Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 05/84 item 01 - scanned

THE WORMS NOW TURNING (column)

Hello there, How do you feel about this industry and your place in it? Are you happy, worried, terrified, complacent? Do you know it all, think you know it all, know you know nothing? Are you floating on top of all the frantic change or are you being submerged by it? Can you keep up to date on all fronts or don't you try? Maybe you've found the bits you like and are sticking to them. Every now and then I go away for a few days and try to don an outsider's hat and do you know, I don't envy a soul in this industry. Everyone is scrabbling around trying to make a living out of today's technology and, no sooner have they got a real grip on something, than the game changes and they have to start again.

Think of the companies that went overboard on the Osborne, or the Sirius. Even those who threw their lot in with IBM got a bit of a shock recently when the supplies dried up. No sooner do you get used to the idea that Osborne and Sirius have gone than they start coming back again. It's mad isn't it? Lotus displaced VisiCalc, Microsoft gained the edge on Digital Research, mice and touch screens are all the rage, the 68000 is rapidly replacing the 8088.

Welcome then to the brave new world of laser discs. Well not new really, but they are about to wreak havoc on this fledgling industry. Floppies were fine, we had big ones then middle sized ones and everyone's going potty over the tiny ones. Sony, it seems, has won that particular race and Hitachi has come in nowhere. Result: micro floppies at enormously inflated prices and in desperately short supply. Big hard disks came along, then middle sized ones and now tiny ones too. Well, just when we think we've got all the storage options we need, IBM goes and buys one and a half million compact digital disc players. It doesn't really matter what IBM plans to do with them, the writing is on the wall. Video discs and digital audio discs are coming along to foul up our little game once again.

What's that I hear? A faint little cheer from the software publishers? Laser discs, eh? Just let someone try to copy them. Sorry to disappoint you chums, right behind the read only disks are hiding some write once read-many (WORM) disks and close behind them are some read write disks which work on a blend of optical and magnetic materials. Far from getting excited at the prospect of laser discs, software companies should be taking a hard look at the implications of these things. For a start, if I were a computer manufacturer I could stick all the common software that anyone's likely to need on a single disk. I could even stick the documentation on too. If I didn't, I'd need a pantechnicon to hold the manuals. I could even stick on a few self-running demonstrations all for a couple of quid.

So how can I resist the temptation? For a few pounds and judicious selection of product, I could make my computer invincible. I'd go to software authors and publishers and offer them laughable deals on the grounds that once this market takes off there won't be room for them unless their products are on manufacturer's disks. The game then gravitates back to the big boys, the service companies (tailor-made application, sir?) and to those handling the vertical specialised markets.

The two emerging standards are LaserVision and Compact Disc for visual and audio applications respectively. In 1981 the estimates were for an audio disc to contain around 250Mb. In fact it is more likely to contain around 550Mb. How many programs could you get in that? Say each program were 50K, that's eleven thousand programs on a single disk. It's ridiculous isn't it? Say that a page of documentation occupied 3.5K, this means that you could store almost 161,000 pages of information on a single disc with a maximum access time of three seconds. Put it another way that represents over 1000 fully documented programs. The discs aren't sensitive to touch in the same way that magnetic disks are and the read only and write-once read-many discs aren't prone to stray magnetic fields either.

The technology exists. There's no way that we can avoid embracing it. Digital Research is even rumoured to have knocked up some sort of interface to handle laser disc players. Once again, our industry is going to be turned on its head just when you thought it was safe.