso files? It’s pretty easy. Once you’re aware of a few basic concepts on how to use iso files, you’ll be able to easily:

The Basics

In order to understand how to open iso files, it’s useful to know that an iso file is a wel, um, file, that contains a so-called image of an optical disc (cd-drom or dvd-rom). The iso file can be thought of as some kind of container that holds all the files that exist on the cd-rom. Cd-roms have a capacity of up to 700 MB and dvd-roms can contain up to 4.7 GB of data (or even 8.5 GB of data in case of a double-layer dvd-rom).

That means that the file size of an iso file usually is quite big (unless of course we’re dealing with an iso file of a cd-rom that holds very little info).

So, what’s the use of packaging the contents of a cd-rom into one single file?

Well, usually the goal is to make it portable or distributable. Software, for instance, is often distributed on cd-roms or dvd-roms in order to facilitate installation of the software on the computer. An installation wizard pops up after loading the disc, initiating the installation of the software.

Many times, though, software is also made available via downloads on the net. People use an iso image file of the cd-rom, so that you only have to download one single file to get the copy of the cd-rom. Doing this also solves the problem of so-called auto-run files that can live on a cdrom (an auto-run file is the one that’s responsible for automatically starting up the desired piece of software after popping in the cd-rom). Autorun files are pretty picky about their naming conventions, paths and locations of the commands, so it can be tricky when these have to be copied manually.

Then, there’s the issue of bootable cd-roms. If you simply copy over the files of a bootable cd-rom to another cd-rom, the copy won’t be bootable. Using an iso file will tackle this problem as well.
Keeping an iso file of a cd-rom on your hard drive will allow you to burn as many copies of the cd-rom as you need. And if the source cd is bootable, the copies will also be bootable.

Iso files in Windows 8

If your computer is running Windows 8, you can easily open iso files with the built-in functionality of your operating system. Windows 8 has native support for iso files, so you can simply double-click any iso file to look inside the file and extract files from the iso.

Open ISO files with Win8

If you want to *add* files to an iso file, you will still need an additional tool to manipulate iso files, but the built-in functionality of Windows to open and mount iso files is already a great improvement over previous Windows versions.

Open iso files with WinRar

So if you’re on a previous Windows version, you’ll still need some extra software in order to open iso files.

Winrar is an archiving tool that can be used to compress files into an archive file (if you don’t know what Winrar is, feel free to learn more in our Winrar tutorial). What many people don’t know is that Winrar can indeed also be used to extract iso files. You can download winrar from the internet and use the trial period to experiment with it for free. Once Winrar is installed on your pc, you can simply select Winrar from your context menu in your Windows explorer to open iso files (your context menu is the little command menu that shows up when you right-click a file in your Windows explorer).

Open ISO files with Winrar

From within Winrar you will then be able to extract iso files, or parts of the content of iso files. To do so, simply open a Windows explorer window next to your Winrar window and navigate to the file you need in the Winrar window. Then, simply drag the files over from your Winrar window to your explorer window.

Expanding Possibilities

Now that we’ve seen how to open iso files, let’s take a look at the other things you can do with iso files. For instance, if you’ve downloaded an iso file from the internet, you might want to take the file and create a (bootable) cdrom with it. Examples of downloadable image files would be the HP’s SmartStart cd-rom, or Hiren’s boot cd.

Once you have downloaded the iso file and have a copy of the file on your hard disk, you will need an extra piece of software like PowerISO or imgburn in order to burn the image file to a writable cd-rom. PowerISO offers a few more options than imgburn, but imgburn is free, while PowerISO comes as a paid software package if you want to use all features (PowerISO also offers a free version, but it has limited functionality, such as the limitation to only create iso files of max 300 MB).

PowerISO also offers the possibility to mount an iso file as a virtual cd-rom. This means that the iso file on your hard drive will also present itself as a cd-rom drive in your Windows explorer, as if an actual cd-rom would be present in a physical cd-rom drive.

Mount ISO files with PowerISO

Another option that PowerISO offers is the ability to take an iso file and add additional files to it before burning it to cd-rom.

More reading: creating ISO files.

From "Open ISO files" to other Windows tips & tricks.


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