It feels as though disc-based media have always been with us, but the 1990s were when researchers first began harvesting these iridescent creatures from the wild in earnest, pressing data upon them to create the beast known as CD-ROM. Click-and-point adventure games, encyclopedias, choppy full-motion video ... in some cases, ambition far outweighed capability. Advances in technology made the media cheaper and more accessible, often for the worst. There are some US households that still burn America Online 7.0 CDs for fuel.

But we’re not here to delve into the late-90s CD marketing glut. We’re nestling comfortably into the mid-90s, when Internet was too slow and unreliable for anyone to upload installers onto a customer portal and call it a day. Software had to go out on physical media, and it had to be as bug-free as possible before shipping.

Chris, a developer fresh out of college, worked on product catalog database applications that were mailed to customers on CDs. It was a small shop with no Tech Support department, so he and the other developers had to take turns fielding calls from customers having issues with the admittedly awful VB4 installer. It was supposed to launch automatically, but if the auto-play feature was disabled in Windows 95, or the customer canceled the installer pop-up without bothering to read it, Chris or one of his colleagues was likely to hear about it.

And then came the caller who had no clue what Chris meant when he suggested, "Why don't we open up the CD through the file system and launch the installer manually?"

These were the days before remote desktop tools, and the caller wasn't the savviest computer user. Talking him through minimizing his open programs, double-clicking on My Computer, and browsing into the CD drive took Chris over half an hour.

"There's nothing here," the caller said.

So close to the finish line, and yet so far. Chris stifled his exasperation. "What do you mean?"

"I opened the CD like you said, and it's completely empty."

This was new. Chris frowned. "You're definitely looking at the right drive? The one with the shiny little disc icon?"

"Yes, that's the one. It's empty."

Chris' frown deepened. "Then I guess you got a bad copy of the CD. I'm sorry about that! Let me copy down your name and address, and I'll get a new one sent out to you."

The customer provided his mailing address accordingly. Chris finished scribbling it onto a Post-it square. "OK, lemme read that back to—"

"The shiny side is supposed to be turned upwards, right?" the customer blurted. "Like a gramophone record?"

Chris froze, then slapped the mute button before his laughter spilled out over the line. After composing himself, he returned to the call as the model of professionalism. "Actually, it should be shiny-side down."

"Really? Huh. The little icon's lying, then."

"Yeah, I guess it is," Chris replied. "Unfortunately, that's on Microsoft to fix. Let's turn the disc over and try again."

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