CD-ROMs, the computer version of music CDs, are a hot product. I should know; my company sells them. Thanks to a storage capacity equivalent to nearly 500 floppy disks, a single CD-ROM can hold even the most sprawling graphics-oriented software product or giant stores of data. (We sell CD-ROMs containing large federal databases.)
What most people don't realize, though, is that they can cheaply record their own CD-ROMs, which are great for storing internal software and data. We stumbled onto that discovery when we purchased a CD recorder (CD-R) so we could more easily make prototypes of our products -- and quickly found that we could conveniently and relatively inexpensively back up all our PC data. In-house CD-ROMs are also a good way to transport databases and programs between offices or to customers or between work and home. Think of a CD-R disc as a 683-MB floppy that runs on any PC -- be it an IBM-compatible, a Mac, or a Unix-based machine -- that has a standard CD-ROM player.
If you want to make copies of the information on your hard disk in case you ever lose or can't get at your data, a CD-R is faster than a tape back-up device. Tapes can take several hours to write or read and several minutes to find a particular file. CD-R discs take little more than an hour to fill, minutes to read, and seconds to find a file; you can instantly call up a directory of the CD-R discs exactly as you do with a floppy or a hard disk. CD-R discs are even fast enough to run software applications, saving you the time of having to transfer the software to your hard disk if room is tight. However, once you record data on a CD-R disc, you can't change the data. You can add more to the disc later, though adding data in chunks wastes some space on the disc.
Getting our CD-R system up and running was simple. We bought a package that included a Phillips 522 CD recorder and all the software and connecting hardware required. We ran the system off a 486 PC (a fast 386 will do, too) with enough hard-disk space to hold about twice the amount of data we expected to write to the CD-ROM; the extra space is needed for command and instruction files.
Even though we did everything correctly, the first two CD-R discs we made couldn't be read. It turned out that the two blank discs we received with the unit were faulty. Good thing we didn't get 100 discs from the same source or I would have given up. I've since become a believer in name-brand CD-R discs. We haven't had a disc failure since the first two.
In the past year CD-R hardware and software have become very affordable. You can get a system up and running for $2,000, and prices of low-end units should continue to drop. More important, the cost of blank CD-R discs has dropped from more than $20 to less than $10 in the past year.
As prices drop, CD-R technology continues to improve, and you can now purchase CD recorders rated at quad speed, which record a full 683-megabyte disc in under 20 minutes (compared with 74 minutes at normal speed). Watch within the next few years for new video formats on CD-ROM to drive the capacity of CD-R discs up to 7 to 10 gigabytes. By then that much space won't seem like a lot.
Sandy Friedman is the founder and CEO of Counterpoint Publishing Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.
MESSAGES 'R' US
As if your children don't have enough of a technological edge, Sega now offers them the handheld IR7000 Communicator, a sort of kiddified electronic pocket organizer that can swap data with other IR7000s by means of infrared beam. Inc. Technology sent a pair of the minicomputers to school with Rachel, a fourth grader in Brookline, Mass. Her report:
These minicomputers are awesome!!! The best things about them: sending messages, creating warriors for the game, and being able to hide the IR7000s in your bag, desk, or pocket, at school! To send a message to your friend, just click on the message icon on the menu and tell your friend to do the same. Then type in your message -- "Want to play catch at recess?" is one of mine -- and press exe. To play the game, press the battle key and choose a warrior. Then press function to get more power or exe to shoot him. But here's the bug, or programming error: every once in a while some warriors are lost and must be re-created.