Saturday, March 24, 2007

Virtual removable media drive utilities

Most "power" pc users are probably familiar with utilities and software that allows them to create virtual drives on their Windows 2000 and XP systems.

In most cases...these are used to keep a virtual image of a CD/DVD ROM disk attached to their system, thereby freeing their actual removable media tray available.

I have a custom system-utility tools disk I created and keep the ISO file loaded up on my laptop system at all times so it is always "virtually" handy. And as I build updated versions, it allows me to test the ISO compilation before burning to make sure I have it set up just right...saves me a bit on my media expenses by avoiding wasted burns to cd and the more expensive DVD media.

Note: These aren't necessarily applications to help you create an image of a removable media disk...although some might do that as well. I'm only focusing right now on their ability to mount the virtual removable media image files.

CD/DVD Applications

On the CD/DVD side there are a couple of freeware virtual media drive mounting products you might be interested in. Each have their own positives and drawbacks. I haven't had too many issues...but be careful as most load some kind of system driver to work effectively.

SlySoft's Virtual CloneDrive - (freeware) - I've been running this application on my XP Pro laptop for many months now. It has always worked quick and smooth. I absolutely love this one! No BSOD or system driver conflicts at all. It is very unobtrusive. I love that angry sheep mascot! No toolbars or "extras". It just keeps working! I'm not sure it is able to handle copy-protected media images near as well....but I don't use them for that...I just want to keep my home-brew system utility ISO's and BartPE builds at hand for testing purposes. Works great on my XP Pro laptop. It works so transparently, I often forget I even have it installed. (For Windows 98/98SE/ME/2000/XP)

MagicDisk from MagicISO - (freeware) - Another really well designed tool. It supports a slew of CD/DVD image media formats for virtual mounting. Highly flexible. I run it on my Windows 2000 Pro system at work where I maintain a digital archive of all our IT group's system restoration images, corporate software installation disks, and various specialized utility disks. (It did BSOD my XP Pro system when I tried to put it on there, but I never took the time to really puzzle out why. I am going to try it immediately after getting a fresh XP image on my laptop in the future, if I ever need to do so.) (For both Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista in x32 bit flavor and Windows XP/2003/Vista x64 flavor version as well.)

Alcohol 52% - (freeware) - I've used Alcohol 120% in the past and really was impressed with it. This is a "light" version of it with freeware. Installs a toolbar that can't be removed during the install process (unlike Daemon Tools), but you can then uninstall it in the add/remove programs list. I don't use it anymore with the other alternatives I've previously mentioned. (For Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Server2003 in x32 bit varieties as well as XP Professional x64 Edition/Server 2003 x64 systems.)

DAEMON Tools - (freeware) - This is a popular application that is simply one of the best (IMHO) virtual cd/DVD-ROM emulators. Currently available for download at version 4.08 for both x32 and x64 OS systems (including Vista). The installer does offer to add a toolbar, but I believe that can be unselected during the install process if not desired, or uninstalled via the add/remove program list after installation if desired. Some users report it crashes/BSOD their systems due a special system be warned. Those special drivers are what makes it popular for certain users who want to run a ISO file of a copy-protected media (that they have purchased, right?) and keep their hard-media disk safely archived from scratches and disaster. Wikipedia info.

it has been said both DAEMON Tools and Alcohol use a "secure" SCSI transport driver (SPTD.sys) which might help them get around some disk copy-protection schemes. This might be what is leading to driver conflict issues on some systems.

Finally there is the humble (and sparse) unsupported Microsoft utility Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel v2.0.1.1. I've been having issues finding it directly on Microsoft, but the TechRepublic post I liked to does have a nice basic tutorial on how to get it up and going. Works under XP systems.

I'm sure there are other software packages as well, however these are the ones I am most familiar with and would recommend to home/professional users. SlySoft's Virtual Clone Drive has to be one of the most approachable for most home users.

Floppy Drive Image Utilities.

