In case I had any doubts, my concerns over the fragility of current and future optical-disc technology were crystallized by reader responses to a recent column on the subject—as well as an interesting (and unintended) example from Microsoft by way of my snail-mailbox.
In last Thursdays column, I noted that current DVDs lack cartridge covers to protect bare media and touched on historical reasons for the omission. When the format was in its infancy, several optical-drive manufacturers had lobbied for a hard plastic shell that would protect the disc media. However, the opposing camp held sway, and thus our current consumer video and data drives use bare media.
Here are a couple of observations from readers with concerns about "naked" storage media as well as some tips:
Apparently, its too much for the video-rental people to check the condition of the disc surface when a title is returned. (After all, the clerk doesnt have to see if its been rewound.)
Whenever cleaning a disc by hand, the concern is with scratching the surface. To clean discs (as well as LCD screens, camera lenses and eyeglasses), I use a water-soluble, polymer-based liquid called Klear Screen from Merridrew Industries. The company sells packets with a disposable soaked cleaning pad and a lint-free cloth. This combo is better than paper towels or Kleenex. Be sure always to work the cloth out from the center of the disc instead of in a circular motion.
In addition, I like the companys new $14.95 Micro Klear Kloth Combo set, whichincludes a 14-inch-square piece of absorbent microfiber cloth (for less-critical jobs such as notebook cases and trackpads) and a similar-sized piece of optical-grade chamois for screens or optical discs. (Each cloth can be rewashed, so its also an ecological product.)
Even as I was fielding reader comments about the fragility of discs, I received hard evidence. Microsoft sent the MSN Version 8.0 disc loose in an envelope, and it didnt survive the trip intact (see my photographic proof). I might have understood a scratch or two, but the disc arrived in three pieces! The discs are brittle, and the envelope must have been crunched by the automated mail sorter in the post office. I dont remember this problem happening with a floppy disk.
DVD media survivability is also on the mind of consultants advising their clients on long-term storage of archived data.
While future consumer video players and recorders will still use naked discs, for some applications, such as data archive and libraries, there will be alternatives.
For example, Plasmon offers Ultra Density Optical, a blue-laser format with an initial capacity of 30GB. The standard uses the familiar 5.25-inch cartridge design currently used for its magneto-optical drives.
With some sense of postmodernist storage irony, I recall that in bygone days, the proposed DVD cartridge standard proposed two versions. The first was for a hard plastic cartridge like a floppy that would be used for ordinary uses, such as video discs and data drives. The second version of the case could open up, letting users remove the disc media. Why? For use in CD libraries, which used bare discs—the reverse of the forthcoming formats.
David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.