Just as audio compact disks have banished vinyl phonograph albums to the nostalgia bins, compact disks for computers may soon reduce the role of the familiar floppy disk. After several years of slow growth, the use of compact-disk drives in personal computers is beginning to accelerate.
According to computer market researchers, there are now approximately 2.5 million CD-ROM drives in active use. More than 750,000 drives have been sold in the last six months, and the researchers say there may be 8 million to 10 million CD-ROM drives in use by 1995.
Why the sudden surge in interest? Several factors appear to be at work, and are cause for giving serious consideration to CD-ROM (which stands for Compact Disk-Read Only Memory) in your next PC.
First, prices of CD-ROM drives, as well as of the powerful personal computers needed to run them efficiently, have fallen. The Dell Computer Corp., for example, last week introduced two socalled multimedia PC's equipped with CD-ROM drives and the ability to produce color graphics and stereo sound, for as little as $2,000. Similar systems cost twice that much just a year ago. Apple Computer Inc. included a CD-ROM drive in its Macintosh IIvx computer last fall and is reportedly planning to add CD-ROM drives to other models in the near future.
External CD-ROM drives are now widely available for less than $500, although some of the more advanced models still cost $1,000 or more. Many drives come with an assortment of software. Creative Labs Inc. has a Sound Blaster Multimedia upgrade kit for $799, which includes a sound board and a good selection of CD-ROM software.
Software is getting much better. Compton's New Media Inc. introduced an "interactive encyclopedia" for computers using the Microsoft Windows operating system. This is the first encyclopedia with obvious advantages over the traditional printed book. Also, several computer game companies have harnessed the powers of CD-ROM to add movie clips, stereo sound and better graphics to enhance their programs.
Compton's has also announced that it has signed deals to provide CD-ROM software to national video rental and music store chains, book stores and other non-traditional software outlets. The possibility of renting a program for a few dollars, and even a CD-ROM drive for a few dollars more, will certainly fuel the interest in the technology.
For another thing, the drives are getting easier to use. Early CD-ROM drives often required special adapters and maddening software patches, and navigating the actual program was often a challenge. The rising popularity of Microsoft Windows has created a de facto standard for controlling a CD-ROM drive on an IBM-style PC, although the software needed to get the computer to talk to the …