In earlier articles, I have talked about CD Recording under OS/2 and the "bad news" that existing OS/2 software for making your own CDs was well behind what could be found on other platforms. After getting my e-mail in-box stuffed full, I am writing to say the good news is I was wrong! There is an alternative that not only provides all of the functionality one can expect from a modern CD Recording package, it makes the job of getting your files on CD as easy as using XCOPY.
RSJ CD Writer for OS/2, from a German company of the same name, provides a fast, easy and reliable method of creating CDs by making your SCSI CD recorder appear as a writable, removable-media drive. The key to it is the RSJ CD Writer Installable File System (IFS), which acts as a filter to write the files to CD. In the process of doing this, it also takes away almost all of the fuss and worry that usually goes with making CDs.
The software comes on a single diskette, and the installation program uses a single panel that provides all of the software settings up front. You have the ability to change any of them to taste, but most of the default values are very good. The only values I changed were the drive letter for my CD recording device (drive F: instead of Z:) and the recording speed, which I specifically set to 4X. The other choices were 1X, 2X and 0X (which selects the maximum speed available). After confirming your choices, the installation copies the program files, creates the RSJ folder and related objects and prompts you for your registration key. After that, all you need is a system reboot and you're ready to go. The whole process can be completed in less than 10 minutes.
There are only four objects in the RSJ folder: CD Viewer, CD Writer Control, Start Error Log and Installation. The installation object will allow you to change any of the options you set during your first installation. There is no uninstall program. Fortunately, if you do have to remove it, RSJ places all of its files in its own directory and clearly comments all of the changes it makes to your CONFIG.SYS file. Removing the changes in CONFIG.SYS, deleting RSJ's directory, and removing the RSJ folder from the desktop erases all traces of the program from your system.
After restarting, the first thing I noticed was that the RSJ device drivers searched for recordable CD devices "masquerading as CD-ROM drives." Of course, it found my Yamaha CDR400c and registered it to the system as a WORM (Write Once Read Many) device. This is the way the software is supposed to work, but it also has the side effect of removing the ability of your CD recorder to function as a CD-ROM device without using RSJ to access it. This isn't really a big problem, but if you need to use your recorder as a reader, you need to keep this situation in mind. It means that you will need to take an extra step to see the CDs in the recorder even if you don't want to write anything to them.
Once you're up and running, creating CDs is amazingly easy. No need to "stage" your files before writing them, no caches to create, no sessions to manage. Simply insert a recordable disk in your recorder, open the RSJ folder and use the CD Writer Control object to "Attach" the CD as a drive. This involves pushing a big button labeled "Attach". The default drive letter is the one you specified during installation, but you're given the option of changing it now if you want to. (This is the extra step I mentioned you need to take if you want to use your recorder to read existing CD-ROMs)
You are also given the option to "format" the CD after attaching it. If the CD you are using has already been written to by something other than RSJ, writing to the CD recorder is automatically disabled when you attach the CD. In reality, you're not actually formatting the CD, you're only initializing the disk for a recording "session" the same way you would with any CD recording software. If you don't format the CD when you attach it, you can always open an OS/2 window and just type "format F:" where F: is the drive letter you used to attach the CD. That's right -- it's that simple! In fact, RSJ has mapped all of the normal disk operations via its installable file system driver to what you would expect to see from any removable media device. Once attached, you can treat the CD in your recorder like it was any other kind of removable disk. You can even save files directly to the CD from applications.
Once you're done copying files to the disk, you need to "finalize" the CD. Again the CD Writer Control object comes back into the picture. The same button you used to attach the CD has now changed to the Finalize button. Pushing it gives you several options, including the ability to "write protect" the CD from further modification. Normally, the default of "Finalize and Close Session" is all you need. When completed, the CD will eject itself from the recorder. The result is a freshly recorded CD with all of your data.
