ISO was designed to store data in a format ready to be written to optical media. Today, ISO is commonly used to distribute bootable images for USB flash sticks as well as images of various software distributions that are still designed to be writable to optical media. ISO is limited in its imagining capabilities, not being designed to store full proper disk images.

The closest alternatives I could think of are virtual disk file formats but their openness is highly debatable and I don't see them widely used outside virtualization software. It seems, for decades, new and often closed formats were created along with various new software having anything to do with disk imagining.

Edit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_9660#Limitations (am not allowed to post as a link) for those who requested more info about ISO's limitations. Note, I'm not criticizing ISO for being unable to work as a general disk image format since it was never designed for this purpose.

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    How about VHD and IMG files. – whs Jan 31 '16 at 22:19
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    Your question isn't clear. You describe ISO being "designed" to store data in a format and being limited in its imaging capabilities. The ISO file is just a sector-by-sector copy of the raw disk contents (in a wrapper so it can be handled like a file). The only thing it excludes is stuff related to the disk plastic (the control headers and error correction data). It isn't clear what you think are its shortcomings or the nature of the alternatives. – fixer1234 Feb 1 '16 at 0:10
  • "ISO is limited in its imagining capabilities, not being designed to store full proper disk images." Explain this please. – Moab Feb 1 '16 at 1:16
  • If your concerns are the maximum individual file size limits or the 8.3 character limit on filenames, you could use UDF instead. – Vinayak Feb 1 '16 at 2:20

Just use a generic sparse disk as made with dd. You can mount it it in linux natively (and with third party software in windows). You can't get anything more open than a uncompressed bit-perfect image of a disk.

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