Hang on to all those museum-quality CD-ROM 2X drives

OK, I promise to stop griping about standards incompatibility, but please bear with me
for one more column.

CD-ROM has come a long way since I paid $1,100 for an early Amdek player larger and
heavier than today's average notebook computer. Your standard desktop machine now probably
has enough room to accommodate a multidisk, multispeed CD-ROM changer.

I applaud all this. But I still have the old Amdek and a newer, single-speed NEC
Technologies CDR-77 drive, neither of which will I ever dump at a spring garage sale.

Why? Existing CD-ROM disks can't be altered, and some of them just won't play on
high-speed drives. This is a growing dilemma for organizations that have been archiving on
CDs. And as 6X and the forthcoming 8X drives displace 2X and 4X drives, new CDs probably
will refuse to play on anything less than a 4X drive.

Agency archivists warned about this almost a decade ago. They didn't trust optical
disks that would last for almost a century, because they suspected no compatible hardware
would stay around that long.

They saw how rapidly storage formats were changing--how long has it been since you used
a low-density 5 1/4-inch floppy? But users scoffed, saying it concerned only a few
librarians. Now users are singing a different tune.

If we pay attention this time, can we avoid similar problems in another 10 or 20 years?

I think the new drives are great. Just don't specify 4X for any computers you expect to
keep around for more than a year--the drive of choice now is 6X at a minimum.

NEC Technologies' MultiSpin 6Xe is a solid choice for serious work. At about half the
price of the NEC unit, the $300 Creative Labs' 6X Blaster CD is a bargain.

Of course, you always face some incompatibility problems when installing PC equipment.
Despite Windows 95 Plug and Play, the CD-ROM drivers and interface cards still cause
conflicts, and 32-bit components often have twice as many conflicts as 16-bit.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. He welcomes mail from readers. Write to him care of
Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.

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