The biggest question that you re probably asking yourself is why you should pay for disk imaging software when there are General Public License (GPL)   also known as free   alternatives.

Most Mac OS users are probably aware of the OEM Disk Utility application. Windows also has its own built-in disk image software as part of the Windows Backup and Restore application. Both of these are great, but they are very specific tools with limited functionality.

Other options include feature-limited freeware, but that doesn t always play well with your antivirus and firewall settings. Eventually the trial period expires without your having fully accomplished the original task, or you get tired of looking at a clunky ad-centered interface and annoying pop-ups. With all of these options, you also get limited support. When it comes down to it, you should consider making the investment on the best disk imaging software for you.

Convenience, features and support are what set the best disk imaging software from the best free drive cloning software. Every available disk-imaging program should at least dutifully image and restore your system. How it does that and how it expands on the technology, though, is important. The more intuitive to use, the better. Some programs even write themselves into the Window s shell extension, which allows them to run as an integral part of your operating system.

Some of the best imaging software brands offer advanced cloning, virtualization, restoration and storage. The most basic option for a complete image is an ISO-compatible mirrored clone, which is an exact byte-by-byte image of a drive, including empty sectors. But you can choose to image only the used portions of a disk to conserve space. Later, incremental updates allow for byte-level file changes, and differential updates update individual files within an image to not only save time and space, but also allow file versioning so you can roll back through particular changes. When used effectively, disk-imaging software can be the best backup software you ever had.

Disk images are made to deploy quickly across multiple platforms. The native ISO format itself was designed so that complete file sets could be easily distributed on networks and, later, the internet. In fact, most large software downloads today come in the ISO format. Many developers have complemented this technology with their own features and innovations.

Some software makes image deployment easy. Where ISOs generally have to be mounted as a virtual drive or machine in an operating system s environment, some proprietary image formats from outside the operating system. Some disk imaging brands even extend compatibility to Mac OS X. And yes   with a little technical know-how   you could run Mac OS X on a PC from inside a virtual environment.

Knowing what you need disk-imaging software for is what will help you decide which to buy. Power users will have different needs from those of gamers, which will be different still from someone who is just looking to back up their DVD collection. One may just need that emergency backup and migration tool, while the other wants to run games and videos from a virtual drive, and perhaps create a duplicate for safe keeping.

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