Manufacturers typically spend $10,000 to $500,000 and more in developing CD-ROM product catalogs. Ultimately, the success of the CD depends on whether it allows people to do their work better.

The first step in producing a CD catalog involves creating detailed lists of all the information that will be incorporated in the CD, such as total number of pages of literature, total number and format of graphics (i.e., paper only, TIF, GIF, EPS, BMP, JPEG, etc.), amount (in minutes) and format of existing audio and video, and the size and type of databases.

Next, a prioritized list of ideas should be created that will allow users to access the information as easily as possible. For example, engineers and specifiers can export CAD drawings or specifications directly into their plans, build and then print an electronic submittal list or cut sheets in a fraction of the time it would take to locate and photocopy the information from a paper catalog, and determine part numbers using a product configurator and receive some type of visual verification of the product they selected.

Some manufacturers publish CD catalogs consisting entirely of Adobe Acrobat PDF files, which are exact electronic copies of all literature, specifications and other information. Advantages include a relatively low development cost and the high quality of the hard copies that can be printed from the CD. Adobe Acrobat optimizes the user's ability to print documents, but is not designed for convenient viewing or for searching the information within the document.

In contrast, CDs produced with development software such as Asymetrix Multimedia Toolbook, Visual Basic, or Macromedia Director are highly interactive and allow users to find information with just one or two mouse clicks. If needed, hard copies can then be printed using a PDF file that is dynamically linked to the page. An excellent example of this type of CD is the "Virtual Yellow Pages" developed by Venturist, Inc. for the Jay R. Smith Mfg. Co. (

Some CDs require hard drive space for installing databases, such as price or part number files that can be updated without installing a new CD. Well designed CDs of this type use as little user hard drive space as possible and notify users of the space needed before installation begins or any configuration changes take place.

Once the prototype and graphics are approved, developers begin populating the CD with content. This stage requires gathering and converting all data and images. Most information published over the last five years is saved in some type of electronic format. Otherwise, data and images must be scanned or manually keyed to produce electronic files. Audio and video are also converted or professionally captured and edited for use within the CD. The amount of time required for development depends on the amount of information and the number of multimedia elements needed to accomplish the desired objectives.

Later in the process, the developer will begin writing the installation program mentioned earlier. As development progresses, frequent testing works out all the "kinks." Testing of the interface and other functionality issues is performed early in the development phase. Often referred to as "Alpha" testing, this process is performed by the developer primarily to identify glaring programming "bugs"and to look for areas to improve the application.

By the time a vendor has developed a working version of the CD, the manufacturer should have developed a "Beta" test plan for the purpose of finding any remaining bugs in the CD. Many manufacturers solicit the assistance of a trusted group of target users.