Why even bother with the lowly floppy drive? Well some of us still need to support software, servers and other odd pieces of old equipment that just demand a good old DOS disk.

I get tired of all the floppies rattling around in my software case, so I just keep two on hand. Then I have a CD filled with floppy image files. When I need a particular floppy for service work, I just fire up my trusted floppy drive application, put one of the floppies in the drive, put my CD image store in the other and quickly write out the image to the floppy. Done.

An added bonus is that I don't have to worry about a critical floppy going bad. Saves me a ton of space and time.

There are a number of other good floppy drive image creation/writing tools (WinImage and RawWrite for Windows). But the ONLY one I ever use is FlopImager. It works so perfectly...I have no need for anything else. I haven't even bothered to look.

FlopImager 2.1 - (freeware) - Per the developer's description, "...creates image files of your floppy disks. Once created you can write them back to another disk." It even is able to perfectly handle DOS boot-disks. I have run it successfully off a USB stick and off a burned CD ROM disk (which contains those floppy images so I don't have to go looking for it). It doesn't require installation. Just download and run the .exe file. It's that simple. I actually use an older version: FlopImager for NT 1.3 and it works just fine on Windows 2000/XP systems. This zip file comes with the application as well as a great PDF "how-to" guide file that is worth the brief time it takes to run. The 2.1 version also comes with a PDF guide, the GUI .exe, as well as a command-line version .exe.

Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 - (freeware) - So what do you do when you find you have your floppy drive image cd handy, you are on your laptop (or a corporate desktop system that shipped without a floppy drive) and you need to access a specialized file contained on one of those floppy images? Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 to the rescue! It does takes a bit of command line work to get going.

Please read the excellent vfdhelp text file in the zip first, but it is quite easy (even for command-line) to use. Basically, once you have unzipped the file to a folder, you open a command line session and load/install the virtual drive to the system. Then you run the actual executable file, using a series of clear command line arguments with the executable. This is how you can open, create, and close the virtual hard disk files.

So what I do in my aforementioned scenario is to copy the application folder to the pc, load the driver, copy my floppy image file as well. Mount the floppy image with Virtual Floppy Drive in DOS then I'm good to go either still using the DOS command line or switching to the Windows GUI. Which now sees the floppy image as a real file...including the ability to write to/from it if mounted accordingly and if it has space. Nice!

(Virtual Floppy drive is supported on Windows NT / 2000 / XP / 2003 x32 bit only.)

Microsoft Virtual PC 2004/2007 and Floppy Drives

So one day recently I was working on creating and testing a virtual pc image of a pure DOS application we run at work. It boots DOS, it runs DOS, it exits DOS. No GUI here, my friends! This is Old-School at its finest.

Creation and administration of this rare animal requires use of a DOS boot disk to get it properly configured. And I was doing this on my laptop that has a modular drive slot--and though I had my cd/DVD module in it and my floppy module was 50 miles away (of course) in my desk drawer at work. I did have my cd with all my needed floppy images.

I knew VPC allowed attaching to a real floppy drive, so this is what I did:

  1. Run the aforementioned Virtual Floppy Drive (VFD) 2.1 and create a virtual floppy drive on my laptop host system.
  2. Copy the needed floppy disk image from the cd.
  3. Use VFD to mount a virtual image of the floppy disk image.
  4. Point VPC to mount that virtually mounted floppy image.
  5. Done!

Then I felt stupid after all that work when I found this Microsoft note on their TechNet site: Creating virtual floppy disks.

See, VPC virtual machines are configured with one floppy drive. and that floppy drive can directly mount either a physical floppy disk or a virtual floppy disk file.


File that one away under "Good to Know."

More on Adding and removing floppy disks in VPC.

So I could have just (and later did and verified) dropped my floppy image cd in the laptop tray, fire up my VPC session and then point the virtual machine I was building to the particular .vfd file I needed to access.

Oh well, helped me discover the neat and handy Virtual Floppy Drive 2.1 utility, which I wouldn't have done otherwise.

Now you know.


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