Publish CDs Cheaper and Easier Than Ever

by Bill Willis Associate Editor When T.H.E. Journal profiled CD-R (CD-Recordable) drives in December of last year (1995), the lowest priced drive in that article was about $1500. Now, only nine months later, prices have dropped dramatically, with more price cuts being announced regularly. Add faster drive speeds; better, more user-friendly software; and technological innovations such as incremental and packet writing to the now-ubiquitous price cuts and suddenly the excuses for not developing and publishing CD-ROMs become extinct. A few years ago, when think tanks were still debating the viability of CD-ROM as a standard for both industry and consumers, the future of CD-based media, at least for information purposes, wasn't so clear. However, the general acceptance of CD-ROM media as the de facto information storage standard, both by major technology manufacturers and consumers alike, has pushed CD-R into the mainstream. Another strong factor influencing the steady price decrease and consumer acceptance of CD-R systems is the size and complexity of even basic, self-authored multimedia applications. With the extremely powerful authoring packages available, educators can now create multimedia programs that rival commercial releases of a few years ago. And what better way to store, distribute and use those applications than relatively inexpensive CD-R media? (Blank CD-R discs currently go for about $10-12 per disc.) For those who have been stranded in a time warp for the past few years, or somehow missed hearing about the most convenient and inexpensive way to get into multimedia publishing, a brief explanation is in order. In 1987, the International Standards Organization (ISO) adopted ISO 9660, the industry standard file format for CD-ROM. This made it possible to take a disc created to the ISO 9660 standard and play it in virtually any machine without requiring special modifications. Enter Win/Mac hybrid CD-ROMs, the only media that can be reliably used on both Windows and Mac machines. (Try doing this with a floppy or hard disk -- impossible, because those media must be formatted to the OS's specifications.) These dual-format discs are especially useful in the educational arena, where both Macintosh and Windows machines c'exist, sometimes in the same lab. New Technology Transforms Drives Up until recently, CD-R drives functioned primarily as unique peripherals that needed specialized software in order to write to a disc. These software packages wrote to discs in one long, continuous session (Single session, or disc-at-once). If anything interrupted this session -- power surge, software/hardware glitch, etc. -- users had a useless CD on their hands and had to start over. This method of recording data placed limitations on the usefulness of CD-R drives, leaving them to those who wanted simply to record a vast amount of data at one time, or record a completed multimedia application to a disc for later use and distribution. Multi-session and interrupted recording was only feebly supported, and quite glitchy. However, with the recent advent of Sony's CDRFS (CD Recordable File System), and software such as Moniker's Spira 2.0, applications for CD-R systems have greatly multiplied. Sony's CDRFS technology employs packet recording, in which data is written in 64K "packets," efficiently optimizing the placement of data on the disc without requiring a large hard disk "staging" area for data preparation. The result is that the CD-R drive functions like a hard or floppy disk, and users can copy data to the disc by "drag and drop" or the familiar "Save As" command from any application software. In addition, users can "delete" files, hiding them from the system, to be "recovered" later if needed. (Being that CD-R is write-once, "deleted" files are simply hidden from sight, and not actually erased from a disc.) CDRFS is being distributed in the form of a system driver, and will be available at no cost through the Sony BBS and their Web site at Moniker's Spira 2.0 also expands CD-R functionality by providing full read and write drive-letter access to most CD-R drives. The first time the software is loaded, it adds a new drive letter to a user's system, offering access to that drive every time Windows is started. Any Windows application may read and write to this drive; no separate application is required to read and write files. The Spira software also includes the capability to rename, create, move and "delete" files and directories on the CD-R disc. Educators can copy files from hard disk, diskette, CD-ROM, CD-R or network storage. Version 2.0 of Spira offers file recovery to ensure file and directory integrity in the event of a power failure or recording session interrupt. Spira requires no "pre-mastering" of CD-R media, and includes both single- and