CD-ROM: Ready-for-Prime-Time Technology

Article excerpt

CD-ROM: Ready-for-prime-time technology

As consumers and businesses demand more information, publishers in every field are scrambling to find ways to produce more effective, more efficient, more competitive pages.

Part of the solution is to conserve print with its own tools: tighter editorial, better graphic design, more pictures and charts, more process color and more highly targeted publication themes. But better ink-on-paper is only one response. Electronic alternatives to print are beginning to give publishers a whole new range of opportunities to combine conventional publishing applications with computers, telephones, television and animation. Many of these alternatives are still just toys--interesting topics for cocktail conversations and government grants. But they're not necessarily stable, affordable or profitable tools for mainstream, industrial-strength publishing.

CD-ROM (Compact Disk, Read Only Memory) technology, however, is emerging from development labs and into the real publishing world as a powerful alternative to traditionally produced magazines. Driven by declining costs, developing standards and an infrastructure already paid for by a mass market consumer application (the music industry's compact disk), the technology is moving within reach of at least a select audience of magazine readers. For those readers, CD-ROM represents a dynamic, interactive electronic option gathering, manipulating and digesting information.

And the technology runs both sides of the street for publishers. The same technology that may represent the future of publishing for some can, for any publisher, enhance and streamline editorial and production processes. Libraries of up-to-date research materials are already available for editors to use to draw information to insert directly int text, such as famous quotes, or to manipulate data in virtually unlimited data configurations. The huge capacity for data inherent in CD-ROMs allows them to carry hundreds of color photographs on a single disk, in digital form, ready for importation into a desktop publishing or color pre-press system.

Beyond text and graphics

Communicating graphically is the key to effective publishing, and effective CD-ROMs are the ones that offer a complete package of text, illustration and design. But with the CD-ROM's great storage capacity and the power of the computer, publishers now using the technology are moving beyond two-dimensional text and graphics in the most forward-looking products.

With roots in music and audio digitization, CD-ROMs can incorporate sound into a publication package. The French-English Visual Dictionary CD-ROM, for example, displays text in both languages, contains pictures that illustrate the vocabulary, and also plays recorded individuals pronouncing the dictionary entries.

Because the CD-ROM is played through a computer, the data could also be used in other PC applications. Microsoft's Bookshelf, for example, links a dictionary, thesaurus, almanac and Zip Code directory directly into word processing programs. One keystroke will retrieve a line from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and inject it into the middle of a text file. Similarly, some economic databases provide financial information in spreadsheet format so that readers can import the numbers into their analysis spreadsheets without rekeying the data.

The graphics power of the display computers can also be used to enhance illustrations. The Grolier U.S. History demonstration CD-ROM, for example, contains animated maps of the migration westward, illustrating the settlement of the American West by the changing maps of boundaries and borders over 50 years.

Other devices can be linked to the computer that contains a CD-ROM. Stanford University's Electric Cadaver, for example, displays animated schematics of the body on the computer screen and links to a video disk player with color pictures of cross-referenced medical detail. …