"CD-ROM is read-only memory, and audio compact disc system is available as package-media of digital data for those purpose. For playing audio CD, please insert Head-phone jack." --- from a CD-ROM instruction manual
Don't Panic! The world of CD-ROM technology is not as confusing as your instruction manual.
CD-ROM stands for Compact Disc Read-Only Memory, a mass storage medium utilizing an optical laser to read microscopic pits on the aluminized layer of a polycarbonate disc. The same format is used for audio Compact Discs. Because of its high storage capacity, reliability, and low cost, CD-ROM has become an increasingly popular storage media.
The storage capacity of a CD-ROM disc is approximately 650 megabytes, equivalent to over 500 high density 3.5" floppy disks or roughly 250,000 typed pages.
First generation drives (known as single speed), provided a transfer rate of approximately 150 kilobytes per second. Hardware manufacturers then introduced double speed (300 kB/sec), quad speed (600 kB/sec), and higher. As I write this, 24 times (24X) drives are readily available and affordable.
Most CD-ROM drives use either the Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI), ATAPI enhanced IDE interface, or a vendor proprietary interface. They also typically support playing audio CDs via an external headphone jack or line level output. Some CDs also allow reading the frames of data from audio CDs in digital form.
CD-ROMs are usually formatted with an ISO-9660 (formerly called High Sierra) file system. This format restricts filenames to the MS-DOS style (8+3 characters). The Rock Ridge Extensions use undefined fields in the ISO-9660 standard to support longer filenames and additional Unix style information (e.g. file ownership, symbolic links, etc.).
PhotoCD is a standard developed by Kodak for storing photographic images as digital data on a CD-ROM. With appropriate software, you can view the images on a computer, manipulate them, or send them to a printer. Information can be added to a PhotoCD at a later date; this is known as multi-session capability.
CD recorders (CD-R) are also available and are becoming increasingly affordable. They use a different media and specialized equipment for recording, but the resulting disc can be read by any CD-ROM drive.
In the future CD-ROM drive vendors are expected to offer new technologies that will increase storage capacity by an order of magnitude.