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    Hot and getting hotter: software for burning DVDs

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver Business in Vancouver March 14-20, 2006; issue 855; High Tech Office column

    DVD burners have become standard equipment these days. They’re built into all but the cheapest new desktop and notebook PCs and Macs.

    Get a DVD burner and you usually also get a basic software bundle – otherwise the hardware wouldn’t be of much use, though both Windows XP and Mac OS X include bare-bones burning capabilities.

    Windows users mostly get software based on the Advance Nero or Roxio Easy Media Creator packages, while Mac users usually get a basic version of Roxio’s Toast. For many, the software that came in the box with their drive or system is good enough.

    But both Advance and Roxio really want to move you up to their respective full-meal deals. I recently took a look at the latest versions of Roxio’s full versions for Windows and Mac (about $100 each).

    Perhaps better known by its former name, Easy CD Creator, Easy Media Creator 8 suggests it’s not just for burning CDs any more. Reflecting the popularity of DVD burners, it’s added DVD functions and aims beyond to a wider range of digital media.

    Rather than offer users a list of module names, the Media Creator Home screen lets users choose between a list of possible tasks, which then move to a list of sub-tasks. This is a big help given the software’s multitude of capabilities. Most tasks inherit this focus on simplicity. The new version supports new media formats such as HD video, DivX and double-layer DVD, and a wealth of software assistants help use the right one in the right place.

    Users wanting more control and customization can still get it, however. For instance, the MyDVD Express module makes it easy to combine a few digital videos with a basic template and burn the whole thing quickly, while a separate MyDVD offers as many menu choices as most of us will ever need.

    The new LiveShare for sharing digital photos can create a digital album and e-mail contacts with thumbnails of your first 10 photos and a link to provide access to the rest – at least as long as your computer is online. Slick but limited.

    The package also continues to bundle audio, video and photo-editors and backup software. While none of these are best-of-class, each is usable for cleaning up recordings, movie clips and photos prior to burning them to disc.

    Roxio’s Toast Titanium 7 gives Mac users fewer features than its Windows sibling, but it provides a cleaner, slicker interface.

    Where owners of previous versions had to buy an additional program, Roxio Popcorn, to compress and copy commercial DVDs, that capability is now built into Toast 7. Many functions previously bundled in the Toast (added cost) Jam add-on are also included in Toast 7.

    Like Easy Media Creator for Windows, it gives Mac users the ability to work with new formats such as DivX video and double-sided DVD blanks.

    A new iLife media browser sits in a pull-out drawer beside the main program window, making it easy to locate music, video or photos stored by Apple’s Mac-standard applications.

    A small collection of helper applications is included for creating slide shows, recording and editing audio, creating CD covers and making backups.

    Neither program will let you copy protected commercial DVDs, but whether you’re running Windows or a Mac, Roxio’s software provides an accessible wealth of features for sharing music, video, photos and digital files.

    Each includes a backup module. If you aren’t in the habit of making regular backups, that’s reason enough to buy one. Backups will save your bacon some day!

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan