ISO files are incredibly handy. They contain an exact copy of a disc, whatever that disc may contain. If you burn the file, the resulting disc will function exactly the same as the original. If you mount it, you'll be able to utilize the file as though it were a physical disc without ever having to burn it.
Though ISO files have been around for a long time, Windows users have always had to jump through hoops to get the most from them. With no native ISO support Windows users have had to resort to third-party applications to mount and burn their disc images. While many quality applications exist to provide this function, having to research, download and install multiple free applications or worse, paying for a program to handle your ISO needs, was a hassle.
Windows 8 has changed all that. Microsoft's newest operating system now has built-in support for mounting and burning image files right from the File Explorer.
Finding the Disc Image Tools Tab
If you go into the File Explorer and start poking around looking for disc image features, you'll be disappointed. You can search all you want and you won't find anything. ISO controls are all hidden on a tab that only shows up when you select an ISO file.
To try this out, open the File Explorer and locate an ISO image on your hard drive. Select the file and take a look at the tabs in the ribbon at the top of the Window. You'll notice a new "Disc Image Tools" tab. Click on it and you'll see you have two options: mount and burn.
Mounting a Disc Image in Windows 8
When you mount a disc image file, Windows 8 creates a virtual disc drive that plays your ISO file as though it were a physical disc. This allows you to watch the movie, listen to the music or install the application from the file without ever having to burn the data to a disc.
To do this in Windows 8, find the ISO file you want to mount in the File Explorer and select it. Select the "Disc Image Tools" tab that appears at the top of the Window and click "Mount." Windows will create a virtual drive and immediately open the contents of the image for you to view.
If you click "Computer" from the left pane of the File Explorer window, you'll see your virtual disc drive appears right along with any other drives you have installed on the system. You'll see no difference between virtual and physical drives.
At this point you can utilize the virtual media in any way you see fit. Copy files from the image to your hard drive, install an application or do whatever you want. Once done, you'll want to unmount the image file to take back the system resources used to virtualize it.
To unmount the image, you need to "Eject" the virtual disc. There are two easy ways to do this. Your first option is to right-click the virtual drive from the File Explorer window and click "Eject". You can also click on the virtual drive, select the "Drive Tools" tab that appears in the File Explorer ribbon, and click "Eject" from there. Either way you go, Windows 8 will unmount the ISO file removing the virtual drive from your system.
Burning an ISO File in Windows 8
When you burn an ISO file to a disc you are creating an exact duplicate of the original disc, not just the files on it. If the original is bootable, the copy will be too; if the original includes copyright protections, the copy will too. That's the beauty of the format.
To burn your ISO file to a disc, select it in the File Explorer, select the Disc Image Tools tab from the ribbon at the top of the window and click "Burn." At this point, if you haven't put a disc in your drive, do that now. Make sure you pick a disc that matches the original format. For example: don't try to burn a DVD image to a CD-R.
Windows 8 will throw up a small dialog from which you can select your burner. If you only have one disc drive in your system, it will automatically be selected. If you have multiple, click the drop-down list and make your selection.
You have the option to select "Verify disc after burning." This will add considerable time to the burning process as it will verify the information burned to the disc to ensure its accuracy. If you're concerned that the burned disc must be perfect, say if it contains important software what won't install if a file gets corrupted, select this option. If you aren't worried, go ahead and deselect it.
Once you've made your selections, click "Burn."
Though the ability to manage ISO files is easily overlooked among the multitudes of other new features of Windows 8, it is extremely useful. This can save users time, system resources and potentially money that they would waste installing third-party utilities.