The following article is from
Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 1997 by
Richard W. Eastman and Ancestry, Inc.
It is re-published here with the permission of the author.
New CD-R User's Story
Create Your Own CD-ROM Disk
Some years ago I was involved in creation of a CD-ROM disk for my employer. We investigated purchasing the equipment to create the disk ourselves. However, when we discovered that the hardware required to create a master CD-ROM disk cost $50,000 we decided to "farm the work out" to a company in the business. I have remained interested in the CD-ROM business, and I have been watching the prices tumble in the years since my slight involvement. Prices have dropped quickly in the last few months. It is now becoming cost-effective to create your own CD-ROM disks, which you could use to distribute your genealogy database to others or make long- lasting backups of your data.
Last Sunday morning the local paper had an ad for a Memorex double-speed CD-recorder for $299. I decided that the time had arrived for me to purchase my own. After all, prices had dropped 99.994% since I first stared investigating this nine years ago. I didn't think the prices could drop much more, at least not when measured as a percentage.
Of course, life is never simple. I went to the store and discovered that the Memorex CD-recorder will not work on Windows NT, my preferred operating system. Memorex does make an NT- compatible re-writable CD-recorder at twice the price, but I didn't want to pay that much. The Windows 95 version is an E-IDE device that connects to a regular hard drive controller; the more expensive drives that work under Windows NT are SCSI devices and require a SCSI controller to operate. This increases costs. Well I have a second system available with Windows 95 installed, so I decided to use that. I purchased the CD-recorder and headed home.
Upon opening the box and reading the instructions, I noticed the following: "Adaptec Easy-CD Pro 95 version 2.1 supports Windows 95a and Windows 95b versions. If you have Windows 95-0 version please check with Microsoft to upgrade to Windows 95b (OSR2)." I know my Windows 95 software was installed the very first week that Windows 95 was available, so guess what? That's right, my version of Windows 95 was too old to support the Adaptec software needed for the CD-recorder. So I downloaded Windows 95 Service Pack 1 >from Microsoft's Web site and installed it. I was then running Windows 95a.
The installation instructions in the user's manual did not match the software on the enclosed CD-ROM disk. However, updated instructions were included with the CD-ROM disk itself!, and those instructions worked perfectly. Total installation required only a few minutes to complete.
The Easy-CD Pro software included with the CD-writable drive is capable of creating audio CD disks as well as data CD-ROMs. I haven't tried this yet but probably will before long. The Easy-CD Pro software will even print the inserts to fit inside the CD-ROM jewel case. I found the software very easy to use; I rarely referred to the user's manual.
Making the first disc
Time delays are critical when writing to the CD disk. I found that I could not copy files across my local area network directly to the CD-writable disk because the data transfers were too slow. However, I could copy the files to the hard drive on the local PC and then make a CD-ROM from the local hard drive. Of course, this requires 600 or more megabytes of available disk space on the local hard drive when filling up a CD-ROM to the maximum possible. I created a new subdirectory on my hard drive called C:\CDIMAGE and copied everything I wanted to it. Once I was satisfied that everything was ready, I simply copied C:\CDIMAGE to the CD-ROM disk.
I started by creating a disk of my genealogy data. I copied my GEDCOM file to C:\CDIMAGE along with a number of printed reports formatted with Adobe Acrobat. I'll write a review of Acrobat someday. For now, I'll simply say that it is an excellent manner of placing print images onto disk. The Adobe Acrobat reader software allows anyone to look at and print images that look identical to the originals, even though the person viewing the files may not have the original software. I placed the Adobe print image files and the Adobe reader software in C:\CDIMAGE.
I spent several hours doing all this but was only able to create about 82 megabytes of files. OK, that's enough for a test. I launched Easy-CD Pro, and it created a CD-ROM disk containing the 82 megabytes of data. Writing that much data required about one- half hour to create the CD-ROM disk. When I removed the CD-ROM disk, it was warm to the touch. I later took the CD-ROM disk to several other PCs and was able to read it on every PC system that I tried. I could even read it on my PowerMac 6100 with the 486 Windows compatibility card installed.
In short, I am very satisfied with the $299 CD-recordable device. It isn't perfect, but it's a lot cheaper than the $50,000 I would have paid nine years ago to accomplish the same thing; so, I'll accept a few drawbacks.
Of course, when discussing the possibility of backing up genealogical data to CD-ROM, we must consider the life expectancy of the disks. The engineers say that the CD-ROM disks produced in this manner will last for many, many years. But will anyone still have a computer device that will read today's CD-ROM disks 50 years from now? Probably not. CD-recordable disks are an excellent method of backing up data and storing it for 10 years or so. But for true long-term storage you will still want to print everything to acid-free paper, which will be readable for a long time to come.
Editor's Note: It is still easier to convert digital data on obsolescing CDs to a more up to date format than it is to convert data stored on paper to a digital format all over again.
Finally, here are a few things that I learned along the way:
- The Adaptec software is very popular and is bundled in with several different brands of CD-recorders. It requires Windows 95a or 95b. To determine which version of Windows 95 you have, click on the START button in the lower-left corner of your screen, then select SETTINGS, then select CONTROL PANEL, then double-click on SYSTEM. If you see the words "Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950" then you have the early version of Windows 95 and will need to download Service Pack 1. If you see "Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950a" or "Microsoft Windows 95 4.00.950b" then you can use the Adaptec software.
- Writing data to the CD-recordable drive is not quite as simple as writing to a regular hard disk. You cannot use Windows Explorer or File Manager to copy the files. You cannot even issue a BACKUP command to write files to the CD-ROM disk. All writing to the CD-recordable disk has to be done by the Easy- CD Pro software. Luckily the software is easy to use.
- Timing issues are critical. I already mentioned that I couldn't copy files across the network while writing to the CD-ROM. Also keep in mind that writing several hundred megabytes of data to the CD-recordable disk may require several hours. During this time you shouldn't try multitasking with the Windows 95 PC. Opening up another window and running another program simultaneously can create timing errors and cause an abort. In fact, you will probably want to turn off your screen saver as well since that can mess things up.
- CD-ROM re-writables are becoming common today, and prices are dropping there as well. Re-writables are not the same thing as recordables; re-writeables allow you to overwrite data time and time again. The CD-ROM disks become reusable. Re-writable CD-ROM drives would seem like a great idea. But beware: CD-ROM re-writable disks cannot be read by all CD-ROM drives. In particular, many of the older CD-ROM drives cannot read the disks created with CD-ROM re-writables. If you only want to make backup disks for your own use, then a CD-ROM re-writable may be perfect for you. The drive that created the CD-ROM disk will always be able to read it. However, if you want to create CD-ROM disks and give them to other people to use on their computers, then you would be wise to avoid the re-writeable CD-ROM drives.
- A similar situation exists with multisession CD-ROM disks. It is possible even with the $300 CD-recordable devices to create a CD-ROM disk in one session, then to go back a second time and third time or even more to add additional data onto the disk although you cannot over-write existing data already on the disk. The problem is that not all CD-ROM drives can read data that was appended in the second or subsequent sessions. To insure that anyone can read your data, you must write everything in one session.
- Blank CD-ROM disks cost about $5.00 apiece in most computer stores. But if you shop around a bit and buy quantities of 10 or more at a time, you can find them as low as $2.50 apiece. I bought 10 blank Kodak CD-recordable disks at a local store for $25.00.
Interested in creating your own CD-ROM disks? The time is now.