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CD-ROM design and development

Strange Software has produced over 80 CD-ROM titles for clients such as BBC Worldwide, Plant Press, The Royal Horticultural Society, The British Computer Society, VNU Business Publications and Ziff-Davis. These include retail products, bundled products and promotional giveaways and range from fast database and document retrieval applications to training materials, advertisements and entertainment. Some have been major projects, others quick or economical solutions to a specific requirement. Many have been a series of discs, including regular software collections for computer magazines and the long-running CD Extra multimedia CDROM for BBC Music Magazine.

Strange Software has built up a valuable code-base and expertise for CD-ROM work, from fast retrieval software to rich graphics and formatting, with a particular emphasis on discs that run first time on most systems often with no prior setup or installation at all.

The right medium

We've seen many publications move with the technology from print to CD-ROM to web site and it's true that the internet has to some extent obsoleted the CD.

Document retrieval, database and directory applications that once relied on the capacity of CDs to store the dataset can now operate equally well over the web since an individual query typically produces a page or two or results or a small article or graphic that can easily be returned as a set of web pages. Indeed, a web database can easily be much larger than that on a CD or DVD, running into hundreds of gigabytes for a modest cost.

Web databases are easier to produce and maintain. There's only one version of the data and software in use and it can easily be corrected and upgraded as you go. There's no need, as there is with CD, to commit a master for duplication and no effort producing, testing, releasing and distributing upgrade disks and new versions in the future. It's also now as easy and quick (and probably easier and quicker) in most cases to bring a product to the web than it is to CD. The software development task can concentrate on the application itself and not the mechanics of bringing it to the user. Whereas the web version just has to work with a variety of browsers (and therefore PCs, Macs, Linux boxes or even mobile phones), the CD-ROM version needs to be developed and tested for a variety of environments including multiple versions of Windows, perhaps Mac support, different printer and display drivers and so forth.

The case for using the web is a strong one and must be considered carefully for any new CD development proposal.

However, the CD is far from dead and is the right choice for some projects.

The CD can reliably deliver bandwidth for video and animation projects which still suffer on the web even with broadband connections.

A CD is capable of much better, higher-quality interaction than a web application... software running locally on the desktop always is no matter how much you dress up a web page. The more users interact with the application, manipulate or process the data with it, the more a CD starts to look the best option.

As an example, we produced a CD-ROM database product which allowed users to select and sort records of interest into 'pick lists' that could be stored, printed or exported into other programs. A later web-version of the database lacked these features and the old CD-ROM version became a prized possession among the database's most committed users. Training materials are a good example... CDs brought us highly animated and interactive 'Computer Based Training' (CBT) whereas the modern 'e-learning' equivalent on the web is often endless flat pages of reading material interspersed with the odd pop-up box or quiz.

A less obvious quality is that a CD is a physical item that appeals as a retail product or as a promotion in a way that websites have yet to replicate. Customers are often more prepared to pay for a CD-ROM in a nice jewel case than they are for a subscription to a web site. Equally, they are delighted to receive a CD-ROM with their conference notes, booking confirmation or training course and are likely to try it out. In contrast, it can actually be annoying to attend an event and be told that all the exciting stuff is actually at the following url... for some people, that sounds like work and they are far less likely to actually follow it up.

The physical quality of CDs is so important that they've gained a rather odd role of working as a lead-in for web services. The CD is used to help sell subscriptions or as a premium to give away at events or with a product and may contain promotional material or even some useful functions and data... but its main role is simply to get a live link in front of the user so that they can get to the real services on the web.

We'd be happy to discuss your CD proposal...


Plant Finder Reference Library

Database Horticultural libary on CD combining ten specialist databases with over 100,000 records in total. This was a successful retail product with later annual editions published by Dorling Kindersley in conjunction with the RHS.


Proms Safari CD for BBC Proms

Interactive Children's CD for BBC Proms with radio play, information and music sequencer, distributed to UK schools.


British Computer Society Review CDROM

Professional CD with annual review, useful articles and archives of magazines and publications produced for The British Computer Society.


Peter and the Wolf CDROM

Multimedia CD Extra discs for BBC Worldwide combining a full audio recording with an interactive listening guide (clicking points of interest in the text moves directly to relevant section of music). Over 40 titles produced.


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