Burning a Linux ISO image on CD

Wednesday, 2 January 2008, smalu

To be able to install a GNU/Linux distribution you need to burn a downloaded ISO image on a CD/DVD disc. At least this is the simplest way to achieve this goal. In this tutorial I am going to describe an easy way to do this under Windows and Linux operating systems and how to prepare your PC for a Linux OS.

Author: Mikołaj Smal

ISO image — what is this beast?

I hope the ISO acronym isn’t new to your eyes and ears. ISO is the international network of institutions. Its goal is to define new standards and norms. One of the standard is ISO 9660, which defines the file system used in CD and DVDs. ISO 9660 lets you create so called images that are the exact copy of a disc. Usually the images have the .ISO extension (rarely .ISO9660 is used), and are similar to RAR or ZIP archives. But be aware! It is only the similarity, like for instance the truck and the bus. They may look alike but they are different animals.

“The painting and its reproductions” – the correct burning

The most common mistake people make while burning the images is unzipping the image file. In case of pictures or movies it doesn’t really matter, but for OSes such a thing doesn’t work at all. You can compare it with the easiest example in this case — the painting. The painting usually has the original version and many reproductions. When you look at the original one, the amazement is sure, but in case of a reproduction, it always lacks something… In case of ISOs it is the thing that makes the CD bootable. Fortunately burning a 100% correct disc isn’t a difficult operation. Ah, you don’t need a big talent, special knowledge or expensive software to deal with it.

“Where will I find the gallery?” – downloading the .ISO file

I hope you know what kind of distribution you want to install. If you haven’t decided yet, try one of the three below. These are links to websites that contain the ISO images which I’ve called “the gallery”, following the convention of the article:

Burning CDs in Windows

There are many free or commercial applications which you can use to burn the ISO image. Here are the most important ones.


I recommend the ImgBurn application to burn the ISO images. I won’t describe the installation process because it is always the same — placing a brick on the ENTER button will do. Clicking the “next” button constantly for a couple of seconds is fine as well. When the program starts, click the button in the bottom-left corner of the window. Select the image file and open it. Wait till the burning process is finished. Done.

Pic 1. Burning CD in the ImgBurn
Pic 1. Burning CD in the ImgBurn


The popular Nero Express (very often attached to CD/DVD recorders) can be used to burn an ISO image as well. As the first command you have to select the “Disc Image or Saved Project” from the “Image, Project, Copy” menu. Now select the image. The helpful option is to choose the right extension. By default “All supported compilation and images” is selected. Open the file and click the “Next” button as many times as it is required… Done.

Pic 2. Burning in Nero
Pic 2. Burning in Nero

Burning process in…Linux

I will describe two very easy ways of burning CDs in Linux OS (Ubuntu) with the default GNOME file manager – Nautilus.

3 clicks to burn a CD

Click the right mouse button on the CD image. Select the “Save on disc…” option from the context menu. That has been two clicks.

Pic 3. 3-click burning
Pic 3. 3-click burning

Now the time have come to perform the last click. Click the “Save” button.
The Nautilus add-on, called nautilus-cd-burner, offers you some more features but we’re not going to cover them now.

One simple command to burn a CD

Alternative way to burn a CD is to do this in command line. Open a terminal window. Go to the directory containing the ISO file and type the following command:

cdrecord dev=0,0,0 -data speed=48 file.ISO

Of course don’t forget to change the file name to the real one!

Hanging a painting on a wall – booting from the image

When you already have the CD burned, you’d probably like to run it. If you have already booted from a CD/DVD before, then your CDROM should be set at the first place in the PC’s boot sequence. If it isn’t, you have to set it now. To do it you need to enter the BIOS. To enter the BIOS, you need to know the key combination to press when the computer is rebooting. At the POST screen it should inform you which button you have to press (“Press [button] to enter SETUP”). The alternative is to read the mainboard manual. The usual BIOS entering key is DEL or F12, so you can try them first as wild guesses.

If you have never been in BIOS and don’t know how to change the boot sequence, try to use a short help shown somewhere on the screen (in my case it is the bottom-right corner). Find a tab containing “boot” in its name. Set the CD/DVD as the “1st boot device” and exit saving changes. I use F10 to “save and exit”. Look for which button you have to press in your case.

Pic 4. CDROM set as the 1st boot device
Pic 4. CDROM set as the 1st boot device

The alternative

Some mainboards let you change the boot sequence without changing the BIOS’s settings. My board has a special menu that shows up after pressing a certain combination of buttons. It looks like the one below:

Pic 5. Boot sequence menu
Pic 5. Boot sequence menu

Is this the end? The image burned, and what’s next?

If you have already painted the picture (burned the CD), hanged it on the wall (booted), now the time have come to stare at it. Admiring, criticism and delight as possible options as well… The alternative is to simply install GNU/Linux right away. But it is another piece of story…

Translated by titter, proof-read by michuk