For many years, removable media was the ugly ducking of storage infrastructure. Those savvy enough to use more sophisticated technology such as LANs and email considered the use of floppy disks to share information "sneakernet." And as network bandwidth and storage capacity increased, the specific variety of removable storage that appeared at the desktop seemed less and less significant. At one point, Apple Computer introduced a computer model with no removable storage at all. (It bombed.)

What a difference half a decade makes. Today, Apple is one of the driving forces behind the newest removable storage media technology—a recordable DVD drive (DVD-R), which, combined with an even newer technology, rewriteable DVD drives (DVD-RW), might spark a revolution of sorts. According to Gartner Dataquest research that Maxell released at COMDEX, Apple has shipped over 500,000 Macintosh computers equipped with DVD-R capability, accounting for two-thirds of the total number of Macs shipped in 2002. Gartner Dataquest predicted that next year, 3.9 million DVD-R drives will be shipped, which is an increase of 600 percent from 2002.

Maxell announced that it has sold more than 3.5 million DVD-R disks in all formats, with DVD-R accounting for 70 percent of the recordable DVD market. The Santa Clara Consulting Group estimates that more than 70 percent of the DVD-R devices sold this year will be used for data storage applications.

DVD has had the same sort of turbulent history that other optical disk products have endured. Originally named for digital video disk but now standing for digital versatile disk, DVD was introduced as a medium for both video and computer storage applications. DVD has gone through its share of legal struggles, incompatibilities among competing formats, and over-optimistic expectations. Whereas only 2 companies pioneered CD technology, 11 companies created a DVD alliance in the mid-1990s. For a short history about DVD technology go to http://www.pctechguide.com/10dvd.htm#history.

Three factors are fueling the attention of the public, developers, manufacturers, and technology-followers on DVD technology: Universal Disk Format (UDF), improved pricing, and the growth in popularity of consumer DVD players.

UDF
In the late 1990s, the Optical Storage Technology Association (http://www.osta.org) developed UDF, which ensures data exchange and compatibility across platforms and the consistency of data written to different optical media. In addition to DVD, UDF has been incorporated into CD-R and CD-RW technology. Although the technology isn't perfect, UDF takes a big step toward resolving problems with compatibility of stored data. In a key development, Microsoft incorporated UDF support into Windows 98 and then Windows Me. Windows XP has several enhancements that let developers use digital video content embedded in applications. (For more information about these enhancements, visit http://www.microsoft.com/hwdev/tech/stream/dvd/dvdwp.asp#_toc376909168)

Improved Pricing
DVD-R technology is hitting the sweet spot in the technology market, in which falling prices combine with improved capacity and performance. When the technology was first made available, DVD-R disks cost $35 each. The price has since dropped to $10 per disk. Maxell has released a disk with access speeds of 44.32Mbps and 9.4GB of storage capacity, twice the capacity of previous DVD-R generations. A 9.4GB disk can store as many as 240 minutes of digital video and can also serve as an effective local backup device for personal computers with 60GB and 70GB hard disks. You can incorporate DVD-R devices into jukeboxes for more enterprise-oriented applications. DVD might just be the technology that pushes optical storage into mainstream storage infrastructures.

Growth in Popularity of Consumer DVD Players
DVD is quickly becoming the format of choice in the home video market with companies such as Blockbuster throwing their marketing muscle behind the technology. DVD clearly offers a superior end-user experience in home video because it provides better video resolution and is more durable.

DVD is perhaps the first true crossover technology that's equally as valuable in consumer electronics devices as in computers. Consequently, the technology should help to accelerate the development of devices that comfortably span both markets—thin laptops that double as DVD players, for example.

As the market for DVD devices grows, so does the demand to build infrastructure, including wireless networks. Over the next several years, DVD-R devices could play a large role in reshaping our primary computing platform and determining where we store our data.