CD-ROM Technology & Development 

Is There A Future?

Computer Based Learning and Training Foundations  

by Hilary Page-Bucci (January 2002)


1.Abstract 5.Computers & Multimedia in Education 9.Bibliography
2.Introduction 6.Advancements - The Future 10.Magazines & Journals
3.Definitions 7.The Involvement of the Government 11.Websites
4.History 8.Conclusions  


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In 1982 Time declared the computer as the “Machine of the Year”.

“The ‘information revolution’ that futurists have long predicted has arrived, bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, perhaps even in the way they think.” (Time magazine cited by Rosenberg, 1992)

Since then computing technology and the fields it powers have developed rapidly.

In 1985 the first two commercial CD-ROMs were published.  By 1992 the terms hypermedia and multimedia were terms that were in common use.  Multimedia existed primarily in educational software and in-house training programmes, but its potential was starting to become apparent.  This paper is concerned with a particular area of Multimedia: the CD-ROM, why it was developed, who was motivated to develop it and what the future holds for this media.


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Referring to the costly VHS versus Beta fight in 1976-77, Lubell (1995) asks, “will a bloody chapter in the history of consumer electronics repeat itself?” Today, manufacturers are competing over the production of High Density Compact Discs.  How will the market cope with the incompatible standards for reading these discs? Moreover, how will education cope with the continuing development in this field – will they keep up with the technology or will financial restrictions make it too much of a struggle?  This paper discusses the proposition that until a more effective, accessible and financially viable form of data storage is created, the CD-ROM will continue in use, particularly in Education.


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The acronym CD-ROM stands for compact disc-read only memory, denoting the fact that CD-ROM discs are read-only devices; data cannot be written to a CD-ROM by a conventional player.  

The four main types of Compact Disc formats are:

1.     CD Audio

2.     CD-ROM (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory)

3.     CD-I (Compact Disc-Interactive)

4.     CD-ROM/XA (CD-ROM Extended Architecture)

Some of the claimed advantages of the compact disc are:  

o       Storage capacity is very high.  A standard disc is able to store 650mb of data.  This is the equivalent to approximately 2 million pages of text or 74 minutes of high quality music.  

o       The costs associated with CD-ROM storage are typically very low.  CD-ROM drives are inexpensive and can be repaired or replaced easily.  

Some of the claimed disadvantages of the compact disc include:  

o       They are relatively fragile.  They are easily damaged, for example by accidental scratches or exposure to heat.

o       CD-ROM drives are relatively slow in comparison to other storage devices, such as the hard disc drive.

o       CD-ROM is a read only medium.  Although listed as a disadvantage, this can sometimes be seen as an advantage, since unauthorised changes and accidental erasure of data can be prevented.  (Bocij et al, 1999)

The physical construction of a CD-ROM consists of an injection moulded, clear polycarbonate disc with a single spiral track on it. (Figure 1)


Figure 1 CD-ROM (Source: How CDs work 2001)


The track consists of impressed microscopic bumps. The disc is then covered with a thin reflective aluminium layer and protected with acrylic. (Figure 2)


Figure 2 Cross section of a CD (Source: How CDs work 2001)  



Figure 3 An expanded view of the track on a CD (Source: How CDs work 2001)

A laser is then beamed up onto the disc and depending on whether the light hits a bump or not, the laser is deflected back to the read mechanism, and then transferred back to the computer as a series of 0's and 1's, which is binary, and something the computer can understand. (Figure 3) Therefore the data is held digitally and read optically. What the picture does not relay is how incredibly small the data track is -- it is approximately 0.5 microns wide, with 1.6 microns separating one track from the next. (A micron is a millionth of a meter.) And the elongated bumps that make up the track are each 0.5 microns wide, a minimum of 0.83 microns long and 125 nanometers high. (A nanometer is 100 thousand-millionths of a meter.)

