Microsoft

Augment your data storage options with Windows 7 Live File System format

In this issue of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz describes how the Windows 7 Live File System format works and how you can use it for backups or additional storage.

If you are looking to augment or expand your existing data storage options and you have a CD- or DVD-burner on your Microsoft Windows 7 System, then you need to investigate the Live File System format. This new system will allow you to essentially use a CD-RW or DVD-RW disk just like a USB flash drive. In other words, you'll be able to incrementally add individual files or groups of files to the disc over time.

In this issue of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll describe how the Live File System format works. As I do, I'll show you how you can use it to your advantage for backups or additional storage.

Keep in mind that while I'll be focusing on Windows 7, the Live File System format feature is also available in Windows Vista.

How it works

As I mentioned, when you format CDs and DVDs using the Live File System you will be able to use an optical disc just like a USB flash drive. However, there are a few exceptions, and these are dictated by the type of optical disc that you use and other operating systems that you may use. To begin, it is important to understand that the Windows 7's version of the Live File System is readable only by Windows 7, Vista, and XP systems. Furthermore, the Live File System works differently with the various types of optical discs.

For example, if you use a CD-R, DVD-R, or DVD+R disc, you can only add files to the disc -- you can't actually delete files from the disc. On the other hand, if you use a CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM disc, you will be able to both add and actually delete files from the disc. Furthermore, you will be able to erase the entire disc and start fresh.

Using the Live File System

When you insert a blank optical disc into an RW drive, you'll see one of the AutoPlay dialog boxes shown in Figure A, depending on the type of disc you are using. As you can see, by default AutoPlay assumes that you will be formatting a data disc. To continue, you can press [Enter] or click the Burn Files to Disc button.

Figure A

The default option in the AutoPlay dialog box is set to format a data disc.
You'll then see the Burn a Disc dialog box, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, in addition to giving the disc a name by filling in the Disc Title text box, you can choose one of the available formats. Based on what I have told you so far, it is obvious that the Like a USB Flash Drive option is the Live File System format. If you want to create a permanent disc, you would select the With a CD/DVD Player option. This option will create what is called a Mastered disc.

Figure B

To create a Live File System format disc, select the Like a USB Flash Drive option.
When you click Next, Windows 7 will begin formatting the disc, and you'll see a dialog box containing a progress bar that will keep you apprised of the format operation, as shown in Figure C. In most cases the format operation should take only a few moments.

Figure C

The format operation shouldn't take more than a few moments.
When the disc is formatted, you can open Computer and see that the disc is now available and ready for use, as shown in Figure D. As you can see in the Details Pane at the bottom of the window, the disc was formatted as UDF and has 4.37 GB available for use.

Figure D

After the disc is formatted, you can open Computer and begin using it just like you would a USB flash drive.
If you open the new disc, as shown in Figure E, you'll see the Drag Files to This Folder to Add Them to the Disc message at the top of the file pane, and you can begin copying files to it just like you would a USB flash drive.

Figure E

If you open the newly formatted disc, you'll see a message that informs you that the disc is ready for use as a storage media.
When you copy files to an optical disc formatted with the Live File System, it will take a bit longer than copying files to other disks due to the extra overhead involved in implementing the Live File System file-by-file burn operation. As such, you'll see a progress bar that will keep you apprised of the operation, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Copy operations will take a bit longer to complete, and you'll see a dialog box with a progress bar.
Another difference you'll notice when using an optical disc formatted with the Live File System is that it will take a bit longer to eject the disc. In fact, when you open the disc drive drawer, you'll see the Preparing to Eject message appear in the Notification area, as shown in Figure G. It's at this point that Windows 7 is closing the open burn session and performing other tasks that will allow the disc to be accessible for future burn sessions as well as making it readable on other systems.

Figure G

When you eject an optical disc formatted with the Live File System, Windows 7 will close the burn session.
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Later, when you insert the disc again, what you'll see will depend on what kind of files you have on the disc. For example, if you have text documents or executable files, a folder window will open and you can get right to work. If you have other file types on the disc, such as graphics or photos, you'll see an AutoPlay dialog box and will have to respond accordingly. You can then copy other files to the disc or delete existing ones.

As I mentioned, if you are using a CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM disc, you will be able to erase the entire disc, format it, and start fresh. Just right-click the drive and select the Erase This Disc command, as shown in Figure H. You will then follow along with the Burn to Disc wizard to erase all the files on the disc, which will finish in a few seconds.

