With a DVD's capacity to hold gigabytes of data, not megabytes like CDs, the more capacious of the two formats is ready to break out of its rent-a-flick ghetto. I expect DVDs to become as common in the enterprise as floppy disks once were in their halcyon Sneakernet days.
The Format Wars Wind Up Moot
Signs of the DVD format's coming ascendence as a corporate storage medium are all around. The most telling may be Microsoft's decision to give its thousands of loyal, third-party developers copies of its new pre-beta Longhorn (Windows 2005) operating system on DVDs only. Any PC with just a CD-ROM drive isn't being invited to play with the big boys.
Recordable DVDs, unfortunately, were for too long held back from wide acceptance by a three-way dispute over competing formats. That debate won't be repeated here, except for this brief overview:
• DVD-RW. This format, promoted by the DVD Forum, a group that includes Pioneer and many other multimedia interests, is both writeable and re-writeable, so the disk surface can be used more than once. It's related to DVD-R, a disk format with a surface that can be written to only once.
• DVD+RW. Philips and others developed DVD+RW (pronounced "DVD plus RW") to take market share from DVD-RW and DVD-R (which some refer to as "DVD dash"). This format, and the write-once DVD+R, are largely not write-compatible with DVD-R and -RW products. All the above devices, however, can produce disks that are viewable in most consumer DVD players.
• DVD-RAM. This kind of disks have a random-access format that's most like a hard disk, but that also means they won't play in many consumer DVD systems that are on the market, especially older models.
The most recent developments promise to blur such distinctions, if not obliterate them entirely.
One Drive Type Sees All, Writes All
New burners — finally — can read and write disks in all five of the above formats, plus recordable and rewriteable CDs (CD-R and CD-RW).
The electronics giant LG says it has the world's first such omnidrive, but I'm sure the technology will soon start showing up everywhere. The LG device for the PC market bears the clunky name of Super Multi DVD Rewriter, but what it does is make any kind of disk storage possible.
The drive, as you might expect, is perfectly capable of burning disks that play in DVD players as well as the data drives used by both "plus" and "dash" advocates. But in a demonstration for me by Jang Seok Ahn — an executive of Hitachi-LG Data Storage, the new drive's manufacturer — DVD-RAM showed off its potent corporate implications.
Like hard disks, DVD-RAM disks read and write fast. The +RW and -RW formats require "finalization," creating frustrating delays. I watched Ahn move multi-megabyte video clips around a disk in mere split-seconds. That's a Hollywood-type application, but you could just as easily be updating thousands of rows in a massive database on that same disk.
The resulting DVD-RAM disks wouldn't be readable in consumer DVD players or some older DVD-ROM drives. But who cares? Once the important people in your enterprise (and in the companies you exchange data with) are equipped with Super Multi drives, you can carry around, or FedEx to your colleagues, scores of gigabytes on a stack of shiny little platters only a few millimeters thick. The entire Library of Congress in a purse, anyone?
Rewriteable DVD drives with the power of hard disks but the expansiveness of removable media are a bit scarce just yet — but I predict you'll want to start putting these cool little babies in all your PCs pronto.
Note: Executive Tech, which is normally published biweekly, is taking a holiday break and will next appear on Jan. 12, 2004. It will then shift to a once-a-week schedule, starting on Jan. 19.