GV - October 1997

Make Your Own CDs and Feel the Burn
by Sheldon Liebman

Over the past few years, the role of CDs has been changing significantly. The first change was when they moved from being strictly an audio format into the CD-ROM format, which allowed computers to move into the world of multimedia.

As costs came down, CDs replaced floppy disks as the medium of choice to distribute software. This helped in two ways. First, it made it easier for users to load their software and less likely the source material would become corrupted. Second, it allowed software developers to increase the support materials they included with their products. Today, for example, Microsoft Office 97 includes over 80 MegaBytes (MB) of clipart, 10 MB of fonts, and another 100 MB of programs that either can be added to Office at no charge or can be purchased to use with the product. Another product, Symantec's ACT! Contact Manager, includes trial versions of a number of other Symantec products that can be integrated with ACT!

Become a Media Mogul
The low cost and high availability of CD-Recordable drives now makes it possible for anyone to become a CD publisher. In a recent PC hardware/software catalog, the lowest priced CD Recorder was under $300. According to the advertisement, this includes all cables and drivers. Another model is available to connect to your parallel port for less than $425.

Not only is the price of these recorders now affordable, but the cost of the recording media has also come down tremendously. In this same catalog, single CDs sell for $4 and packages of 25 bring the price down to under $3 per CD.

These hardware and media prices make it very easy for someone to create their own CDs. Recently, I was speaking with Tom McMahon, who joined Microsoft earlier this year to help them develop and implement their strategy for merging PCs and TVs. Tom spends a lot of time these days traveling around the country and speaking about the merger of computer and video technologies. As part of this process, he has developed a very extensive Microsoft PowerPoint demonstration that he uses in his talks. To be certain that he can use his presentation anywhere, he has a 50 MB CD that contains the data in three different formats. When we spoke, he offered to send me a copy, which he did by burning a CD for me.

The nice thing about this process is that whenever McMahon wants to send a copy of his presentation to someone, he can be certain that the files he includes are the latest ones he has. He also knows that whenever he travels, he can be sure that he has everything he needs for his presentation on a single CD. There is no need to bring many different disks or CDs with him.

Show Me the MegaBytes
Whether you need to make a copy of software or content, the ability to put it on CD is a tremendous advantage. First of all, the storage capacity of CDs means that just about anything will fit on a single disc. With 650 MB of storage per CD, only the most video intensive presentation will require more than one. Second, you can be certain that everything you need is present and where you expect it to be. The portability of CDs makes it easy to bring the disc to another machine and try it out. If you've made a mistake, you can correct it in the next version.

CDs can also be used to store the contents of an entire machine. Although most machines today contain hard drives that are larger than 650 MB, they often have less when they are first configured. Many computer manufacturers have started to include a "Recovery CD" that can be used to reformat and reload a computer to its initial state. You can do the same thing with a new computer. Load the operating system, set your preferences, then load and configure the software you use most often. If the total is under 650 MB, you can make a copy of your entire setup to a single CD! For many users of Windows '95, this could save a great deal of time and effort.

If you want to take it one step further, there are now CD-Rewriteable drives that are available along with CD-RW media. Prices are higher than CD-R, but a single CD can be rewritten as many as 1000 times. This truly opens up the possibility of using CDs instead of magnetic tapes to back up and restore programs and data from your computer.

(Adaptec) Software Makes It Easy
Burning a CD is a very straightforward process, but it does require that everything happen in the right order and at the right speed. The actual writing of the data onto the CD is done through the use of a laser and once the process begins, it cannot be interrupted. If something does interrupt the process, you can just toss that CD in the trash and start all over again. Of course, if you invest in a CD-Rewriteable drive, this issue goes away. These drives use a slightly different writing technique and can be used to save data multiple times on a single disc.

With a standard CD-R drive, however, this probably means that the machine you use to burn your CDs should not be shared over a network. It also should not be used to receive faxes or connect to the Internet. If you must use a machine this way, at least turn off those functions during the process of creating CDs.

Today, the most popular software for creating CDs is probably from Adaptec. In looking at the software included with a variety of drives, virtually every one of them bundles some version of Adaptec's CD software. In many cases, companies that created competing software products have either sold them to Adaptec or simply stopped selling them.

For example, Corel had a product called CD Creator that was sold to Adaptec and is now a part of their Easy CD Creator product. Another company had a product called Toast for the Macintosh that is now sold by Adaptec. Other products, like Zap for CD from Cheyenne, have apparently been discontinued.

Given that the choice seems to be which Adaptec software you should get, the decision is actually pretty easy. Adaptec's Easy CD Creator software sells for $99 and is designed to combine audio, video, pictures and data onto a CD. It even includes software to let you design your own jewel case inserts with artwork and titles.

Easy CD Creator has a big brother called Easy-CD Pro. This package sells for $349 as a standalone product, but is available as an upgrade to Easy CD Creator for only $99. It doesn't take much to see that it's actually less expensive to start with Easy CD Creator and then upgrade if you think it's necessary.

Depending on the drive you purchase, the decision may already be made for you. Easy-CD Pro is already bundled with a large number of drives.

The actual process of creating the CD is fairly easy. It's basically a drag and drop process of selecting files to go on the CD and depositing them in a window within the creation software. Once you've selected everything you want, you tell the software to create the CD and it copies all of the files to the drive. Since the data needs to be available in a steady stream, the software utilizes your computer's memory as a large buffer. When it's done, you just read the data back.

It used to be that people tried to make their projects fit on a single 1.44 MB disk. More recently, this changed to less than 100 MB as more and more people started using Iomega Zip drives and similar products. With the current state of CD-R hardware, software and media, it seems that the new standard is 650 MB or less.

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