How To: Open an ISO file

How can you open an ISO file using Microsoft Windows? What is an ISO file anyway? This article provides the answers to those questions.

What is an ISO file?

An ISO file is a disk file that contains an image of a CD or DVD. "Image" in this context does not mean a picture! It means an exact copy of all the data on the CD or DVD, including all the files, folders and system information.

An ISO file is usually created as an intermediate stage in making a CD or DVD. You can burn a CD or DVD from an ISO file. This process is not the same as writing a file to the CD or DVD. The software needs to recognize the ISO file format and know that this is an image of a complete CD, not a file that you want to save to CD. If you have a CD or DVD burner in your computer then you probably already have software able to burn a disc from an ISO file. If not, then recommends ImgBurn, a simple, no-frills ISO burner that we have found to be very reliable.

The name ISO comes from the ISO9660 standard developed by the International Standards Organization which defines how data is stored on a CD or DVD. Because this standard defines a structure for storing files within folders it is technically an archive format. Whilst it is unlikely that anyone would store data in an ISO file just for archive purposes, it can often be useful to be able to open an ISO file and access the files within it without first having to burn it to CD or DVD.

How to open ISO files

ssIf you want to open ISO files and look inside them, recommends BitZipper. BitZipper is the best Windows archive manager on the market. It can open Zip, Cab, Rar, 7z, ISO and just about any other compressed, encoded and archive file format you are ever likely to come across.

Apart from being an indispensable tool for opening archive files, BitZipper also lets you create archives using many of these formats, though not the ISO format. You will need a CD burning utility to do that. BitZipper is also a fast and flexible backup tool. So it's an application you'll find useful for much more than opening ISO files!

BitZipper has a Wizard interface that makes it easy to use even if you are a computer novice. For more experienced users there's a Classic interface, shown in the screenshot. BitZipper is a solid and stable program that can open the largest ISO files without crashing. It runs on Windows 2000 and later versions.

ISOBuster - open ISO fileAnother program that can open ISO files and extract the contents from them is ISOBuster. ISOBuster is really a CD/DVD data recovery tool so it has a fairly complicated user interface compared to BitZipper. It can open CDs and DVDs directly, even discs that are unreadable by Windows, and allow you to access the data on them. But ISOBuster can also open ISO files from disk and let you browse the folder structure and view the files contained in it.

ISOBuster doesn't allow you to change the contents of an ISO file or create one - you'll still need a CD/DVD burning utility to do that. But it's a very handy utility to have, especially when you have valuable data stored on an apparently unreadable CD!