February, 2001 | By incorporating CD-RW support
directly into future operating systems, Philips, Sony, Compaq,
and Microsoft have unilaterally declared CD-RW to be the
replacement for the floppy disk. They call it "Mt. Rainier."
What others may call it is another matter-maybe high-handed?
Or arrogant? It's like declaring darkness the industry standard
if you aren't smart enough to change a light bulb.
But haven't consumers already chosen CD-R as the best
technology for the replacement job? Thanks to its lower
media cost, higher formatted capacity, greater compatibility,
and higher performance, CD-R makes for a far superior floppy
replacement than does CD-RW. So, if operating system storage
support should be added for anything, it should be for CD-R.
When justifying the exclusive position of CD-RW in the
Mt. Rainier proposal, the participants maintain that the
mainstream buying public has a psychological need for rewritable
storage. Practical experience with CD-R, however, has shown
this to be a false premise. Manufacturers are simply projecting
their own prejudices and foisting them onto consumers.
Flying in the face of the argument that successful storage
and distribution media must be rewritable, CD-R has proven
itself to be "Digital Kleenex", affirming the proposition
that if something good is inexpensive enough, it becomes
ubiquitous and comes to be treated as disposable, which
obviates the rewritability question
. According to the promotional literature circulated by
the Mt. Rainier participants, CD-RW has been wildly successful:
nearly three billion "CD-R/RW" discs were sold in the year
2000. And, though the figure is probably closer to four
billion, it's important to note that only 50 million of
these are of the CD-RW variety. Despite the marketing spin,
CD-R, not CD-RW, has been, and overwhelmingly will be, the
consumer media of choice.
While CD-RW media sell for $1 to $3 apiece, CD-R discs
are commonly available in the $0.25 to $1 range. With over
70 manufacturers worldwide currently producing drives and
an 80-to-1 sales advantage over CD-RW, CD-R will always
be less expensive than its rewritable cousin. And, given
the reality that the vast majority of discs will likely
never be reused, consumers are far better served choosing
the economical CD-R media.
Like all rewritable storage media, CD-RW discs must be
formatted before use. A heavy penalty is paid for this,
however, as the process results in a 23% reduction in the
usable capacity of each disc. Generally speaking, the usable
storage capacity of a CD is dependent upon the filesystem
and logical structure used. For example, when written in
ISO 9660 format using a single-session recording method,
the capacity of a 74-minute CD-R or CD-RW disc is 650MB.
However, to enable direct overwriting capability and accommodate
a defect management scheme, Mt. Rainier introduces a significant
amount of overhead, which results in a reduction of the
accessible space of a formatted CD-RW disc to a mere 500MB.
As a write-once medium, CD-R is unencumbered by the baggage
necessary for random rewriting and thus has a spacious capacity
of over 625MB, even after being prepared for packet-writing
To be successful, any replacement of the floppy diskette
must be readable by most computer systems. CD-R wrote the
book on physical compatibility, and CD-R discs can be read
by all CD-ROM and MultiRead DVD-ROM drives. Unfortunately
this can't be said for CD-RW discs, which are incompatible
with older CD-ROM and CD-R drives.
Computers must, in addition to reading a disc physically,
be able to access the files contained therein. Due to technical
issues, Mt. Rainier will only write and rewrite CD-RW discs
by using a new generation of CD-R/RW drive with added capabilities.
It can't even rewrite CD-RW discs created using existing
packet-writing software. Unfettered by such problems, CD-R
support could be painlessly added to any operating system
so that existing recorders could be used and compatibility
maintained with the dominant packet-writing programs currently
on the market.
Given the rate of industry advancement, by the time the
Mt. Rainier specification is embraced, new CD-R/RW drives
will only offer either 4X-10X CAV (600-1500KB/sec) or 10X
CLV (1500KB/sec) CD-RW writing performance. At the same
time, however, higher CD-R writing speeds will be commonplace
with 12X-16X PCAV (1800-2400KB/sec) or true 16X CLV (2400KB/sec)
capability offered in the same devices. Since its inception,
CD-R's performance has outstripped that of CD-RW, and that
gap isn't expected to narrow in the foreseeable future.
By the time even marginally higher performance CD-RW products
come to market, considerably faster 20X and 24X capability
for CD-R will already be entrenched.
Read performance also favors CD-R. It isn't a well-advertised
fact but, due to low reflectivity and signal-to-noise ratio
characteristics, CD-RW discs are more difficult to read
at high speeds than CD-R media. In concrete terms, older
MultiRead CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and CD-R/RW drives only read
CD-RW discs at 2X, 4X, or 8X CLV speeds, and even the latest
generation of drives only accommodates 8X-20X CAV (1200-3000
KB/sec) reading speed. CD-R discs, on the other hand, can
be read as fast as prerecorded media-at last count 18X-56X
CAV (2700-8400KB/sec) and still rising.
Why can't consumers be the best judge of their own needs
rather than having these sorts of decisions handed down
from on high? Better still, why not incorporate both CD-RW
and CD-R in future operating systems?