A variation on the traditional CD-ROM drive is the CD-Recordable (CDR) drive.  These drives can read conventional compact discs and also write data to special discs.  Once the data has been stored on the disc it cannot be altered or erased.


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With all the improvements in technology over the years, one such development that has affected education was the release of CD-ROM players for computers. The need for the CD-ROM arose from the technological need for larger moveable storage space.  

Timeline of Events  








First CD-ROM player

CD-ROM players for computers

Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopaedia

Microsoft Bookshelf

CD-R released

DVD released


In 1981 Sony, Philips and Polygram announced the impending introduction of a compact disc digital audio system to the world market within two years (Sony, 1997). True to their word the Compact Disc was launched in 1983; holding up to 550 megabytes of information, the first CDs were rarely filled to capacity, but with rapid increases in speed various applications came onto the market.  One of the first CD-ROM applications to hit the market in 1985 was Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopaedia; it contained 9 million words and used only 12% of the available storage space on the disc.  Following this, two years later, the first educational CD-ROM was Microsoft’s Bookshelf in 1987; surprisingly one of the claimed world leaders in computing technology took quite a time to follow with their development.

The largest market to benefit from the extra storage space was the music industry.  When music is stored digitally, it requires a tremendous amount of storage space. For example, one second of sound takes up over a million bits of digital information, this in effect, means that if you were to try to store this information on a floppy disk it would hold less than three seconds of music! Therefore a very dense digital storage medium was needed to store digital music and the evolution of the CD began and the problem of reading the data bits was solved by using a laser beam. 

Data can be crammed much tighter on a CD than on a magnetic floppy or hard drive because a laser beam can be focused to a much smaller point than magnetic heads. One second of music can now be stored on a CD in an area the size of a pinhead (approximately 0.5 microns wide).  A total of 15 billion bits of information can be stored on a music CD, this equates to about 74 minutes of continuous stereo music. It would take over 1,480 floppy disks to store that much information.

CD-ROM Sales Graph

The CD-ROM drive arose from the audio compact disc player and began to gain popularity during the late 1980’s.  The numbers of CD-ROM drive sales is continually increasing (Figure 4). 

Figure 4 CD-ROM Drive Sales (Source Ricoh Corporation 1996)




Software companies invested fortunes in developing CD-ROM software; Compton’s spent $8.5 million to develop a technology to produce Compton’s Multimedia Encyclopaedia and filed a patent application for their multimedia search system in October 1989. The Multimedia Encyclopaedia was an exciting prospect and linked photos, sounds and video animations to text.  The patent application was for their invention called “Multimedia search system using a plurity of entry path means which indicates interrelatedness of information” (Graham, 1964) This was, in essence, a computerised information retrieval system based on a complex database containing images, text, animation and video information. Other software companies protested and deemed the ‘patentability’ of software a threat to their industry.  This application showed that the potential for multimedia had been recognised not only for its data storage capabilities but also for the business opportunities that would arise from this industry. 

The outcome of the ensuing ‘legal battle’, the re-examination of the application and public hearing to consider all the arguments was that the Patent and Trademark Office rejected all the claims of the Compton’s patent. This arguably is a landmark case for the problems of copyright that CD-ROM software entails.

Cochrane (1996), Founder and President of The CD-Info Company, Inc. stated in an e-mail interview that the “CD-R was emerging from the early-adopter/enthusiast market into the beginnings of mainstream applications”.   This statement can be substantiated with Government figures stating that in 1994-95 the percentage of households having use of compact disc player was 46% rising to 68% by 1998-99.  This would indicate the increasing popularity and availability of Compact disc players and CD-ROM, even though there were suggestions of many small and medium sized manufacturers closing their doors because of the short supply of polycarbonate and the ensuing rise in prices. (Bailey, 2001 cited by Block) argued, “with all the useful applications for CD-R, the product remains an inexpensive solution despite the price increases”.  TDK saw a 30% increase in sales through 2001 and they expect the growth to continue for the next few years. (Block, 2001). 

