Mongrel media

Or how multimedia and the world-wide web lost their pedigrees

Pure-breds, it is often said amongst animal breeders, are not as sturdy as mixed parentage stock. Although prettier, they are more prone to problems and they don't survive as long. Is the world of digital media about to follow this traditional wisdom? It seems so. Both CD-ROMs and the world-wide web have experienced a boom in recent years. As heralds of the new computer breeds multimedia and the internet, they have won prizes at all the best shows. Yet their limitations are becoming apparent. Some clever companies are starting to cross breed for a better features. These mongrel media show interesting promise.

One of the problems of multimedia has been that many people have not really understood what it is. A bit of sound here, a clip of video there and the odd fancy graphic in between have often been mistaken for the brave new world of future multimedia. In fact these were just test runs. Just as with the invention of the telephone Alexander Bell could not foresee fax back services and mobile data transmission, so with the arrival of the Internet and multimedia we cannot hope in 1997 to foresee the many uses and adaptations these new concepts will bring us in the century to come. What is clear, however, is that cross fertilisation of ideas and uses will change both beyond all recognition. The fore-runners are just coming onto the market.

The CD-Web-ROM
In autumn '96, when Microsoft launched Encarta 96, very few reporters mentioned a novel bonus that purchasers received with the CD-ROM. It entitled users to 12 monthly updates of data so that for the next year their encyclopaedia would stay up-to-date. Microsoft promised to produce 3MB-large additions for Encarta which would be available to all Encarta users, regardless of whether they registered the product, via the world-wide web.

These additions would be collected in a yearbook. It's data would be accessible for the program just like the CD-ROM files of the original disc but they would be stored on the user's hard disk. Moreover Microsoft offered users the option to subscribe to further yearbooks after 1996, effectively ensuring that their Encarta encyclopaedia would never get out of date (or at least not until Microsoft goes bankrupt, currently a somewhat unlikely scenario).

The essence of this innovation is clear. Microsoft is using one medium to resolve the weakness of another medium. CD-ROMs are impossible to update. Once pressed they are fixed forever. It doesn't matter whether you use all 650 MB or just 6.5 MB. The die is cast and the data is frozen. Nothing could be further from the truth for the world wide web.

Flexibility by the second
In comparison to the rigidity of CD-ROMs, the world of the web is creative chaos. You can reload a page ten minutes after the first attempt and get a completely different layout. It simply means the company concerned had just updated that section of their website. The web lives from change and flexibility. This chaos sometimes puts people off, but it is the source of endless creativity and progress.

If you want to track availability of a product, just link your website to the warehouse's database. Automatically generated pages can update stock information at whichever intervals you program. Want to know where your UPS package is in their world-wide system? No problem, with a package number the website will tell you of the last known location within seconds. Computers tell computers what is happening. Need to know share prices of your latest investments? There's a range of services nowadays on the web that'll keep you posted. No need to make horrendous losses anymore.

But suppose you need a video of an important event from last year? Or a recording of some politician's major speech? Don't look to the web. If you're lucky there might be a still photograph. But the resolution will be poor. A sound bite will be the most audio you can expect - and the quality even then might leave something to be desired. A CD-ROM could deliver you better quality and longer video. As a sound-and-vision medium CD-ROMs established their pedigree long ago, and in their next incarnation as DVD, these silver disks will have no shortage of disc space anymore. But then, the rest of it might be out of date. What a trade-off!

The world-wide CD-ROM web
Many commercial companies have started to market goods using CD-ROMs. The widespread installation of CD-ROM drives in computers has made the dissemination of large amounts of graphics, animations and video, to picture products, demonstrate the benefits and detail usage into one of the cheapest ways to spread the product message. You can press an awful lot of CD-ROMs for the cost of one television advertisement.

In Germany the Quelle group of mail-order companies found the CD-ROM ideal as a modern way of distributing their catalogue, not the least because it is cheaper than the printed version. But like printed paper, it suffered from the same tendency to get out of date on price and availability. The answer is innovative, don't even include price information on the CD. Keep that on the website. There you can change it any time, day or night. And then let the Interactive Catalogue on the CD-ROM use internet connections to get up-to-date information from the website.

The simplicity of the idea belies the complicated programming behind it, but the utility of the concept is universal. Microsoft made it possible by making their browser "Internet Explorer" free of charge. Siemens in the Netherlands has adopted the concept for their annual report. The interactive version on the CD-ROM allows you to go direct to their website for the latest company information. The merging of the CD-ROM and the world-wide web has begun.

View Toshiba interactively
Not to be left behind in this development, Toshiba Europe has completely revamped its interactive CD-ROM to take advantage of this concept. The latest version of Toshiba Views interactive includes an internet room where users can link direct into the Toshiba Europe website. Here they will meet pages with two types of additional information for them.

If they are looking for new product details, the Product Gallery upgrades will allow them to download the specifications, pictures and options details of new notebooks as they appear during 1997. If they are interested in how other customers exploit the advantages of Toshiba mobile computing, they can take a look at the Case Studies notice board. Additional information there can be added to the case studies already on the CD-ROM, so expanding the range of examples of mobile computing users can analyse.

Of course, these are not the only changes in Toshiba Views interactive 4.0. We've taken the opportunity to make it more interactive, user friendlier and more informative. The complete interface of the CD-ROM has been given a new modern image. The Technology Exhibition has been updated to include the latest advances, and the Megatrends presentation theatre has a complete new show to demonstrate the benefits of mobile computing in today's modern society.

Mongrel media on exhibit
Toshiba will be closely watching the usage of this new service to dealers, customers and potential clientele. Innovations are not always welcomed as warmly as their creators imagine. Yet for a company at the forefront of mobile technology, there is a symmetry in using the latest multimedia combinations to spread the word about mobile computing and our products. If you would like a Toshiba Views interactive CD-ROM, ask a member of staff. They are free of charge.

And if you have an internet connection, why not try out our new update service. We look forward to surprising you with interesting case studies and innovative products. Let us know your opinion via our website's e-mail function. For when creating a new breed, it is not always easy to get it right first time.