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The Editor's Spin -
The Right Profile

Stephen F. Nathans

August 2001 | In Sherman Alexie's short story, "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother is Alive and Well and on the Spokane Indian Reservation," a precocious five-year-old named James gazes upon a statue that says, "The earth is our mother" and tells his elders, "I know more." All eyes turn to him and he explains: "The earth is our grandmother and technology has become our mother. And they hate each other."

That's the kind of thing I'd tend to call a provocative metaphor, advisedly used. But equally cosmic metaphors, applied carelessly in everyday tech talk, are also the bane of my existence as a technology magazine editor, though it offends me less as a steward of the technology than as a guardian of the language. Generally, when we speak of recordable CDs and DVDs, RAID arrays, video codecs, and network protocols, we're not talking about religion or sex. I think we can all agree on that. But then how come every PR guy is an evangelist, every USB peripheral that can plug into the back of a Mac and PC is platform-agnostic, every forklift-heavy MO library with a shiny chassis is sexy, and everyone who applies a specific expertise in the service of various companies, some of whom may be in competition, renders the entire industry incestuous? It's just bits, bytes, and business, after all.

Now, anyone who reads this magazine with any regularity knows I'd be a hypocrite if I suggested I was hyperbole-agnostic; I'd never for a second doubt that the language of excess can lure readers to your palace of wisdom. But I can also live without it if necessary, which makes me hyperbole-independent.

But I digress. What got me thinking about all these linguistic improprieties was the first resource I tapped when I started the review I was working on this month, Roxio's Toast 5 Titanium. I fired off an email to none other than Apple's Mike Evangelist, with a question about recording DVD-Rs with Toast on Apple's new tightly integrated DVD-recording G4s. Calling Mike for Toast info felt like old times. After all, he was the original Toast, uh, evangelist, back when it was a marvel of German engineering called Toast CD-ROM PRO, when I worked for a magazine called CD-ROM PRO, and Mike worked for Astarte. Then Adaptec bought Toast, Adaptec begat Roxio, Apple bought Astarte (Software division), and both CD-ROM PROs just kind of went away.

But you can save that "incestuous" stuff for the tourists. There are greater forces at work here, and their divine origins are at best indirect. The fact is, whether sold by Astarte, Adaptec, or Roxio, Toast always has been and remains today the premier product for recording CDs (and now DVDs) on Apple Macintosh computers. And what's clear today–from the software's heightened emphasis on DVD and VideoCD, to its proudly proclaimed synergy with iMovie and the like, to the User's Guide's appropriation of odd Apple-isms like "blessed System Folder icon"–is that where Toast is concerned, Roxio is anything but platform-agnostic. Roxio is a true believer in the Mac and its mission–at least as far as business interests are concerned. And while the cash cow of CD recording to date has been audio, at least as far as mass-market acceptance is concerned, consumer audio recording capability is a dime a dozen in CD-R software circles. Roxio has realized it needs to develop other parts of the product to stay a few steps ahead technologically, and in choosing those steps it has landed squarely in Apple's own footprints, following its platform provider's quest to be the alpha and omega of home video creation on personal computers. You'd almost think they were family.

Who knows, maybe Apple's on the kind of roll here where everybody wants to claim a little common lineage. Or maybe Roxio has simply joined Apple in realizing that if CD-R isn't going to save the world–and the glorious confluence of CD-R and Napster is a textbook illustration of the difference between changing a part of the world and saving it–the least it can do is cater to it cleverly. And keeping in mind that we're talking about the Mac world here, which will remain small however happily it flourishes, this new video bent in CD-R points to a fascinating development. Would it not be stranger than paradise if CD-R became the unofficial recording arm of DVD? Just watch the planets align: new video-giddy CD-R software versions abound; Pioneer's latest DVD-Recorder, the A03, is newly fortified with vitamin CD-R; and the latest iteration of Ulead's popular Studio Pro video production software boasts a DVD plug-in for home DVD creation that at this writing outputs to only one optical medium–CD-R.

This all may feel like vindication to the old-guard CD-ROM PROs out there, who knew CD-R had the goods from the get-go. Which is not to say they're the target audience or likely consumers for all this home video hubris; their common penchant for collective memory notwithstanding, the possessive and the dispossessed thrive on entirely different brands of pap. Preposterous as it may have seemed a few years back, when video on CD was an annoying little secret, perhaps the heyday of video on CD-R is drawing nigh. Roxio and Apple clearly think so, although Apple probably doesn't care too terribly much how the omnipresent CD-R drives in this year's iMacDV models are deployed as long as the boxes keep up their sell-through stats. And CD-R's success as a DVD stand-in will unquestionably happen quietly. It probably won't even be getting much press come September if HP actually makes its latest DVD+RW release date, all those crazy compatibility claims come true, and recordable DVD divine right finally comes down to an unholy war over who can make and sell media cheaper.

Of course, it was amid the battle for bottomless media pricing that CD-R first amassed its far-flung flock. And if video makes more converts, odds are it won't relinquish its interim ministry anytime soon.


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