Tuesday, 12 October 2010


If you're like me you can turn from your computer and see piles of genealogy data CDs: some containing custom data sent by people and organizations; a box with old cover CDs from UK genealogy magazines; not to mention binders like that containing CDs of the 1881 British Census and National Index in the  Family History Resource File series.

Many of these, such as those old cover CDs, should just be thrown out. Mostly this is software trial editions from years gone by and small samples of data, usually from a community in which I have no interest.

Some CDs contain resources I do refer to from time to time. It's just frustrating that they sit there occupying desk top space I could better use.

Strike up the band, marching in comes ...   .iso ... which is a format that allows you to keep exact image files of whole data CDs, not music or video CDs, on your hard drive or other electronic storage medium. I've now started a project to copy some of that more valuable CD data.

Even if you're like me and work with a three-year-old laptop you probably still have plenty of space left on your hard drive. There's even more on a USB connected external drive on which I do an automatic backup every day. If you have that storage space which you've already paid for why not let it earn its keep?

To do so you need two pieces of software, one to convert the contents of the CD to an .iso file on your hard drive, the other to allow you to access that file from your computer just as if it was a CD in the physical drive. I found free versions for both purposes.

To move CD contents to an .iso file I'm using ISO Recorder, downloaded from  http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm. It seems to work well without any issues so far.

To use an .iso file you need software to mount and dismount the file, just as you would insert and remove a CD from its drive. I use Virtual CloneDrive found at www.slysoft.com/en/virtual-clonedrive.html. It's one of the disk imaging utilities suggested at Lifehacker http://lifehacker.com/5660244/five-best-disk-image-tools. I did have a bit of trouble with the installation and sought help from instructional videos found by searching on YouTube. 

I'm not suggesting these two pieces of software are the best, just that they work for me.

Now that I have everything installed I'm finding that often it's quicker to search on the virtual drive than the CD, plus I'm not spending time searching through a pile of CDs to find the one I want. You do need to preserve, or destroy, the CD. Selling it or giving it away contravenes copyright if you're still using the copy.


James said...

Excellent advice. I do the same with some of the critical data CDs that I have on hand. The copy stored in the .iso file (or one of the other formats, such as .bin/.cue) on the hard drive also serves as a backup to the original CD should it ever become lost or damaged, allowing you to shelve the disc somewhere out of the way, or to toss it if you prefer. This approach is even more important, perhaps, for "home-spun" discs on CD-R or CD-RW format where degradation could make the disc unreadable within a few short years.

Another key advantage is that, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can load the image and access it as you would an actual CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disc (but with lightning speed since it is loaded into computer memory). Using Virtual CloneDrive, you can create as many as 15 simultaneous virtual drives to load multiple disc images at the same time to avoid having to swap them out (15 would be a stretch, but the option is there!). For users of Roxio software, I believe it includes its own flavor of virtual drive software, and likely other disc-burning software does, as well.

Another suggestion for an easy disc-to-image conversion software is ImgBurn. It is elegantly easy to use, hiding its vast array of configuration settings where most users will never need to access them.

JDR said...

As mentioned in the posting. Lifehacker asked their readers to vote on their favourite disk image tool. The winner was Daemon Tools, which includes a free Lite version. See: http://www.daemon-tools.cc/eng/downloads

Virtual CloneDrive, the one I'm using, came in second.