multi-session support. Roll 'Em, Disc Jockey Although using CD-R drives like a hard disk sounds attractive, most drives will be used to record large multimedia applications and for archiving purposes. To this end, there are various software programs that make mastering CDs quite simple. Most CD-R drives can create discs for multiple standards, including Kodak's PhotoCD, depending on the software one uses. Some software even allows the creation of hybrid Mac/Windows discs from the PC end, especially useful in the mixed-platform environment of education. One such package is CeQuadrat's WinOnCD 3.0, one of the first true 32-bit Windows 95 CD-R applications. The software contains several unique features, including a bootable disc creator that lets one create discs for direct booting from the CD. Shared hybrid CDs, for both the Mac and Windows platforms, can be created and incremental packet writing helps to avoid those annoying buffer underruns. And Wizards give helpful tips for Windows 95 users. As a native 32-bit application, it supports long file names, unlimited directory tree depth and non-ISO 9660 characters, making possible the publishing of multi-lingual applications. In addition, WinOnCD's disc emulator permits the complete emulation of CD-ROM images, allowing users to examine the CD's contents before actually recording it. The emulated CD acts like a finished CD-ROM disc, letting one test applications and inspect directory structures. This convenience helps to find software bugs and potential problems before actually cutting a disc. The software's "On The Fly" writing option takes almost no space on the hard disk and makes CD production faster as it is not necessary to create a complete image of the CD. Furthermore, CeQuadrat's Smart File Placement optimally places files and directories on the CD so that application performance d'esn't suffer. WinOnCD supports all current CD formats including CD-ROM (single- and multi-session); CD-DA (digital audio); CD-XA; CD-i; Bridge Disc; PhotoCD; Video CD; True Hybrid Disc with shared data; CD PLUS; and bootable disc. Other applications exist for more specialized environments and tasks. For example, Virtual CD Writer 2.1 for NetWare networks allows a Novell server to write directly to CD-R drives attached to the server. These can be single drives or part of a jukebox or tower. In addition to writing simultaneously to multiple drives, the software allows users to write to discs previously recorded on by other CD-R software. Also, programmers can take advantage of the program's suite of four API calls, embedding them into their own applications. Celerity's Virtual CD Writer supports 2X, 4X and 6X industry-standard CD-R drives. Another Celerity package, CD WorkWare helps institutions to index, archive and retrieve information via CD-R discs. The program indexes files for later keyword search and retrieval; compresses the files for maximum storage; writes the reports to CD-R media; and manages, retrieves and prints requested information from a workstation. CD WorkWare's efficient file handling can manage a file of 4GB, or about 1.5 million pages. On to the Drives Sony's new Spressa CD-R drives (Spressa 940 internal and Spressa 9411 external) include Sony's CDRFS technology, 4X CD-ROM playback capabilities and Corel's CD Creator mastering software. With a 2X recording speed, the drives can record a full 650MB disc in about 45 minutes. To prevent buffer underruns, the drives both feature a 1MB data buffer. If data transfer is interrupted and a buffer underrun d'es occur, Spressa's special disc recovery algorithm "seals off" the section of the disc where the error occurred, enabling the drive to utilize the rest of the disc. The drives include all interface and audio cables and blank CD-R discs. Boasting industry-wide acceptance, Yamaha's CD Expert family of CD-R drives handle all standard formats and multimode options and fit a standard 5.25-inch disk drive bay (internal) or plug into a standard SCSI II port (external). Prices range from under $700 for the 2X/4X (2X record speed, 4X playback speed) CDR102 internal drive, to under $1,100 for the 4X/4X CDE100 II external quad-speed recorder. Smart and Friendly's CD-R 1002/PRO is a half-height unit that fits a 5.25-inch bay, and comes bundled with a blank CD-R disc, an Adaptec SCSI host adapter and a comprehensive multi-platform software solution from Incat. For around $600, users get a 2X/2X drive and Incat's Easy-CD Pro 95/NT, Easy-CD Pro MM for Windows 3.1x, and Easy-CD Pro for Macintosh. For those who think CD-R technology is a little overwhelming and might need a helping hand when installing their new purchase, Panasonic offers 24-hour/ 7-day toll-free technical support with its new CD-Rtist drive. A 2X/4X drive with a 230ms access time, the CD-Rtist allows incremental writing and comes packaged with