5.Computers & Multimedia In Education

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The vast share of the market for CD-ROM is targeted at home users, this is because production costs remain high and publishers will go for the greatest volume. This presents a problem, particularly for educationalists; whilst the technology was developing rapidly a major concern was the lack of content available.  Opportunities abounded to produce multimedia but developers with expertise and the money to back expensive production were in short supply, this means that “good teaching resources are not easily obtainable and those available need to be chosen with care to match instructional objectives and methodologies”(Joerger, 1995). 

Reisman (1996) argues, “why bother with a static, limited medium like CD-ROM?” Although the information on a CD-ROM is static, cannot be updated or rewritten – how would we describe textbooks, exercise books and the paper we write on?  Hinman (1999) states “paper is one-dimensional, black-and-white, static and flat in comparison to the dynamic multidimensional, interactive, rich-in-multimedia world”.  McClintock (1999) describes the media as “an epistemologically interesting development in our culture” – the whole ethos and nature of this ‘new media’ have expanded our ways of gaining knowledge.   He also states that “multimedia, and its extension in virtual reality, is not merely a glitzy vehicle for edutainment hype.”  (McClintock (1999). This supports the claim that the CD-ROM can do much more than a book.  It is claimed that they are more powerful or appropriate than paper books for meeting the information needs of scholars; 

“by combining a variety of media, electronic books can provide not only static images, but also dynamics (computer animations and computer controlled video sequences), interactivity… and sound…”(Yankelovich et al, 1990). 

Optical storage can multiply the capabilities of the computer and it has radically changed the way in which organisations deal with their information.  Education uses this information to help learners gain knowledge; Industry to design products; Government stores information and statistics to guide the economy and maintain law and order; even Hospitals and Healthcare utilise the facilities that optical storage can offer. 

C-D ROM has the ability to store sound files, graphics, video sequences.  This makes it a versatile medium capable of interactive use.  Students using this type of learning tool are able to work at their own pace and capability.  Having access to the Internet has created new tools for software developers and by combining CD-ROM along with an Intranet the resources can be used over the whole of a networked environment; this in turn helps teachers who are not computer literate and who are not able to solve computer-operating problems. 

In developing countries such as Africa it was reported that CD-ROM “offer the single best solution to the information gap”(Keenan, 1999), they are being produced in a wide range of languages for distribution in the educational sector.  Lack of funding and communication facilities make any alternative searches for information and training such as support from the human interaction of teachers or any online or virtual training physically impossible so by offering information and training programmes on CD-ROM there is less of a need for any technical expertise.  Keenan (1999) makes an interesting comment “that the CD-ROM publishing industry will be alive and well by the year 2000”.  This is quite an assumption and the impacts on continued use need some investigation to support this comment.  The year 2002 is already upon us and it is has become clear from research made available that the underprivileged countries of the world benefited from the impact of CD-ROM technology, but they are now finding it difficult to sustain it; monetary budgets are low so replacements and updates are not accessible and the hardware cannot be maintained.  Their new hope is the belief that the Internet is the sustainable alternative to CD-ROM. It is true that the Internet will allow access to more dynamic information sources.  But the factors that are preventing the sustainability of CD-ROM are still prevalent and will have the same impact on being online.  It will still be necessary to find sufficient funds, to maintain the hardware plus the added ongoing costs of telecommunications.  In this case, the underlying social, economic and political conditions need to change; economic growth needs to take place in order to sustain the growth of technological knowledge.  

