Review: Disco 1.0.2

CD and DVD burning is one of those utilities you either find yourself content using the built in functionality of the operating system or quickly outgrow it.  OS X’s burning functionality is spread across multiple applications. Use Finder to burn files, Disk Utility to open and burn ISO or DMG images to disc and if you want to create a music CD from a collection of MP3 or AAC files, use iTunes which, as we all know, does not verify burned discs to ensure they’re coaster-free.

On the commercial side of things, the established burning application for years has been Roxio’s Toast, a fine, though perhaps bit overstuffed with features, program if all you’re looking to do is create disc image files or burn your data off to DVD for long term storage.

Disco steps in quite comfortably between the two extremes to provide all those features plus a couple extras in one, convenient, interface.

Getting Started

As all good Mac programs do, Disco installs with a simple drag and drop to your Applications folder.  It’s a very light-weight program taking up a meager 4 meg of your precious storage space.

When started, the first thing you’ll notice is the sparse, high contrast, interface.  Rather than the typical OS X grey on white window, Disco sports a refreshingly unique window made up of blacks, greys and whites – including the close, minimize and zoom buttons!

This interface is one of the things I’ve heard Disco criticized the most about.  I don’t understand this criticism though.  It’s not like Apple themselves don’t break this “rule” of interface design.  From a usability standpoint, I really like the black window because it helps me quickly locate Disco in Exposé when I’m dragging files to it from a Finder window.  Frankly, one of the reasons we’re Mac users is because we “Think Different” so aren’t the calls for conformity from the likes of a simple disc burning application a bit hypocritical?

Joking aside, there are folks for whom this white on black interface might be difficult to work with and for them, it would be nice if Disco allowed for simple adjustment of the color scheme in the preferences.

Speaking of preferences, Disco has a few you may want to tweak from the start.

The General tab is where you can turn interface transparency on or off, check for updates, enable a cool feature called Discography, tweak file naming and set your disc image preferences.  The Burning tab lets you set up Session CDs, turn off disc verification and adjust the settings for your burner.  Finally, the Smoke tab is what’s been giving Disco all the press because, not only does Disco burn your discs, but it smolders in the process!  I’m the sort of person who likes a bit of eye-candy in my software and Smoke is definitely eye-candy – interactive eye-candy at that!

With the smoke effect turned on, you’ll see something like this while your files are burning. What makes it interactive is quickly discovered if you drag the mouse cursor through the smoke as it billows from the top of your Disco window.  In an amazingly realistic bit of animation, the smoke is “pushed” around by your mouse cursor.  You’ll discover other fun things to do like blocking the smoke with your cursor and watching it flow around the arrow.  Adjusting the Smoke preferences allows you to enable other cool features like microphone input that lets Disco “listen” to the noises around it and react to them.  Lastly, you can switch to other styles of smoke such as Fire, Goo or even Purple Haze.  If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can modify the smoke to your own style, though there’s no option to name and save it.  Of all the styles, I found Smoke and Steam to be the most realistic looking with Fire in a close third.

Smoke is one of those features you’ll either like or dislike intensely.  I doubt anyone will be ambivalent about it.  Fortunately for those folks on the “dislike” side of the fence, disabling Smoke is a simple checkbox in Preferences.  Smoke is a feature that is certainly cool, but I would hesitate to say that Smoke is what defines the program and you shouldn’t think this way either.  Disco is a very capable disc burning application – with one feature I’ve not come across before – and its strengths as a disc burning tool are what the rest of this review will focus on.

Using the Software

There is no better way to put a program like Disco through its paces than to burn a couple discs with it.  So with a few gig of files gathering dust on my hard drive plus a stack of DVDs at my side, I got to work.

Preparing a disc is a simple matter of dragging the files you want to burn to the Disco window.  As you place files, Disco keeps running totals for you.  The top left corner lists the total of all files dropped and each file or folder also has its size listed next to it.  This, in particular, makes it quite handy to help determine what should be pulled off if you need to make room on the disc you’re burning.  The top right corner shows the total space available of the blank disc inserted into your drive.  A nice feature of Disco is that you don’t have to tell it the type of disc you want to burn.  It just looks at the media and figures that out all on its own.