Music CDs are just as simple. Instead of using the CD Writer Control object, use the CD Viewer object. From here you can copy individual music tracks, save them to your hard disk as .wav files, and change any of a plethora of options. This is also the best way to create mixed-format CDs with both music and data. You can also initialize and finalize CDs directly from the CD Viewer. Almost everything is "drag & drop" easy.
The CDs created by RSJ can be read by any operating system that supports the ISO9660 level 3 standard. Support for Rock Ridge extensions and even Joliet is automatically included, so your friends (or enemies) running UNIX and Windows 95 can read your CDs. In fact, the only OS that seems to have a problem reading CDs created with RSJ is Windows NT 3.51, but that's because it doesn't support ISO level 3, Rock Ridge, or Joliet. RSJ can be told to use ISO levels 1 and 2, so if you need to create CDs that can be read by NT 3.51, you can, but you will be limited to the old DOS 8.3 naming conventions.
If these features sound familiar to people in the CD recording world, it's because this is what is promised as the future with Universal Data Format and packet writing. The problem with UDF at the moment is that only certain software programs can even read it, and only very few software programs are on the market that can record it. RSJ does almost everything packet writing does now using standards and formats that are used by the vast majority of CD recorders in the world today. This could be one of the best-kept secrets around!
Has anyone noticed that, so far, I've never mentioned one of the most notorious CD recording errors; the Buffer Underrun? That's because RSJ has found a way to all but eliminates them from the user's eyes. While recording, even if a buffer underrun error condition is encountered, RSJ will try to compensate for it. As long as the recorder is still capable of writing to the disk, the existing session is closed and another is started; picking up where the things went wrong. All of this is done under the covers and you will normally never see it. It also can save you some money in trashed CDs.
OK, so what's "wrong" with RSJ? The answer is, "Not a lot, but the are a few imperfections." It does still require a well-equipped system for best results and only SCSI CD recorders are supported at this time. In the case of my Yamaha CDR400c, I had a terrible time getting it to work properly at first. A call to RSJ for technical support determined that I had a very old version of firmware causing the problem. A visit to Yamaha's Web site produced an updated version (the latest is 1.0i for those who are interested) which I installed, and the problems have since gone away. My thanks to Christian Mueller at RSJ for his assistance. His name also appears as the author of the product documentation.
Speaking of documentation, RSJ is currently at version 2.52, but the manual that comes with the product still refers to version 1.6. While this isn't a really big deal because the software is so easy to use, an update would certainly improve things. Most of the changes between 1.6 and 2.52 are added functionality that makes day-to-day life with RSJ easier. The manual is also refreshingly short. Getting files copied to a CD shouldn't require you to read another "War and Peace"-sized user's guide. Other than that, the German heritage of this product comes through in the English version in some of the status messages the software produces. The most obvious of these is in the status window of the CD Writer Control object where the phrase "CD ist modified" appears as part of the overall message once you have attached and formatted a CD. This is just a typographical error and has no effect on the performance of the product.
Finally, the answer to the burning questions: Will RSJ be around on OS/2 for the long-term and will it continue to be enhanced? Yes!!! In fact, while there is a Windows 95 version of RSJ with an NT version on the books for the future, primary development of the product continues to be on OS/2. This means that the OS/2 version of RSJ will always be at the same level as its Windows counterparts. RSJ has committed to keeping up the OS/2 version and even makes a point of saying so on its web site. A 30-day trial version is available for download from there if you're interested in giving it a try. You can also buy a copy direct from RSJ over the Internet. You might notice that the Windows 95 version is less than half the price of the OS/2 version -- This has caused a few complaints, but I hear the OS/2 version is inherently better just because of the underlying environment you get to work in... Seriously, at twice the price, the OS/2 version is still far superior to every CD recording software package I've seen on any platform, so dig deep, support RSJ on OS/2 and buy this product. I did and have absolutely no regrets!
RSJ CD-Writer v2.52
Chris Williams has been actively involved with OS/2 systems for the past six years. A former IBM employee, OS/2 Ambassador, and long time member of Team OS/2, he is currently a PC and network specialist for Perot Systems Corporation.
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