Figure H

If you are using a CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM disc, you will be able to erase the entire disc and start fresh.

What's your take?

What do you think about Windows 7's Live File System for optical discs? Have you used it? If not, will you begin to use it?

Additional information

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

13 comments
tim.kopachena
tim.kopachena

Optical media has always been flakey technology that sometimes worked. From the CD skipping in the car to trying to burn a DVD that will work on a TV DVD player. I will be glad when they are gone. Just like 8 track tapes!

essex133
essex133

Backing up files to CD-RW or DVD-RW might be cheaper than buying a decent sized flash drive or splashing out the equivalent of about ??10 per 100 GB on an external hard drive - but keeping track of precisely what is stored on each optical disk can be an absolute nightmare - particularly if any individual folder you wish to backup is larger than 4.7GB. And storing multiple optical discs takes up sooooooo much more space than just having one slim 500GB + external drive! Optical discs can also get scratched quite easily, making it difficult if not impossible to retrieve your data from them. And whilst Windows Live File Format may allow you to "incrementally add files to the discs", unless you leave plenty of room for expansion from the outset, you will probably have to keep starting again from scratch or you will end up with document files squeezed onto a disc that has mostly pictures or software downloads etc! With all the drawbacks that optical discs have, I would never recommend anyone using them unless they really cannot afford a portable hard drive or a decent sized flash drive.

cnet
cnet

It's difficult for me to see much applicability in my world for this feature. Years ago, yes, but now why would anyone spend the time to write about optical media. And why would I log in to comment about it. If I have a network connection it's better, or a USB drive...

Harry44Callahan
Harry44Callahan

I too used InCD from NERO before the thumb drive and had major problems. I had disks that became unwritable and unreadable, for no foreseeable reason. Ended up many times reformatting and rewriting. Not something you could depend on. Is MS any more reliable?

cpomd
cpomd

I have enabled Burn Disk and it now works as advertised

vaughanm
vaughanm

This is just Nero INCD plundered by microsoft, time for Nero to file a few patient infringments

cpomd
cpomd

After reading the article I tried it on a DVD-RW which formatted and named with the default Date Result I can create a folder or a file but cannot drag or copy to it also right click does not display the format option?

Realvdude
Realvdude

Greg, Isn't the speed issue as much a result of the throughput for the optical media/drive as it is in implementing the Live File system?

tanooki2008
tanooki2008

To me this seems nothing more than a remake, reverse engineered, refresh, or rebadging of the CD-UDF format that once was implemented back in the late Win9X days by Adaptec's (Now Roxio) DirectCD, CeQuadrat's PacketCD (Part of the German WinOnCD package), or Nero's InCD to most people who could remember that far back. I've experimented with it when I got my first Acer 4X CD-RW. I thought it was the coolest thing at the time, especially since external hard drives were quite expensive and thumb drives were not even heard of. It was a good idea being able to write to a CD-RW, or CD-R just like you would a USB drive or portable hard drive, but I had experienced severe limitations and compatibility issues. All of my problems were narrowed down to the quality of recordable CD used, quality of CD-RW drive which affected the CD being able to be read on certain CD drives or if the CD happens to acquire scratches during travel. All of each of these issues resulted in hefty time it took for the drive to recognize the contents and format, if in fact it was even recognizable at all. Back then I have concluded that DirectCD, (PacketCD), InCD (anything dealing with CD-UDF technology) was way too buggy of a format and to stay as far away as possible. Now with thumb drives being so cheap for the amount of storage you get the Live File format just does not at all really seem to be a feasible format to use for transporting information, nor in my case dependable. Now if rewritable CD's were in a sealed enclosure (such as a Mini Disc) and every company used the exact same manufacturing standards then I would consider giving this another look, but until then I still think this Live File System, much like the past variants, is just asking for trouble down the road.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I have used this method in the past as an immediate backup system. Have you tried it? What was your experience?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...similar to InCD and DirectCD, but that doesn't make it any less useful or old news. Because Live File System is now a part of the operating system, you can use it right out of the box, so to speak, without having to purchase third-party software. It's a nice benefit.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

... on multiple DVD discs? The formatting of an optical disc is done via the Burn a Disc dialog box, not from the right-click menu.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...just like any other disk-based device, the speed at which data can be read and written is going to be a factor of the drive itself as well as its interface/connection to system.