ISO 9660 CD-ROMs to transfer data between Mac and PC?

Summary: Some reasons why ISO 9660 CD-ROMs aren't the silver bullet to transfer files between Macintosh and PC. How to avoid problems with MacDisk.

Is the ISO 9660 Format Really Universal?

The file format specified in the ISO 9660 standard is clearly a nearly universal file format, and standard disks can be read on a broad range of operating systems: MS-DOS, Windows, Unix, Linux and even Macintosh.
This page is mainly on transferring data between Macintosh and PC. Please visit also our page on ISO CD-ROMs on Macintosh for some comments on using ISO 9660 CD-ROMs to distribute files to Macintosh users.

Can We Burn ISO 9660 CD-ROMs on a Macintosh?

Of course. All premastering software packages include an option to produce ISO-9660 conforming CD-ROMs. Those CD-ROMs, if they obey the ISO 9660 standard, the Apple Extensions to ISO 9660 and the Joliet extension too (to get long filenames) can behave quite normally when loaded on a Macintosh: a font file copied back from such a CD-ROM is still a font file, a data file can be loaded through a double click on its icon, etc.
One should note that the Joliet extensions are already supported by most burning software, but that we had to wait till Mac OS X 10.3 to get a native support of long filenames from ISO CD-ROMs. Users of former versions still see only short names...
To correct this, an extension was released by Thomas Tempelman. You can download this file from

Can Those CD-ROMs be Read on a PC?

Yes. Err, almost... Or, more precisely, most of the time... That is, if some conditions hold true. If there are no so-called illegal characters in the file and folder names, like slashes and backslashes, which could prevent you to copy a file or even to open a folder... Some users of Toast, for an example, still wonder about those red exclamation marks near the file or folder names.
There are still other conditions: If you don't mind to see generic Windows icons used for all files... If you don't mind either to make some guesses about the contents of the files... If you don't need to access to some special files like fonts and the like...
Should we go on?... How about some screen shots showing what happens?

Is There Hope, Doctor?

This kind of problems is not really serious if you're dealing with child stuff. Does it really matters if you just have to launch your text processor, go in the 'File' menu and click on the 'Open' item?
But things just get worse in some situations. Say you got this CD-ROM from Japan or from Australia (650 MB via the Internet, are you kidding?), and that you should deliver your finished job tomorrow (just some minor changes, as they said!). But you can't even open the folder containing the pictures! Do you remember when they said they would burn an ISO 9660 CD-ROM, "just to be sure that nobody gets problems".
Or maybe you just don't know what they put on the CD-ROM? What are those hundred picture files? What kind of files? EPS? TIFF? Are you going to say that the job doesn't fit in your timeplan? And what about your cashflow plans?

You know that those examples are not invented. Just some horror stories found back when skimming the memory.

And even if things could eventually be ironed out, did you take the time to estimate the real costs of all those incidents? How much for the operator who spent half a day sorting the files without extensions, just to know which file was the Xpress files and which ones the pictures? How much for checking the reflow problems because you had to use another font, even if the sender swore s/he had put the correct font on the CD-ROM...

Do Solutions Really Exist?

The release 5 and higher of our Mac-PC transfer program MacDisk allows you to manage this kind of ISO 9660 CD-ROM with Apple and/or Joliet extensions. We developped those features to answer the need expressed by numerous actual and potential users and think that they can be really useful tools for professional users. The cost of the software can be set off most of the time on a single job.
See our downloading page.

Pierre Duhem (ex-Logiciels & Services Duhem)
3, rue Pierre Haret - F-75009 Paris (France) - Tel. (+33) [0]149 700 455