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Accessing data in ISO and VHD files

| Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The trend of incredibly large and small form-factor hard disks means we can store ever increasing amounts of data without worrying about running out of capacity. Windows 8 enables easy access to the contents of two important storage formats, ISO and VHD files. While we generally think of these formats when they appear on media, they are also very useful as files within a file system and that is where native support in Explorer comes in handy.
Working with ISO files

While optical discs continue to be useful in many situations, large hard disks allow us to decrease our dependence on them. Personally, I’ve spent a load of my time (legally) ripping about 900 GB worth of music, and more recently almost 1TB of home video DVDs into my collection. I know that my backup of our photos and home movies is probably the most important data in my house. Together with backups, storing the most basic things in my house now requires terabytes of space. Just a couple of years ago that was an unimaginable amount of storage. These days, however, I know I can buy a 3TB hard disk for less than $200.

Given cheap hard disks and our mobile lifestyle, we have little interest in carting around collections of discs. Also, we expect to be able to receive content as well as share and collaborate with friends, family, and colleagues in an instant – typically through online file transfers. Last but not least, our desire for thin and light form factors such as slates and ultra-mobile laptops often leaves no room for vendors to add optical disc drives. This is exactly the feedback we received from many of you who used Windows 7 – the ability to directly use ISO files (also known as ISO images) without requiring a physical CDROM or DVD drive is very important.

A quick refresher on ISO files might be helpful. ISO refers to the International Organization for Standardization which is an international standard-setting body, and a world leader in developing and publishing international standards. For the purpose of this blog entry, our interests lie in a couple of standards published by ISO, namely ISO-9660 and ISO-13346. Simply stated, these two standards each describe a method by which photos, video, applications, documents or other content (excluding CD audio) are organized on CDROM or DVD optical media. The reason for the popularity of these standards is they allow CDROM and DVD media content to be easily interchanged across systems from different vendors e.g. you can create a DVD on a Windows PC and read it in your living room DVD player. An ISO file is simply a disc image stored as a file, composed of all of the contents of a CDROM or DVD disc. You can also think of an ISO file as a full-fidelity image (digital copy) of the optical disc.

Read more: Building Windows 8
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