In the economically more viable countries of the Western world it is important to recognise that the development of technology is advancing rapidly and changes are still happening, but are we in a position to sustain these changes?  Some researchers remain sceptical that we will be able to keep up with this continuing development  “if the proliferation of hardware and software systems continues, incompatibility may mean that electronic books run the risk of being useable only on a small number of systems” (Yankelovich et al, 1990), Bennett (2001) supports this supposition 

although CD-R discs can be read by all CD-ROM and MultiRead DVD drives, unfortunately this can’t be said for CD-RW discs, which are incompatible with older CD-ROM and CD-R drives”. (Bennett, 2001)  

6.Advancements – The Future

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A more recent development is the CD re-writable (CD-RW). This is a CD-Recordable with the added benefit of a rewrite function; a disc can be written and re-written up to 1000 times. After a shaky start, as not all discs produced were compatible with the standard CD-ROM drives, manufacturers are now starting to follow the recently written ‘industry standard’.  Philips, Sony and Microsoft all agreed on what’s called the High-Sierra standard for CDs, this was then split into a number of different coloured books all dealing with different standards.  The current standard for CD-ROM is the Yellow Book. 

Following close in 1997 is the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD).  The two major differences between CD-ROM and DVD are that DVD has a much higher capacity for storing data (between 4Gb and 7Gb) and the data can be accessed at very high speeds.  

The system used for holding all this extra data is by storing two layers.  By using a semitransparent gold layer on top of the reflective silver –coloured layer, the DVD can store two layers of data on one side. (Figure 5) Using a lower-power beam, the laser can read the data from the gold layer; then, with an increase in power it reads the silver layer.


Single and Dual DVD Data Layers


Figure 5 Single and Dual DVD Data Layers (Source:

This increase in storage capacity and speed makes it a popular contender for the digital video industry.  A high-quality digital video requires approximately 100 megabytes of data space each minute.  

MPEG2, a data-compressing format used for playing videos via a computer will compress 1 minute of data into about 30Mb; multiplying this for a 2 hour video strip works out at 3,600Mb – An ordinary CD-ROM can only hold about 640Mb.  This extra capacity storage marks a vast improvement, and as a result they are able to deliver a more interesting multimedia content. 

Recent literature announced that ‘DVD drives are now fitted as a standard component of many new personal computers’, but it could be argued this is not the case.   How is standard interpreted? Surely, the standard computer along with fitted components depends ultimately on the price you pay?

Next came the high-capacity, high-performance DVD-RAM.  This optical disc has all the benefits of DVD combined with enhanced re-writablility  - it allows the data to be read, written and erased.  It offers up to eight times more storage than a standard re-writable CD; is much cheaper at less than a penny per megabyte; and can read all the other CD and DVD formats including CD-ROM, CD-Audio, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-ROM.  The following table (Figure 6) summarises the differences between the formats.











Random access storage similar to floppy disk or CD+RW.

Write-once. Provides sequential write, similar to CD-R. No overwrite capability.

Limited sequential re-writability.





No of Rewrites




Drive price

$500 to $700


$3,000 to $5,000

Media price


Approx $100



Storage, Backup, Archive, Internet, Video


Mastering and Authoring

 Figure 6 Table of DVD Formats (Source:

Toshiba (2001) are confident that the low cost of both the drive and the media make it a natural choice for a wide audience of users, even those that are value-conscious.

It could be argued that user needs will dominate the market and even with all the advancements in technology it will take a long time for CD-ROM and CD-RW to become obsolete.  Perhaps in industry where capital expenditure can be written off the DVD will supersede the CD-ROM; but will the extra space and speed of the DVD be a necessary commodity and a viable proposition for use in education where budget control is accountable and tight? 

In an attempt to be more cost effective within the realms of Further Education there is a dramatic shift towards Resource Based Learning, moving away from the traditional educational approaches.  This shift is bringing technology to the forefront in an alternative approach to the classroom based learning environment.   

7.The Involvement Of The Government

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‘Curriculum Online’ was launched in December 2001 – this seems to be a partnership between the Government, broadcasters and software producers to provide materials for every curriculum subject in the hope of enabling learning to become more flexible.  The vision of raising standards through individualised learning and helping teachers to spend more time teaching and motivating pupils is a similar approach to that of the FE sector who are already effecting this type of learning.  The funds for the new Government project will become available to schools from September 2002, these seem to be directed only at areas that teach within the National Curriculum; FE will not be included in receiving these particular funds.  Further Education is also in need of support like this to enable the change to resource based learning; finding the right resources is not easy and time consuming, hence the supposition that the multimedia experience of the CD-ROM will be around for a long while.  Funding is now becoming available to FE through various development strategies that will help the concept of resource based learning to move forward into the future.  This will ultimately enable colleges to develop their own materials, including CD-ROM software and make it accessible not only on their own Intranet but working towards a collaborative, shared environment with other FE colleges.  

