Use Windows 7 mastered optical disc format for backwards compatibility

Greg Shultz shows you how to find and use the Master optical disc format in Windows 7 to make discs readable by legacy systems.

Recently, I was having a discussion with a reader who saw and enjoyed my Windows 98 Plus gallery and told me that he still had a functioning Windows 98 system that he used often for running old games and other old software. As we were talking, he mentioned that he wished that he could burn files to an optical disc on his new Windows 7 system that he could then use in his Windows 98 system. I was confused and asked him to clarify what he meant.

He explained that, as he understood it, Windows 7 formatted optical discs so that you could use them like you would a floppy disk or a USB flash drive and that this new format was not backwards compatible, so Windows 98 couldn't read such a disc.

I then remembered that this fellow mentioned that he had just recently moved up to Windows 7 from Windows XP and so was unaware that Windows 7 could format CDs and DVDs using two different optical disc formats - Live File System, which makes optical discs work like a floppy disk or a USB flash drive, and Mastered, which makes optical discs work like they did in the Windows 98 days.

After I explained it to him, I realized that there may be other folks out there who have recently moved to Windows 7 and may be confused by Windows 7's optical disc formatting options.

In this issue of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to find and use the mastered optical disc format in Windows 7. (If you want to learn more about Windows 7's Live File System disc format, check out my post, Augment your data storage options with Windows 7 Live File System format.

This blog post is also available as a slideshow in a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

The Mastered disc format

As I mentioned, the Live File System optical disc format allows you to use your CDs or DVDs like you would a floppy disk or a USB flash drive - you can copy and erase files over and over again. However, the Live File System optical disc format is only readable by Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP systems.

So, if you want to create an optical disc that you can use to transfer data files to older versions of the Windows operating system or even to another operating system, you have to use the Mastered optical disc format. (If you want to burn music or pictures and use the disc in regular CD, DVD, or Blu‑ray Disc players that can play MP3 files and show digital pictures, you'll want to use the Mastered optical disc format.)

The Mastered format works just like burning CDs in Windows XP. In other words, you copy a file or a group of files to the optical disc all at once. Once you do, the disc is closed and you cannot copy more files to the disc nor can you delete the existing files.

Creating a Mastered disc

When you insert a blank optical disc into a CD-R or DVD-R drive, you'll see the AutoPlay dialog box as shown in Figure A. As you can see, by default, Windows 7 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.
When you see the Burn a Disc dialog box, you'll select the With a CD/DVD player option, as shown in Figure B. As you can see in the description, this is the Mastered disc format. By default, Windows 7 places the current date in the Disc Title, but you can change it if you prefer.

Figure B

When you see the Burn a Disc dialog box, select the Mastered disc format, which is titled With a CD/DVD player.
As soon as you click Next, the disc is prepped for the Mastered disc format and a drive window will appear. You'll see the Drag files to this folder to add them to the disc message at the top of the file pane, as shown in Figure C. At this point, you can begin dragging and dropping files to the drive.

Figure C

When the folder window appears, you'll see a message that informs you that the disc is ready for use as a storage media.
After you drag a group of files to the drive, you'll see a message in the notification area telling you that you have files waiting to be burned to disc, as shown in Figure D. To begin the burn operation, just click the Burn to Disc button on the toolbar.

Figure D

You'll need to click the Burn To Disc Button to start the actual copy operation.
You'll then see the Burn To Disc wizard, as shown in Figure E, and will again have the opportunity to fill in the Disc Title text box. By default, Windows sets the recording speed to the fastest speed available. Of course, higher recording speeds get the job done faster but can result in errors. Therefore, if you do encounter problems with the burn operation, you might experiment with lower speeds. If this will be a onetime burn operation, you can save yourself some time if you select the Close the wizard after the files have been written check box. To continue, click Next.

Figure E

The Burn to Disc wizard will finish out the operation.
When you do, you'll see a progress bar as the files are being written to the disc, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

The progress bar will keep you apprised of the status of the burn operation.

When the burn is finished, the disc will eject and the entire operation will be complete. If you left the Close the wizard after the files have been written check box blank, then you'll see the last screen in the wizard. To complete the operation, click the Finish button.

What's your take?

Have you used the Mastered format for optical discs? If not, will you begin to use it?

By Greg Shultz

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.