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Virtual CD's
By Thiravudh Khoman

Do squatters live in your CD-ROM drive? They do in mine. Eject my CD drive and you'll probably see either "Epson Print Adventure, Sticker Edition" or "Canon Super Fun Pack". Try as I may to banish them, these CD's always seem to sneak back and stake a claim to my CD tray.

Astute readers will realize that I'm the parent of children enamored by photo stickers. OK, I admit to having invited said CD's into my home computer in order to keep my kids away from those nefarious sticker-making kiosks, so I really shouldn't complain. But being somewhat of a computer purist, I prefer that my CD drive always remain empty, waiting for me to be feed it a disk. Alas, this hasn't been the case for a while now.

I finally solved my problems by installing a "Virtual" CD-ROM drive in my computer. A "Virtual" CD drive is exactly what it sounds like - a CD drive created purely in software. And since the CD drive is "virtual", so are the CD's that you mount into the drive.

To create this piece of magic, I used a program called "Virtual CD" ("VCD" for short) version 1.0 by a company called Logicraft. (This is actually obsolete software that is no longer sold, but I'll tell you where you can obtain a substitute at the end of this article.) The software only works with Windows 95/98, although a separate version exists for Windows NT.

Installation and Usage

Assuming your hard disk is drive C: and your computer doesn't already have a CD drive, VCD will set up a virtual CD drive D:. If you already have a CD drive, VCD will create a 2nd CD drive E:. In the latter case, you can always swap your virtual CD drive as drive D: and your real CD as drive E: (this being my preferred configuration). The important thing is that Windows will "see" your virtual CD as a bonafide CD drive.

Having installed your virtual CD drive, you now have to create some virtual CD's or what VCD calls "container files". This is done within VCD itself and involves converting an entire CD into a single file with an .FCD extension. You may optionally compress the contents of the CD to save space. For example, I have an ancient CD with ANSI graphic files that take up 40mb of space. After I converted this into a compressed virtual CD, it took up only 10mb. The degree of compression of course depends on the type of files that exist on the CD-ROM, so don't expect 500mb of JPEG files to be reduced to 100mb.

It should be noted that the container files can be copied/installed onto other VCD equipped computers as well, although the typical size of the files will require the use of high capacity media (e.g. Zip/Jaz disks, CD-R's) or network copying.

Once several virtual CD's have been created, you can eject and mount these .FCD files within the VCD program by pointing and clicking (figure 1). Once a virtual CD is mounted, it stays mounted until you eject it, even if you turn off your computer. Need several CD's to be mounted concurrently? Simply create more virtual CD drives. You can create as many virtual CD drives as you have drive letters available (20 or so).

Advantages and Disadvantages

What are the advantages of using VCD? First, you can minimize the use of CD's. This saves wear and tear on frequently used CD's as well as the drives, and keeps your CD drive free for other CD's. Second, the speed of these virtual CD drives far, far outpace even the fastest 50x CD drives on the market. Third, by eliminating CD's altogether, you can set up "idiot-proof" computers and reduce the risk of lost/stolen/scratched CD's. Fourth, you can now run applications which normally require a CD drive on computers without such drives. Fifth, you can save disk space on individual computers that are networked, by setting up multiple shared virtual CD drives.

The disadvantages? First and foremost, the amount of disk space taken up by the container files. Given that most computers these days come with 4gb hard disks, this is less of a problem as long as you're not too pressed for space. Second, certain applications require that the CD it is looking for (be it real or virtual) be located in the first CD drive. For example, if your virtual CD drive is D: and you want to run a program from a regular CD-ROM in E:, your application may not work if it searches for its files in the first CD drive (drive D:). in such cases, you'll have to swap the drive letters of your virtual and real CD drives.

Third, certain programs remember the drive letter of the CD drive from which it was installed. If you try and run such programs from the virtual CD and use a different drive letter, the program may not be able to find its files. In such cases, you must swap the virtual and real CD drive letters before you install the software and then swap them back again after the container file has been created.

Obtaining the Software

Finally, where do you get VCD? Well, this depends on how you feel about using software that is no longer sold nor supported, from a company that is no longer in business. Such is the case with VCD. Logicraft, the maker of VCD apparently sold its rights to a company called MicroTest (web inquiries to https://www.logicraft.com actually get redirected to https://www.microtest.com), which came out with VCD version 2.0 and then sold its rights to a company called IMSI (https://www.imsisoft.com). MicroTest is a well known company that sells network testing equipment and high-end CD servers, and VCD apparently didn't fit into this product line.

IMSI, meanwhile, has taken VCD v2.0, renamed it, and split it up into two versions: CD Copier Gamer's Edition and CD Copier Pro. The difference between the two is that the Pro version handles more types of CD's (i.e. audio CD's, CD Extra, CD-R, photo CD's). The gamer's edition sells for US$30, while the Pro edition sells for US$40. If you prefer to get a licensed or the latest version of VCD, get it from IMSI. Meanwhile, if you want to give VCD v1.0 a try, I suggest you visit https://www.peregate.com/anvil/.

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman