Will Windows 8 enhanced ISO support make optical discs obsolete?

Microsoft’s painstakingly-detailed and fascinating Building Windows 8 tell-all blog has covered USB 3.0 support, a new Explorer interface and an app store. In a new entry, the company explained its decision to revamp ISO access and management. Citing past customer requests, Stephen Sinofsky, Windows Live president, confirmed Windows 8 will offer native Explorer support for both ISO and VHD files.

“While terabytes of storage are available to all of us, managing disk (or disc) image formats remains important for a number of mission-critical operations in many organizations and among power users,” wrote Sinofsky, who also hinted at a big future announcement concerning VHD support.

Will Windows 8 enhanced ISO support make optical discs obsolete?

Rajeev Nagar, group program manager on the Windows 8 Storage and File Systems team, admitted that while physical media are “useful in many situations,” continued progress in the HDD industry means consumers will increasingly be able to transfer their disc-based movie and music collections into digital form. Nagar himself is a self-professed ripper.

“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,” wrote Nagar. “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.”

Because storage has become less and less costly (“I know I can buy a 3TB hard disk for less than $200”), Nagar believes making ISO file management simpler is a necessary step.

“This is exactly the feedback we received from many of you who used Windows 7 – the ability to directly use ISO files without requiring a physical CDROM or DVD drive is very important,” he said. To that end, Nagar announced that Windows 8 will remove a standard step from the overall process:

Once created, these [ISO] files can be sent around, downloaded, and stored just like any other file –  however, before you can access the photos, video, applications, documents, or other content contained within the ISO file, you either have to “burn” the ISO file to a writable optical disc or download and install software that allows you to “mount” and access the ISO file contents directly (i.e. without burning). With Windows 8, we have eliminated this last step – you can simply access the contents of the ISO file without needing either needing to burn a new disc or needing to find/download/install additional software just to logically access the ISO.

Nagar touted the platform’s “underneath the covers” approach to ISO file management as “quite simple.”

It’s uncertain if digital media will truly supplant its physical counterpart, but Microsoft certainly seems eager to help it try.

What do you think about the new system? Let us know in the comment section.