The basics of choosing CD burning software are the same as making an intelligent choice when buying other types of software: do a Web search to explore your options, check out open source software as a first option, and then try downloading evaluation copies of shareware and commercial software. After you have evaluated your needs against the available titles, choose what works for you at a price you can afford.
- Visit a search engine. Start your search for the best CD burning software by using a search engine. Try "CD burning software reviews" (without the quotes). Read some reviews to see which software title fit your needs. Consider only recent reviews. A review from two years ago is worthless. What has the most desirable features for the price? Ask your friends and acquaintances. Get as much input as you can.
- Get trial copies. Find out if you can get an evaluation copy for each title that seems to have all the features that you need. Try to anticipate your future needs. For example, do you think you will want a single software package that burns both CDs and DVDs? If so, you have narrowed your search already.
- Perform a hands-on evaluation of the trial copies you have collected. Are some features disabled in your trial copy? That will make it more difficult to evaluate fairly.
- Not sure what to look for? The following paragraphs describe the key features that most people want.
- The ability to burn data disks. Disregard any software that cannot. Make sure the software can burn your file names without truncating them. What standard does the software support? Check the software's help file. Check out the CD-Recordable FAQ for the terms "ISO-9660:1999," "Joliet," and "Romeo." Some software can support file names up to 207 characters long. Most stop at 64 or 128 characters. Downloaded software can have ridiculously long file names like "Shelter-The Best Of Contemporary Singer-Songwriters - 28 - Mary Chapin Carpenter - It Don't Bring You.mp3." I have seen even worse.
- The ability to burn music CDs that play in conventional CD players. Disregard any software that cannot. You should have the ability to arrange the tracks in whatever order you want (not just alphabetically). You should be able to do gapless recording (no silence between tracks). Many people consider it critical that the software can seamlessly burn music CDs on the fly, regardless of source format (MP3, WMA, OGG, etc.). Some require a manual file conversion step to .wav format first. You may want to build a music CD that also has other kinds of files on it like graphics and text. Many packages handle mixed media like this.
- The ability to copy CDs, music or data. This article is not a piracy tutorial. If you have copy protection problems, it is because the manufacturer wants you to have problems making copies. If you don't like it, don't buy their CDs.
- The ability to write, erase, and re-write CD-RWs. I don't much use them myself, but many people do. A CD-RW is a ReWritable CD that you can burn, then erase, and then burn again with new information. It is especially useful for backing up a few hundred megabytes of information that changes often. If you do use CD-RWs, this is an important feature -- especially the erasing part.
- The ability to make slide shows and movie CDs (like VCD). This was an important feature before DVD burners became so cheap and prevalent.
- The ability to make photo CDs. These are for sharing with other folks. You can often create slide shows and add background music.
- Does it also burn DVDs? See the companion article "How To Choose DVD Burning Software."
- The ability to back up your hard disks. With the size of today's hard drives, only DVD burners are really practical for this purpose.
- But the most important consideration is to get software that works for you. Does it feel right, look right? Do you find it intuitive? Is the price right? And does it have the features you want, or at least the features you need?
If you just want me to just tell you what to buy, I guess I would have to disappoint you. I use Nero 6 most of the time. It has most of the features I need, but it was kind of expensive. It does most things very well. It has a ton of features, but some modules are really annoying. It sorts songs when building music CDs from a variety of sources in ways I don't quite understand. I just hate that. I don't think it is the best thing for burning DVDs, although it can do an OK job. I am sure that other people just love it. Reviewers give Nero high marks. Again, choose what works best for you. Consider, but don't be a slave to, other people's opinions. Look for a companion article on choosing DVD burning software in the very near future.