Incat's Easy-CD Pro mastering software, a SCSI interface card, connection cables and two CD-R discs. Also included is Panasonic's Pana CD Magic software for playing and viewing CD selections and Pana CD Handler for easy CD management. In write mode, CD-Rtist offers 1MB of buffer memory and a 300KB-per-second transfer rate. In playback mode, it has 256KB of buffer memory and a 600KB-per-second transfer rate. JVC's Personal RomMaker family of CD-R systems includes complete software kits for Windows 3.1x/95/NT and Macintosh platforms. System model options are also available for UNIX, including Sun, SUN Solaris, HP-UX, SGI and SCO. A variety of formats are supported including: Audio, Mixed Mode, CD-Plus, Hi Sierra, ISO 9660, Apple HFS, Hybrid, Dual-Partition, ISO Rockridge and UFS. Three recording modes are supported: Single Session, (disc-at-once), Multisession (track-at-once) and Incremental (packet writing). Comprehensive disc management and testing features, including virtual or delayed CD-ROM emulation and CD-ROM usage statistics report generation, enable users to control file placement and thoroughly evaluate and optimize a disc's performance prior to recording. Plasmon Data, manufacturers of a comprehensive line of optical storage solutions, have recently announced lower pricing for their Afterburner CDR4240 series of 2X CD-R drives. Street prices for bundles that include software and blank CD-R media start at $699 for internal drives and $769 for external versions. The CDR 4240 drives also function as 4X readers. For institutions that want to get into full-fledged CD-ROM publishing, there are systems available that enable high-speed, reliable mass production of CD-R media without outsourcing CD-ROM production. CD Studio, from Young Minds, Inc., is a CD-R system for UNIX and Windows NT workstations and networks. It includes premastering software, an intelligent controller and a CD-Recorder. With CD Studio, users can create ISO 9660/Rock Ridge, bootable and custom format discs. Fully networkable, the package d'es not require a dedicated workstation and supports most popular recorders. Also from Young Minds, MPS is a high-volume solution that can record up to 100 650MB CD-R discs per day, outputting more than 40GB of data to CD. This package features the Kodak PCD 600 6X writer and disc transporter, which can write a full 74-minute disc (650MB) in less than 12 minutes. With an optional disc printer, institutions can achieve seamless one-step recording and printing. Ultera's CD-R Multi-Master is a system capable of recording up to five CDs at a time. The product consists of a high speed controller with separate internal SCSI buses for as many as five CD-R drives. This parallel bus architecture allows all of the drives to run at full speed simultaneously. The CD-R Multi-Master controller requires no special device drivers or software; host systems see the CD-R cluster as a single SCSI device. The only difference is that up to five copies may be recorded in the time it takes to do one. And, when necessary, each of the drives can also be addressed directly in a "pass-through" mode. What Pulls It All Together Recording multimedia content and courses on CD-ROM is one of the many ways CD-R drives can be utilized in the education environment. Instead of carrying around a dedicated notebook computer to make presentations or lecture with, one can record a presentation or multimedia content to a CD and use it in CD-ROM drives or CD-i players. Many of the professional authoring packages available also come in lower-priced academic versions. A full-featured version of Macromedia's Authorware 3.5, Authorware Academic, distributed by Prentice Hall New Media, is limited only by the amount of icons and user-definable variables per program (jumpouts are also unavailable). Designed and priced ($150) with educators in mind, the authoring package brings interactivity, video, sound, animation and high-quality graphics into lectures and tutorials, without the hassle of learning to program. Included with Authorware Academic are Authorware Models for Instructional Design -- 28 media-ready frameworks with sample content designed by Dr. Michael Allen, educational technology specialist and original creator of Authorware. Also included are Authorware Projects which incorporates a Test Generator, Online documentation and a learning Game Project. Projects can be migrated between the academic and professional versions, and users can "package" files to create standalone programs. This means educators can create presentations, interactive tutorials and more, run them from computers without the application software and, as long as they are for educational use, freely distribute them. The software also comes with an upgrade card, allowing one to upgrade to the full educational or commercial versions at a discount. Available