A programme to support the UK’s computer and information technology industry was announced by the Government in January 2002.  This programme is to fund a “range of collaborative projects to help UK-based companies exploit a global market which could reach more than 100 billion by the end of the year” (Alexander, 2002) -  the report goes on to indicate that the cash will boost manufacturers involved in data storage and display – this could have an immense impact on the future growth within the manufacturing industry; this is one example that demonstrates the rapid evolution of technology.  One question remains – what will be the next development to follow DVD and DVD-RW?


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Speculating on the future of CD-ROM within education is an interesting topic, as the decisions educationalists make today will have massive ramifications worldwide.  Certainly, the technological advancement of Compact Discs have given instructional technologists better tools with which to work and educational capabilities have increased. Educational multimedia products vary considerably in the facilities and sophistication of interaction they provide; at its simplest, interaction takes the form of ‘page turning’, moving between screens of text and graphics by clicking on a link. Interactive learning on an individual basis helps students of all levels although arguably how effective and efficient the ‘turning of the pages’ will be, depends on the speed of the CD drive in operation. 

“Dependability and maintainability will remain key issues…CDs have an aura of permanence, much like books.  This consistency over time and predictability are important in terms of selections of material for students.” (Vogel et al, 2001) 

It is claimed that 

“education always seems attracted to the light by the promise and potential – of technology.  From film in the 20s, to television in the late 50s, computers in the 80s and now information technology in the 90s, there have always been great expectations that new technologies would soon enhance learning and instruction” (Green et al, 1995). 

Technology has filtered into education fairly slowly and in order for the CD-ROM to continue as a viable means in instructional use, educators must maximise it to its full potential and become confident in using the applications.  

The cross-platform, large capacity format of CD-ROM will arguably continue to play a role in its use as a distribution tool for data and multimedia applications even though the CD manufacturing business is changing constantly and we must continue our research and development efforts to understand those and other rapidly emerging educational technologies.


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Alexander D (2002) 24 million to improve UK computer industry Downing Street Newsroom. URL:

Ambron S & Hooper K (1988) Interactive Multimedia Microsoft Press. Washington

Anglin G (1995) Instructional Technology – Past, Present, and Future Libraries Unlimited. Colorado. USA

Bell A. E (1996) Next Generation Compact Discs Scientific American [vol 275]

Bennett H (2001) The CD Writer, Floppy Disc Replacement URL: [29.12.01] 

Biocca F (1992) Communication within Virtual Reality: Creating Space for Research Journal of Communications [vol 42] 

Block D (2001) CD-R Prices expected to Continue. URL: [29.12.01] 

Bocij P, Chaffey D, Greasley A, & Hickie S (1999) Business Information Systems Pitman Publishing. London 

Boyd-Barrett O & Scanlon E (1990) Computers and Learning Addison Wesley Dewey. England 

Brain M (1998)How CDs work URL: [28.10.01] 

Cochrane, K (1996) CD-R Industry Trends Available  e-mail: URL: 

Ellington H, Percival F & Race P (1993) Handbook of Educational Technology Kogan Page. London 

Fawcett W, (1994) Multimedia Hodder & Stoughton. Kent 

Feldman T, (1994) Multimedia Chapman & Hall. London 

Graham L. D (1964) Legal Battles that Shaped Computer Industry. Greenwood Publishing. Westport. USA 

Green K & Gilbert S (1995) Great Expectations Change [Mar/Apr1995] 

