If you have a CD or DVD burner on your Windows Vista system, you’re going to want to take advantage of the operating system’s new Live File System optical disc format. This format basically allows you to use an optical disc just like a floppy disk, adding individual files or groups of files to the disc incrementally over time.

In this issue of the Windows Vista Report, I’ll describe how the Live File System works and show how you can use it to your advantage for backups or additional storage. (For my examples, I’ll use a DVD-RW drive and CD-R optical discs.)

How the Live File System works

By default, Vista will format CDs and DVDs using the new Live File System. Although the biggest benefit of the Live File System is that it allows you to use an optical disc like a floppy disk, there a few exceptions to this similarity; these exceptions are dictated by the type of optical disc you use and by the other operating systems that you may use. The default version of the Live File System is only readable by Windows XP and Vista systems, and the Live File System works differently with the various types of optical discs.

For example, if you use a CD-R disc, you can only add files to the disc — you can’t actually delete them. More specifically, you can delete files from a CD-R disc, but in doing so, you don’t free up space on the disc because the space once occupied by the deleted file is no longer available for further use. On the other hand, if you u

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se a CD-RW disc, you will be able to add and delete files from the disc. (The same applies to DVD-R and DVD-RW disks.)

Using the Live File System

When you insert a blank optical disc into a CD-RW/DVD-RW drive in Vista, you’ll see the AutoPlay dialog box (Figure A), where Vista assumes that you will be formatting a data disc. To continue, you can press [Enter] or select the Burn Files To Disc button.

Figure A

The default option in the AutoPlay dialog box is set to format a data disc.

In the Burn A Disc dialog box, you can give the disc a name by filling in the Disc Title text box (Figure B). Click Next to continue.

Figure B

You should assign the disc an appropriate name.

Vista 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 (Figure C). In most cases, the format operation should only take a few moments.

Figure C

Formatting a disc.

After you format the disc, you can open Computer to verify that the disc is now available and ready for use (Figure D). According to the details pane at the bottom of the window, although the disc is formatted as 702 MB, it only has 696 MB available for use. The special low level format operation reserves the remaining 6 MB for file management operations.

Figure D

After you format the disc, you can open Computer and begin using it just like you would a floppy disk.

When you open the new disc, you’ll see the Drag Files To This Folder To Add Them To The Disc message at the top of the file pane (Figure E). You can begin copying files to it just like you would a floppy disk or a USB flash drive.

Figure E

The disc is ready for use as media storage.

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, like a floppy or a hard disk due to the extra overhead involved in implementing the Live File System file-by-file burn operation. To keep you apprised of the operation, you’ll see a progress bar (Figure F).

Figure F

You’ll see a dialog box with a progress bar as a potentially longer copying time ensues.

When using an optical disc formatted with the Live File System, 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 (Figure G) as Vista closes the open burn session, essentially sealing the disc at the point where the end of the last file is located on the disc. The rest of the disc will remain usable for later copy operations.

Figure G

When you eject an optical disc formatted with the Live File System, Vista will close the burn session.

Note: If Vista does not close the burn session properly, the disc will be unreadable. This problem can arise for a number of reasons, including defective discs, burner malfunction, or a timing issue caused by ejecting the disc too soon after a burn operation. For more information, see the Microsoft Help and Support article 930917.

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 you will have to respond accordingly. You can then copy other files to the disc or delete existing ones.

What do you think about Vista’s new Live File System?

Have you used the Live File System for optical discs? If not, will you consider using it after reading this article? Share your thoughts in this article’s discussion.