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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    It's not a matter of choosing one over the other; the Internet and CD-ROMs work well together


    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #353 July 30, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    A few months ago, a BIV reader e-mailed me a question (sorry, I've managed to lose your name). She was wondering whether the explosive growth of the Internet spelled the end of CD-ROM-based multimedia.

    Since then, we've seen that it's not going to be a case of one or the other. Rather, the Internet and CD-ROMs can coexist, and in fact, when used together, can compensate for each other's weaknesses.

    CD-ROMs can hold a lot of information--650 megs or so on the current varieties--with the promise of multiple gigabytes (that's billions of bytes of information) on the next-generation DVD (Digital Video Discs). They're also cheap to mass-produce; cheap enough that they've started to turn up as free giveaways with $7 magazines. That makes them an ideal medium to distribute big multimedia files--video clips that take up megs of space per minute. And the upcoming DVD format is designed to hold a standard Hollywood movie on a single, three-and-a-half-inch disc.

    But the 'ROM' in CD-ROM stands for 'Read Only Memory,' meaning that once created, a CD disc is static, so it can't be updated. That makes this technology less than ideal for information that changes rapidly.

    The Internet, on the other hand, is dynamic. With an estimated 53 million Web pages, it's changing daily. But it's unorganized, and information is often hard to find. As well, most of us are forced to access the Net by relatively slow connections-modems over phone lines. Despite improvements in so-called "streaming" technologies, which try to let users access video and sound in "real time," too often, it may take 20 minutes or more to receive a two-minute video clip--hardly an efficient way to get multimedia.

    So what happens when you combine the mass storage of CD-ROM with the up-to-the-minute Internet?

    A number of CD-ROM reference tools are trying to get the best of both worlds. Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia, for example, is widely available on CD-ROM. The new versions add links to on-line services such as America-On-Line and CompuServe. Free updates to the encyclopedia are just a click on a menu away.

    Similarly, Microsoft built links to its own Microsoft Network (MSN) into its CD-ROM encyclopedia, Encarta, and into several other reference discs, such as its movie database, Cinemania. However, it's recently been downplaying MSN--the free updates are now available over the Internet, at www.microsoft.com. In the case of the Compton's and Microsoft products, when you add the updates to your hard drive, they integrate invisibly into the original CD-ROM product, keeping your information up to date.

    CompuServe has taken the opposite tack. Instead of using on-line information to update a static reference CD, they've begun to use CDs to add multimedia to their on-line service. CompuServe Magazine, a low-cost, monthly, multimedia CD-ROM disc, is available as an option to the service's on-line members. Each issue features a theme ("Vacations," for example), which is explored using computer-based multimedia and video. The articles typically include links for more information, taking you to the on-line service. It does a good job of providing the graphics, sounds, and video that are difficult to access on-line, while encouraging readers to spend additional time using CompuServe's core service, where it makes the bulk of its profits.

    One of the big advantages of the Internet, for many users, is access to huge amounts of free (and legal) software-demos of commercial products, and software released as freeware or shareware. Many Internet sites are dedicated to providing virtual libraries of such files, all easily downloaded. But there's so much available that users may want to spend literally hours on-line collecting it. And quality is variable--it's disappointing to spend an hour downloading a large program, only to discover that it's not really anything you want.

    Many of the more popular on-line sites are now offering CD-ROM discs with their entire software collection. For example, the popular Windows 95 site (www.win95.com) offers a disc with its file library for about $50, as long as you're willing to give your credit card number on-line. (Remember, while questions of Internet security are real, the actual danger is probably less than giving your credit card to a gas station attendant, who then takes it out of your sight to make up the slip.) That way, download addicts can get those 9-meg game demos without tying up the phone for hours, while reserving on-line time for checking out the newest additions to the collection.

    By combining CD-ROM mass storage with the ever-changing on-line universe, you can get the advantages of both technologies.



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