Laying Out a Great Looking Cd-rom: 7 Tips to Increase Usability

By: Michael Bridson

Don't you just hate popping a CD into your drive and having to guess at what to do next? Yeah, me too!

As a software/multimedia developer your aim is to educate and/or entertain your users, so giving them a CD which takes them straight to the heart of your content will only enhance their experience. So, before mailing your master disc to your favourite CD duplication company, here are a few ideas to think about:

1. Does the CD autorun?

The vast majority of Windows users expect their discs to autorun, so why disappoint them? Make the CD autorun the way you want by popping a simple text file, called autorun.inf, into the root directory of your disc. There are loads of websites explaining how to do this, just Google "How to create an autorun CD".

2. Have you assigned an electronic volume label to the disc?

Many CD authors overlook this, so when users navigate their PCs using Explorer they can see that a CD is in the drive, but the text next to it says 'New' or maybe something like '130982' - not very descriptive! Set the volume label using your burning software, or try using the 'label' command inside the autorun.inf file.

3. Do the CD and main executable file have their own icons?

Replace the default CD icon - the one you see when viewing the disc in Explorer - with something more appropriate, your logo or a small graphic for example. Grab a free icon from the Internet or use one of the available free icon editors to create your own and use the 'icon' command inside the autorun.inf file to assign it to the CD. Also, you can assign the same icon to the main executable file when compiling, or if that's not possible, use a program like Resource Hacker to add it afterwards.

4. Is the root directory free of clutter?

People don't want to be confronted with a choice of files to click, so make the choice for them and only leave the most important one in the root directory (along with your autorun file of course!). Maybe give the file a name such as 'start' or 'run' to make it obvious, and move all the other files into sub-folders.

5. Do the sub-folders and files have real names?

By giving folders and files human-readable names it allows your users to navigate around the CD and locate documents and images outside of your software or presentation.

6. Have you removed all unnecessary files from the CD?

When creating your master disc be sure not to include unnecessary files, images or templates. As well as a clean file structure, it prevents you giving away source code and any half-completed, unused ideas!

7. Is the CD to be used on PC and Mac?

If the disc is to run on both platforms make it a true hybrid CD, so there are dedicated PC and Mac areas to the disc with any files common to both sides being shared. This way you can hide the PC files from the Mac and vice-versa, making for a cleaner disc.

Follow these tips and you'll end up with an easy to use and professional looking CD.

Programming
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