Simpler software and cheaper recorders make it easy to store mountains of data

The ad shows a quartet of business types trying to look cool. The headline announces: ``A killer light show, multiple graphics, and a hip-hop beat. Accounting cuts its first CD.''

Not quite so fast. Plunging prices and much easier-to-use software mean that the recordable CD, or CD-R, is no longer an exotic tool just for multimedia developers and artists. Prices for disk recorders, such as the Hewlett-Packard Colorado Memory Systems unit in the ad, have dropped below $1,000 and may go below $500 by yearend. But owning a CD-R doesn't make you a multimedia author any more than buying a videocamera makes you a cinematographer. Producing multimedia content demands both creative imagination and mastery of complex software.

Fortunately, there are plenty of uses for recordable CDs--from storing old files to preparing a catalog--that don't require you to learn multimedia techniques. A more sober Colorado Memory ad shows a trio of lawyers who used a CD-R to store ``countless records.'' Archival storage is a natural use. A $7 recordable disk can hold up to 650 megabytes of data--equivalent to nearly 10,000 scanned-in pages--and writeable CDs are certified to retain the data for 10 years. Another obvious use for CD-Rs is the distribution of large databases. Once recorded, a CD-R can be read just like a floppy disk.

One of the beauties of CD-Rs is that once you've made a disk, duplicating it is relatively inexpensive--about $15 a copy for a run of 100 and well under $2 each in quantities of 1,000. Companies can turn out their catalog or training materials on CDs without hiring a team of specialists.

It does take some practice to make your own disk successfully, however. You can't just copy files one at a time or in groups, the way you do to an ordinary disk. Most CD-R drives come bundled with special software, often either CD Creator 2 from Corel or Gear from Elektroson. I tested both programs in both Windows 95 and Macintosh versions, working with a Philips Electronics CDD2000 drive (with Corel CD Creator, the Windows version is $899 internal, $1,050 external; for the Mac, $940, external only.) Both programs are reliable and fairly easy to use, with the edge going to Corel for a ``wizard'' that guides you through the creation process.

To write a CD, you first collect all the material you want to copy. The data can include computer files of any sort, music tracks from CDs, and pictures from Kodak Photo CDs. All of the information is then ``burned'' into the CD-R in a single pass. The process will tie your computer up for about 45 minutes if you're writing a full disk using a double-speed drive.

FRISBEE FACTOR. Unfortunately, if any glitch should occur during the burning of a CD-R, your disk becomes a ``frisbee,'' so-called because it's only good for tossing around the backyard. To minimize problems, both programs check for errors in your setup and let you simulate the complete writing of a CD without actually burning data into the disk. The industry is also developing a technique called packet writing that should be more tolerant of faults.

Erasable disks should make things easier, too. One variety of rewritable CD, called the PD disk, exists today, but it cannot be read by an ordinary CD-ROM drive. Later this year, Philips plans to bring out a new erasable disk, called a CD-E, that can be read by existing equipment.

If you don't need that much storage, you might be better off with a cheaper, simpler device, such as Iomega's 100-megabyte Zip disk. But if you want to deal with mountains of data, and especially if you need a lot of copies that can be read by standard equipment, then CD-R is for you.



Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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