Vol. 1 #1, 1993-
Vol. 8 #2, 2002

AV Review Database
Reviews of
videos and

Search MCJ


By Jeffrey Beall

Desktop publishing freed print publishing from being the exclusive domain of large, well-funded publishing houses and opened it up to smaller organizations and even to individuals. Now, a similar change is occurring in electronic publishing. CD-Recordable (CD-R) technology is making CD-ROM publishing possible for small organizations, small and medium sized businesses, and even individuals. Libraries will be able to acquire these CD-ROMs and provide their users with a wealth of electronic data that--because it had too small a market--was previously too expensive to be commercially viable.

CD-R technology allows one to produce data or audio compact discs on one's own desktop. Alternatively, one can produce a single CD-ROM, and then have copies made at an increasing number of businesses that reproduce CD-ROMs, much like having paper copies made at the local copy shop. More importantly, because it is an easy to use and ubiquitous format for information, HTML will likely come to be the most common means of formatting data on desktop-published CD-ROMS. In the future, DVD-ROM technology will probably replace CD-ROM and offer an even larger memory storage capacity.

This article examines what is sure to become the next important advance in electronic publishing--HTML files on CD-ROMs--with an emphasis on the type of CD-ROMs that would be acquired by libraries.

In the past, installing and using CD-ROMs on a PC has been complicated and idiosyncratic. To view or use a CD-ROM required the loading of software specific to each disc. This software was either included on the disc itself, or it was often copied onto floppy discs that accompanied the CD-ROM. After the CD-ROM and its software were loaded on the computer, the user needed to refer to a printed guide to be able to navigate through the CD-ROM. Loading two or more CD-ROM software programs on the same computer sometimes created compatibility and disc capacity problems, and loading CD-ROMs on computers connected to a LAN was often wrought with technical problems.

Producing CD-ROMs in HTML format has and will continue to make CD-ROMs easier to use and therefore more popular. HTML has become a standard format for the dissemination of electronic information, especially within academia, business, and government. Users of electronic information have become literate at using and viewing HTML files because of the wide exposure to the World Wide Web. In fact, navigating through a CD-ROM with an HTML architecture is exactly like navigating the Web. The technology for the desktop production of CD-ROMs, namely the software and hardware for preparing and copying the discs, has decreased greatly in price in the past two years, and should continue to decrease as competition increases and the technology becomes more widely available. The cost of "blank" CD-ROMs has also decreased greatly, helping to further decrease the cost of electronic publishing on CD-ROM.

To use a CD-ROM with HTML files, all the user has to do is insert the disc in the CD-ROM drive, open the program that lists the files (Explorer in Microsoft systems) and click on the letter that corresponds to the CD-ROM drive. Then the computer displays a list of files on the disc. The files on a CD-ROM are arranged so that one that says something like "Title page" or "Read me first" appear at the top. The user then is able to access all the other files on the disc through the hyperlinks included in the files themselves. Links may even be made to external, i.e. Web resources.

Looking at the publishing of HTML files on CD-ROM with a more technical focus, a site on the World Wide Web entitled Resources for CD-R provides information about CD-R technology. The author is optimistic about using HTML files as a format for CD-ROM discs:

"One architecture for a CD-ROM is that of a WWW site. If that format is used, one simply browses it with one's choice of browser on any appropriate platform. The directory is not printed on the traycard - it is in the HTML with which one accesses the files. No looking up the track number or filename; just click on the link. I have been using that architecture for several published CD-ROMs, with excellent results. I am using a variety of formats - HTML, GIF, JPEG, WAV, MP3, MPG - to get a rich blend of content on a single disc."(

The widespread familiarity with Web-based HTML files makes the transition from CD-ROMs with idiosyncratic software to CD-ROMs with HTML files easier. Also, many people have an expertise in providing data in HTML format, a situation that will contribute to an increase in electronic publishing with HTML files on CD-ROM. It is even possible and common to include browser software on the CD-ROM disc. Producers of CD-ROMs can load browser software for free on the disc. The two most popular browsers, Microsoft Explorer and Netscape, allow producers of electronic media to copy and distribute their software along with the data files. Thus, the system requirements for a CD-ROM in HTML format are simple: a PC or a Macintosh with a CD-ROM drive, and sufficient disk space and RAM. In other words, any computer that can accommodate a browser will work.

Indeed, many of the same things that make the World Wide Web such a user-friendly and exciting medium apply to CD-ROMs with an HTML architecture. The graphical user interface of the type pioneered by the World Wide Web has become a world standard for presenting electronic information. The ability to combine text and images on the same screen, and the ability to add sound and moving image files, all combine to make the HTML format an ideal way to package information.

One might ask, why produce the information on a CD-ROM when it can just be mounted on the Web? Although in many cases, mounting information on the World Wide Web is the best way for a producer to distribute an information resource, there are many situations in which distributing electronic information in HTML on a CD-ROM is preferable.

First, the licensing of proprietary data (i.e. data for which the user or library pays the producer or distributor to access on a computer networked resource) is complicated and expensive to administer. It is much easier to sell a CD-ROM product at a fixed price than it is to negotiate the terms of access to data mounted on a Web site.

Second, mounting and maintaining Web sites can be expensive because they incur monthly hosting charges. Web sites, of course, have the advantage of being able to be updated. Generally, to update a CD-ROM product a publisher has to issue another edition. Therefore, CD-ROMs are more suited for data that is not subject to updating. Many CD-ROMs written in HTML format, as has been mentioned, can and do contain HTML links to live Web sites. A user clicking on an external hyperlink in a CD-ROM product moves seamlessly from the CD-ROM to the Web. The browser doesn't "know" the difference between HTML files it gets from the CD-ROM drive or one it gets from the Internet. CD-ROM products can include links to Web sites that contain updated data.

One disadvantage of CD-ROMs over Web sites is the fact that server-based scripts will not work with CD-ROMs. (Java applets do work.) Moreover, the same technology that has made CD-ROMs more commonplace has also made them easier to pirate.

A good example of a publication in HTML format on CD-ROM is Heart of Kitu'hwa, which its publisher, Virtual Arts Press, describes as a "first of its kind CD-ROM atlas".(Virtual Arts Web site) The Web site advertising the work says, "This CD-ROM is written in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and the Javascript scripting language. It can be easily used by anyone familiar with, and equipped for, browsing the World Wide Web. Now your browser will deliver more than just an endless plethora of Web pages! This highly informative and interactive tool will be enjoyed by anyone who utilizes the Internet and is interested in the Cherokee's cultural heritage, from the casual tourist to the most serious student of ethnology."

The advances in CD recording technology, and the decrease in cost to produce and market items using this technology, will reap many benefits for libraries. Much information that was previously too costly to produce in print or in electronic form will now become available at a reasonable cost. Using HTML files, producers of this electronic information will create products using a simple and standard interface that is familiar to a large segment of the population.

Richter, Michael. A new medium, new ideas.

Heart of Kitu'hwa.

Jeffrey Beall is Catalog Librarian, Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver.

Copyright 1999 Jeffrey Beall. All rights reserved. Commercial use requires permission of the author and the editor of this journal.

The author and editors do not maintain links to World Wide Web resources.

ISSN 1069-6792
Revised: 11/8/01