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What methods of producing hard drive images stand out with regards to being platform independent and standing a good chance of usability in the future. Some considerations:

  1. Can the imaging program be run on a variety of OS, disk, paritition, and file system types?
  2. Can the image by mounted in place by a variety of OS's?
  3. Compression would be a plus, as well as actual files vs. bit for bit copying.

The motivation for my question is having old hard drives that I must hang onto and wanting to make sure that I have backups of them just in case as well as to use the images as an easier access mechanism versus actually having to hook them up to some computer with the disk's specific hardware interface. I also regularly use OS X, Linux, and Windows OS.

I've searched superuser and while there are similar questions, I don't see a duplicate that address these specific aspects of imaging hard drives. If I'm wrong, please add the appropriate link.

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I kind of feel like the current (and ever decreasing costs) of storage sort of mute the meat of this question. But I suppose as we can store more, we'll find more needs to have epic backups. +1, I like the question. – Doc Aug 9 '11 at 23:44
+1. Initially I didn't like the way this question appeared, but after some thought, this is a good question. I'm curious to see the answers people come up with, I haven't really given any thought to actually mounting the backups I made with a ghost program in the past. – Breakthrough Aug 9 '11 at 23:45
@Breakthrough: Drive Snapshot has a very nice feature in that it can mount the image files of a hard drive as a virtual drive in Windows that you can even modify (although all changes will be lost upon dismounting because the mounted image files themselves are opened as read-only), and then you can create yet another snapshot of that modified virtual drive: – Randolf Richardson Aug 10 '11 at 0:16
@Randolf Richardson thanks for that link, looks like an interesting program. At the OP, if the age of the drive is worrying you, move the files (and just the files) to your current computer, and keep copies everywhere (hell, even in a ZIP/RAR archive). There's no sense in archiving an entire legacy hard drive (since you won't ever be able to restore it in the future anyways, assuming that hardware doesn't exist). – Breakthrough Aug 10 '11 at 2:21

This question assumes you're going to be "burying the backup in the ground until you need it" which is never a good backup solution. The simplest way to future proof things like this is to periodically migrate them to newer systems. This is good idea anyway since you're probably going to run into hardware problems with your older backups before you ever run into software compatibility problems. Just use imaging software that's made by a major company that you can be reasonably certain won't go out of business. Or go open source and backup a copy of the source code too.

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Something I'm doing for a client sort of addresses these needs. We'll be using to make it usable in the future...

Step 1: Create a computer, with adequate disk space

Step 2: Install the needed OS (in this case, Windows XP) and all its updates

Step 3: Install the contact management software they may need for the next 7 years (as required by federal tax laws here)

Step 4: Restore a backed up copy of the data files (and verify that it all works)

Step 5: Reboot the virtual computer to make sure it's all still working

Step 6: Shut down the virtual computer and make a copy of the file to one or more external hard drives

Step 7: Copy the installer to the external hard drive(s)

Now, what we're assuming here is that is going to be available in the future for whatever OS is being used at that time so that if the version of its installer that we included on the hard disk isn't compatible with newer OS in the future, then we can simply install the newest version that is [expected to be].

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And what if the external in Step 7 is lost or corrupt? Step 8: mirror external to offsite backup? Also, this is a neat solution, but not really applicable to existing hard drives that might not even have an OS on them and just data, or even part of some multi disk volume setup. More interested in disk images than system/OS images. – mindless.panda Aug 10 '11 at 0:13
@mindless.panda: Please see Step 6, which mentioned " one or more external hard drives" (plus other disk media are fine too -- it doesn't have to be an external hard drive) – Randolf Richardson Aug 10 '11 at 0:19
Ahh... sorry, missed that part. – mindless.panda Aug 10 '11 at 1:20
Or include a hash. – surfasb Aug 10 '11 at 5:52

Considering your requirements, using a simple raw disk image (using dd) and then compressing the image (tar.gz is what most people use) does all 3, with the craveat that its bit for bit.

The decompressed images are mountable in linux and probably OS X natively, and on windows with additional software.

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