for Windows and Macintosh platforms, Authorware Academic 3.5 now supports Shockwave!, allowing educators to turn Web pages into true multimedia sites. Admittedly, some of the larger authoring packages can be a bit intimidating for those with no previous authoring experience. AuthorSoft 3.1, from Spirit of St. Louis Software Co., requires no programming knowledge to create interactive multimedia presentations, lectures or tutorials. Users can integrate their own video, audio, text, photos and animation with a minimum of fuss. Aimed at the entry-level or intermediate authoring level, the software features many tools one finds on more complex programs. A variety of buttons are available including text, hot spot, picture and user defined. Hyperlinks, hypermedia chaining, transparent bitmap backgrounds, flexible text handling with shadowing, tool bar authoring, object management and various object formats are all supported. The CD includes over 200 digitized images, video clips and sounds. AuthorSoft 3.1 requires at least an MPC-compatible 80486 with 4 MB RAM. The Instructor, from BCD Associates, is an easy-to-learn program that can control VCRs and videodisc machines and also incorporate MPEG full-motion video. Text, images and video clips are treated as independent items, and objects have characteristics that include size, color, style and screen position. In addition, all objects can have actions associated with them such as playing a video clip or moving to another part of the program. A free run time player to play authored content on other machines comes with The Instructor, and Video Tutor helps first time users. More Authoring Software Discovery Systems' Course Builder features tools that specifically address the requirements for teaching, testing and training applications. An intuitive development interface integrates built-in question and scoring templates with graphics and animation, and an automatic reporting process suits classroom, learning lab, independent study and tutorial use. The program is used to develop K-12 and college curriculum, employee training programs, interactive kiosks and multimedia compositions, and has special academic pricing. For those who don't have the time to learn how to use powerful but complicated authoring software, Multimedia Design Corp.'s mPower for the Macintosh may fit the bill. Fashioned after an "ATM" metaphor, the program d'es away with toolbars, pull-down menus and the like and substitutes instead simple pushbuttons. One may think this simplicity would hinder the creation of true interactive multimedia applications, but this just isn't true. In fact, mPower includes powerful features such as the ability to digitize both audio and video, and control of VCRs and videodisc and CD players. Users can create "hot buttons" to make their presentations nonlinear; launch other applications from within mPower; create self-running and looping presentations; and import various video, audio and image formats. The program has 25 different slide transitions, and features comprehensive slide management and output. A free program demo is available from the company. After a few authoring projects have gone awry, or team members can't seem to keep a project on track, administrators may want to check out Designer's Edge, by Allen Communication. This program is a set of integrated pre-authoring tools and wizards built by instructional experts to accelerate the analysis, design and evaluation of effective courseware authoring. Designer's Edge offers a visual, task-driven interface that walks users through the entire instructional design process. It enhances productivity for both experienced and novice courseware designers by helping with data organization, and providing online instructional help and powerful extensibility features. The software automatically generates key documents such as needs analysis, audience profiles, course maps, design strategies, script-storyboards and much more. It also includes a comprehensive library of instructional strategies with 500 matching templates, and is authoring system independent. Designer's Edge is an extremely comprehensive guide to authoring instructional multimedia applications. Trends to Watch Why don't more educators have CD-R drives, or see the need for them? It's definitely not for lack of applications. Think about it -- creating a school yearbook on CD-ROM and making it available to students; backing up all student information on CD-ROMs; recording student projects and portfolios on CD-ROM -- the uses are virtually endless. Computer vendors are not lagging behind, however. Taking notice of the move toward CD-R drives, they are starting to incorporate them into their high-end systems. Look for even lower-end systems to incorporate CD-R drives in the near future.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.