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MulitiRead Specs and the Universal Disk Format.

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the department of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii. He won the 1998 Louis Shores/Oryx Press Award from ALA 's Reference and User Services Association for his discerning database reviews. His e-mail address is

CD-ReWritable (CD-RW) drives have become quite popular in 1998. With their typical street price just below $400, they are not much more expensive than CD-Recordable drives. If you add the free software that Hewlett-Packard bundles with its excellent HP CD Writer Plus 7200 series, the value/price ratio of CD-RW drives is really superior, and the ability to rewrite individual files on a CD-RW disc just as you can as on a floppy or hard disk is a dream come true.

Or is it? There are many ifs and buts in answering this question unless you have an optical drive that carries the MultiRead logo and then some.

Credit goes to OSTA, the Optical Storage Technology Association, which managed to get the majority of optical drive manufacturers to endorse the MultiRead specifications, as well as to pledge to manufacture MultiRead-capable drives. The MultiRead specifications were finalized in 1997, but this doesn't mean that any optical drive that you buy today would be MultiRead capable. I have not yet seen any CD-ROM drives sold bundled with PCs sporting the MultiRead logo, for example. Mail-order companies typically carry a variety of non-MultiRead CD-ROM drives. First-generation DVD-ROM drives are not MultiRead-capable either.

Can Your Drive Read It?

The answer to this question depends on what optical drive is to be used to read a disc recorded on a CD-RW drive, what operating system you are using to read the disc, and how you did the recording. It is somewhat more complicated than interpreting the Internal Revenue Service's regulations and guidelines for deducting home-office expenses. Suffice it to say that your best chances are if you have a CD or a DVD drive that sports the above-mentioned logo. The logo attests that the drive has passed the benchmark tests that the manufacturer had to run, and Hewlett-Packard--the company that administers the MultiRead logo authorization program--approved the test reports. Be very careful. Some manufacturers use the term in slightly different spelling, and it does not necessarily mean that the drive is indeed MultiRead-capable.

Why wouldn't everyone apply for a logo if their optical drives can read all four formats: CD-DA (a k a CD-Audio), CD-ROM (the factory-pressed, injection-molded versions), CD-R, and CD-RW (the homemade recordable and rewritable variety)? There could be two reasons. One is the $995 fee for the logo. This may be nothing to corporations that manufacture optical drives, as they spend more for a single hotel room for three nights at the COMDEX show. The other, however, is more likely: Some manufacturers resent the fact that they have to go through Hewlett-Packard for the authentication process. If a drive has no logo but claims MultiRead capability, the best thing to do is to get it in writing that the drive can read the above-mentioned medium.

Your Drive Can Read It, But Can It Understand It.?

That's another question. There are different layers of meaning to the word "read" in the context of optical drives. It is not unlike the different interpretations of reading by a human. I can't read Japanese. So when I ride the subway in Tokyo, if I miss the single sign in the Roman alphabet for the station, I don't know if I am between Akebonobashi and Ichigaya stations, but I do know that I am between a rock and a hard place. I can read-and so can you-Icelandic, but we are unlikely to understand it. Yet we don't need to understand it to find our way around in the streets of Reykjavik.

An optical disc can be physically read on a MultiRead-capable drive, but it may take an extra piece of software to make sense out of the file, to understand the data recorded. This is needed if data were recorded using packet-writing technology-the technique that makes it possible and economical to write small files onto optical discs. This is what we are accustomed to do with hard disks and floppy disks. And this is what we would need when carrying a packet-written disc to another computer that does not have a CD-RW drive.

UDF Reader to Read Universal Disk Format

OSTA also gets the credit for the specifications of the Universal Disk Format. It is meant in the long run to replace the use of the ISO 9660 standard, which has served well for the read-only medium but is not appropriate for the recordable/rewritable media. Technically, UDF is not a standard, but functionally it serves the same purpose.

UDF has existed on paper since 1996, but it really came to life only with the advent of CD mastering programs, and especially CD-R/RW utilities such as DirectCD and PacketCD. These utilities, which allow file-by-file erasing and rewriting following the UDF specifications, emerged in 1997, becoming popular in 1998. (Note that not all software that implements packet-writing produces UDF format.) It was hoped that Windows 98 would include the piece of software to interpret the data on packet-written discs, but there is no such software included in the new operating system for CDs that use the UDF 1.5 format specification. There is a piece of native software in Windows 98 for UDF 1.02 format specification used by DVD-Video and some DVD-ROM discs.

This is similar to the situation we had in the early 1 990s when CD-ROM drives were not supported directly by Windows 3.0. Because of this, manufacturers wrote their own device drivers and bundled the MSCDEX software that extended the capabilities of the Microsoft operating system to handle CDs. It was only later in Windows 3.1 and 3.11 that MSCDEX became native code so users didn't need to install and fiddle with the parameters of the MSCDEX program.

This time Adaptec came to the rescue, making available free of charge the UDF Reader program. It can be downloaded from This is a generous offer that makes it possible for users who have a MultiRead-capable drive to read packet-written CD-R and CD-RW discs. UDF is available for Windows 95 and Windows NT, and for MacOS (by the name UDF Volume Access). Adaptec's Web site is also an excellent resource to learn more about the intricacies of writing to CD-R and CD-RW media with a view to their use on a CD-ROM drive, and it also lists the model and brand name of MultiRead-capable drives.

Is UDF Really Universal?

I don't think so. Certainly not at the end of 1998. Only a tiny fraction of the optical drives in use are MultiRead-capable now. However, it has the potential of becoming a universal format for optical media within 4 to 5 years, as almost all the new drives will be MultiRead-capable. This encompasses not only the whole range of CD drives but also the increasing variety of DVD drives (including DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, and the upcoming DVD-RW). We shall see the same transition period as we did from 5.25-inch floppies to 3.5-inch ones. Those who heeded my advice a year ago to buy the Deluxe edition of Easy CD Creator may be glad to hear that, as this column appears, they qualify for a free upgrade to version 3.5 for only shipping and handling charges. Further, the new version 2.0 of DirectCD 2.5 is also available as a free upgrade from version 1.0 and 2.0.

I think Adaptec has proved that my year-end cheers to the company last year were well deserved. Its efforts make CD-ROM an intuitive and simple process. If you don't yet have a MultiRead-capable drive, you will soon. Still, you don't need to ditch your non-MultiRead-capable CD-ROM drive. The factory-produced CD-Audio and CD-ROM titles will be using the time-honored ISO 9660 format because, for these, the Disk-At-Once creation and reproduction technology is the most cost-effective.
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Author:Jacso, Peter
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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