Not long ago, the thought of creating your own CD lay in the realms of fantasy. At a princely Pounds 4,000, CD-writers were financially prohibitive and technologically forbidding. But now their price tag has fallen to between Pounds 200 and Pounds 300, and the cost of the disks has fallen too. Blank CDs, which can be used once only, cost less than Pounds 1 each and reuseable disks come to about Pounds 10. The writeable CD has probably become the cheapest way of storing data.
But do schools need a CD-writer? Storage of information is a problem, but loss of information is an even greater one. One CD-Rom will hold more than 600Mb of data, the equivalent of about 460 high-density floppy disks.
The information on your office computers is more important to you than the computer itself, so you could store all your files on CDs.
Well, that is just hunky dory, but there remains the question: is a CD-writeruseful in the classroom? The computer is always evolving - it is no longer the typewriter or the calculator, but both of those things and a lot more. It is also the recording studio, the film studio, the image processor, the library, a communications centre and multimedia factory. If you are connected to the Internet, you have access to more information than anyone in history. And what do you do with it all?
Video and sound recordings take up acres of hard disk space, whereas the CD-writer is a great boon in this regard. A music department can use them to store students' musical offerings - rewriteable CDs do not degenerate with continued use like tape does.
An art department can also use them to store images. As digital camera technology becomes cheaper and, therefore, more widespread, the number of images that schools will need to store is likely to grow rapidly. If PowerPoint presentations are space-greedy, multimedia productions simply devour it.
The CD-writer will do things that you are not supposed to do, such as copying commercial CDs. You simply put a CD in the drive of your computer and a blank CD in the drive of your CD-writer and 30 minutes later you have a perfect copy. That could be illegal. Another potentially illegal activity is copying vinyl records on to CD and cleaning up the cracks and pops as you go.
Some schools have been issuing their brochures to parents on CD-Rom because a CD copy is much cheaper to produce than the glossy brochure.
This is marvellous technology. I have used a Hewlett Packard CD-Writer Plus 7200e that writes at two speeds, but there are a number of alternative products. How well they work depends on your computer's specification. You need either a Pentium PC or a recent Mac (68040 or Power Mac). The computer needs a CD-drive itself and you also need good software.
Some will be provided with your machine. The market leader is Adaptec, which makes Toast and Jam for the Macintosh and Easy CD Creator for Windows.