I just picked up a new netbook the other day. And you know what that netbook had? A lot of things, but "optical drive" wasn't on the list. So there I sat, staring at a stack of CDs all full of my most critical applications, games, and movies. Then I had a brainstorm: Rather than run down to the local electronics store to buy a lame external optical drive, I figured I would convert all of my optical media and slap it onto one of the external hard drives I have sitting around.
To do that, I turned to a suite of applications to rip, burn, encode, convert, and create all sorts of image files. It was a daunting task at first, but it sure beat shelling out for more hardware. Based on my troubles, I've come up with a list of five of the must-have applications for your CD manipulation needs. And these aren't just a list of applications for new netbook enthusiasts. These free apps have a universal appeal for anyone who's ever had to interact with their optical drive at any point. I would assume that this would make up 99% of all computer users--the one percent being anyone who just bought a new netbook without any kind of secondary system in their house. Whoops!
One caveat before I get started. How you use these applications is up to you. I'm not going to tell you how to break copy protection for your games or movies. I'm just going to assume that anything you do with these powerful tools is fully on the up-and-up--like ripping home movies of you as a child, or copying over the contents of. Um. A game. You created yourself. Right-o.
What it does: Why does Handbrake continue to rock? Because it's an all-in-one tool that takes you from DVD ripping to file encoding without forcing you to muck around with external programs, complicated settings, or a treasure trove of codecs. If you've never taken the time and effort to convert ripped DVD files to playable media before... don't bother. Unless you're a complete audio/video snob, Handbrake should be sufficient for all of your needs. The only downfall? Well, if your movies happen to have some kind of copy protection, you'll need a little more elbow grease before you can commence the conversion.
What it does: Okay. We've long talked about how AnyDVD is the end-all be-all of decryption mechanisms for DVDs and Blu-ray titles. No questions about that; it's an awesome program. It also costs you money. If you want to take a cheaper, possibly less functional route, then give DVDFab HD a try. This application (ideally) strips the copy protection out of your DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray titles before ripping the contents of the CD right to your hard drive. You can then take that file and convert it to your heart's content. Of course, we're not sure why you put copy protection on your home movies to begin with, but, well, there it is.
What it does: The name is pretty self-explanatory, but we'll throw out a description anyway. If you have a ton of files you're looking to smash onto a CD or DVD, then Free ISO Creator is your ticket. If you're new to the CD- or DVD-creation game, here's what this means. An ISO file is a giant archive of data that CD burning applications use to read and write a disc. When you create an ISO file, it's like you're mashing all of the files--and the directory structure--into a single file. You can normally do this through the CD burning program itself. This is just an easier way to create archives you know you'll always want to keep on-hand and possibly even use to make multiple discs. Maybe you want to create an Ultimate Application CD of your very own, or make copies of your high school photography album for all of your friends. Create an ISO once; burn it forever. And no, we did not steal that line from any infomercials.
What it does: Once you've finished creating your ISO file--or assuming that you have a wide variety of burnable disc images on-hand--you'll want to turn to ImgBurn to pull these files from the digital world into physical reality. This program is a slim, easy-to-use disc burning application that packs a lot of functionality under its small roof. Best of all, it supports video disc burning as well. It doesn't hog your system resources or install 35 other programs like other applications we've use. That, plus its price, makes ImgBurn one of the must-have PC applications, period.
What it does: It's not directly tied to the disc-creation process, but QuickPar can be an integral part of protecting the contents of your media from age-based corruption. Here's how it works. When you want to burn files to a CD or DVD, calculate how much space that's going to take up and use QuickPar to generate parity files that fill the rest of the free space. A parity file verifies and, in some cases, can help you recover the information from a file or group of files. If you scratch or otherwise screw up your disc, you can try to dump the disc's readable contents to your hard drive. If you're in luck, you'll catch enough parity files to be able to recreate the contents of your original files. Lifehacker has the complete how-to if you're interested. We recommend you check it out, as there's nothing more frustrating than losing your critical data to a scratch-filled disc.