Long ago, software companies enforced copy protection by requiring that the original product CD be inserted with each usage. When copying CDs in their entirety became commonplace, the software giants turned to other methods, mostly centered around internet-based authentication. However, when I installed several games for my son on our new computer, I found that the old practice still persisted. Several games made by different manufacturers all required that the CD be inserted to run them. Since he is too young to be handling CDs, I was motivated to find a solution to this problem.
My solution employs all free software components. The first is called ISO Recorder. Depending on which version of Windows XP you have, you have to download either version 1 or 2 of this program. When installed, ISO Recorder adds a context menu to your real CD drives, so that when you right-click the CD under My Computer, it gives you the option of “Create image from CD” and “Copy CD-to-CD”.
Place the CD you want to “clone” in your drive, open up “My Computer”, and right-click on the CD. Choose “Create image from CD” and specify a location for the file. If you have installed the program already, it may make sense to put the image file in the program directory (generally under “C:\Program Files\software company\software title”). That way if you un-install the program, when it deletes the program directory, the image file will be deleted with it. If, however, you want to re-install the program later, you can place it elsewhere, and use the ISO image to re-install the program instead of the product CD.
To put your ISO image to use, you need a program called Virtual CloneDrive. In the installation options, make sure “.iso” is checked under file associations. After installation, if you navigate to the folder your CD image is located in, you will notice that its icon has been replaced by a sheep (a.k.a. Dolly, the famous cloned sheep). When you click on this icon, Virtual CloneDrive will “mount” this image to the first available drive letter. For all intents and purposes, it will appear as if you have placed the actual CD into a new CD drive on your computer. If you have autoplay enabled on your computer, it will autoplay the virtual CD, in most cases starting the program contained on it. You can also browse the files on the CD.
Virtual CloneDrive defaults to mounting just one drive concurrently although it can support up to eight. In most cases, one drive is the best configuration, since the type of programs that require the product CD typically would only be used one-at-a-time. Each time you select a new ISO file, the drive letter being used by Virtual CloneDrive is replaced with the virtual CD for the new file, as if you took the last CD out and put a new one in. However, if you do need to run more than one of these programs at a time, you can change this option by running CloneDrive from Start->Programs and selecting the settings tab.
The last step to automating the process of mounting the images to the virtual CD drive is to change your normal program shortcuts to point to the ISO images instead of the normal applications. Then, when you click to start the programs, instead of saying “please insert CD” it will start, just as it should! In order to do this, find the shortcut, either on your desktop or under Start->Programs (or both) and right-click it. Change the filename under the “Target” field to the name of your image file, with the “ISO” extension.
Once you have done this with all the games or other programs on your computer that require CDs, file the original CDs away somewhere, and know that your all your programs are now only one click away, no CDs necessary.