Hinman L. M Escaping from flatland: Multimedia authoring. Highlights from Syllabus Magazine.[Oct1999]   URL:[25.11.01] 

Jankowski N & Hanssen L (1996) The Contours of Multimedia John Libby Media. Bedfordshire 

Joerger T (1995) Educational Uses of CD-ROM Technology URL: [28.11.01] 

Keenan S (1999) Six down, two to go: Future of CD ROM  URL: [13.1.01] 

Latchem C, Williamson J & Henderson-Lancett (1993) Interactive Multimedia - Practice and Promise Kogan Page. London 

Martin W J (1996) The Global Information Society Aslib Gower. England

McClintock R (1999) The Educators Manifesto: Renewing bond with posterity through the social construction of digital learning communities.  Institute for Learning Technologies, Columbia University.  Pre-publication Draft.  [February 2000] URL:    [25.11.01] 

O’Shea T, & Self J (1987) Teaching and Learning with Computers Harvester Press. Sussex 

Raggett P, Edwards R & Small N (1996) The Learning Society – Challenges and Trends Routledge. London 

Reisman R (1996) All Power to the Web, CD-ROM is dead—or is it? URL:  [25.11.01] 

Ricoh Corporation (1996) Where Does CD-R Fit In The Storage Hierarchy. Octave Systems. Campbell. California.

URL: [15/10/01] 

Rosenberg R. S (1992) The Social Impact of Computers Academic Press. London 

Scanlon E & O’Shea T (1987) Educational Computing St Edmundsbury Press. Suffolk 

Tannenbaum R S (1998) Theoretical Foundations of Multimedia Computer Science Press. Basingstoke

Vogel D & Klassen J (2001) Technology-Supported Learning: status, issues and trends Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2001)[17]  

10.Magazines & Journals

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Behaviour and Information Technology (2000) NO. 3, 229-232

URL: [12.12.01]    

Computer Active

URL: [14.11.01]    

Computers and Education, Pergamon Press 

URL: [16.11.01]   


URL: [16.11.01]  


Stanley Thornes Publishers [17.9.01]   

EMedia Professional

URL: [16.11.01]  

Journal of Communication

URL: 12.12.01]

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning

URL: [12.12.01]  

Journal of Interactive Media in Education  

URL: [16.11.01]    

Knowledge Quest 

URL: [16.11.01]

Mix [Primedia Business Magazines & Media Inc.]

URL: [16.11.01]

Multimedia Systems

PC magazine

URL: [26.11.01]  


URL: [14.11.01]  

Scientific American

URL: [25.11.01]   


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National Statistics – The UK in figures [23.11.01]  


The Secretary's Conference on Educational Technology

Critical issues in Evaluating the Effectiveness of Technology [23.11.01]  


IEEE Annals of the History of Computing - chronicles significant historical contributions and their impact on computing and society today. [16.11.01]


‘The History of Computing’ this collection of materials relating to the history of computing is provided courtesy of the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech. [10.12.01] 


The Centre for innovative computer applications at Indiana University [10.12.01] 


“The Journal of Network and Computer Applications welcomes research contributions, surveys and notes in all areas relating to computer networks and applications thereof.”  Lets you view the articles, at a price. [12.12.01]  


On-line journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers The gathering Storm in High-Density Compact Discs (1995) Peter Lubell [20.10.01]  


On-line site for ‘Time’ magazine article “Machine of the Year - The Computer Moves In” [20.10.01] 


Recording Technology History 20.10.01]  


Sony Electronics News and Information – a Company of Firsts [20.10.01] 


Philips Profile – A Century of Achievement (2001) [20.01.02] 

URL:  [23.01.02]


Ricoh Fact book (2000) [20.1.02] 


Removable Media Storage Devices  [12.12.01] 


DVD RAM white paper – What is DVD-RAM? [24.1.02] 


Information Environment: Development Strategy [15.1.02]  


10 Downing Street: Newsroom [25.01.02]


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