The top middle of the screen is where you enter the volume label.  By default it reads “Untitled” and will remain that way unless you change it.  There is an option in Preferences to have Disco prompt you if you neglect to fill this in.  Though off by default, I’d recommend turning this preference on because it is easy to forget to name a disc in the heat of burning.  When you have all of your files gathered and a blank disc inserted, simply click Burn and the process will start.  If your goal is to create a file for Internet distribution, then you can click the Image button in stead of Burn to create a DMG, CDR or ISO disc image.

As a more visual application, it should come as no surprise that the window you see while the disc is burning has not one, not two, but THREE progress indicators.  You have a percentage complete, an elapsed / remaining time counter, and a nifty graphic indicating the disc space (dark grey), space allocated by your files (medium grey) and the amount burned so far (light grey).  And, as an extra bonus, the Disco dock icon also gives you a percentage complete status.  So you really have no excuse for not knowing when your disc will be finished!

When the disc is complete, Disco will automatically check the structure to ensure everything worked correctly.  Though you can turn this double check off – or skip it once it’s begun – I’d recommend leaving it on unless you’re really pressed for time.

In all the time I’ve used Disco, I think I’ve created a “coaster” only twice and it was always found out during this verification stage.

In another nice touch, when the disc is complete, you’re presented the option to create a New disc, Eject the just completed disc or, what I use all the time, Reburn the disc.  Very handy if you want to make a few copies for archival purposes.

Disco is one of those programs that will make a best guess at what you might want to do based on the actions you take, but, unlike many other programs of this variety, Disco lets you override these guesses before proceeding.  Our example above was a simple one of burning data files to a DVD, but if I were to drag MP3 files to the Disco window it automatically switches to Audio Disc burning mode or if I drag an ISO to the window it knows that I am likely to want to burn that image as a CD or DVD.  However in each of those cases I can click a drop down menu in the top right corner and change it to a “File Disc” if I intend it to be that way.

If you drag too many files to the Disco window to fit on the media you’ve chosen, Disco will not throw a bunch of ugly warnings up on screen telling you what a dolt you are for going over the limit.  Instead, it will automatically switch to “Spanning” mode and divide the files over as many discs as it takes to fit.  And it won’t use any special formatting to do so.  It just makes a logical split and prompts for discs as needed.  If you don’t want to span discs for some reason – and I could think of many – then the information presented to you in the Disco window is enough to let you know that Spanning will occur and give you the chance to pull some files back out of the disc layout.

The last feature I want to discuss is the Discography.  This is a great tool to help you locate files long since burned to disc.  A real world example of where it could be used would be the creative department at my day job.  They are constantly burning old files off to disc and then use an archaic method of locating those files should a client come back 8 months later looking for a particular design.  With Discography, each disc burned is cataloged and the content made available through a search window.  A few keywords typed in will help locate a particular file or folder.  When a file is found, you’ll be given the Disc name, the date it was burned as well as the path to that file on the disc.

A nice touch added to Discography is the ability to add discs to the catalog that weren’t necessarily burned by Disco.  Insert the disc and click the “+” button next to the search bar to add the disc to the catalog.  It would be cool if Disco could utilize Bonjour on a local area network to search other Discography catalogs but currently this is not an option.

Unfortunately, the only problems I ever encountered with Disco happened when accessing Discography.  Though it’s only happened to me two or three times, I’ve had my MacBook Pro crawl to a stand-still after calling up the Discography window.  Funny thing is that Force Quitting Disco didn’t always bring things back to normal.  In one case I had to log out and back in to restore order.  Strange for certain and not always reproducible, but I thought I should point it out.  Being a relatively young application – an application that is in very active development – I don’t expect this problem to linger too long.


Throw in extra features such as Session CD creation, DVD burning from VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders, simple disc copying and working with RW discs, and you can see that as a burning application, Disco is very capable and likely to fill all of your immediate needs.  The area Disco falls short at the moment is lack of support for the new hi-def disc formats; Blu-ray and HD-DVD.  Though this is promised for Disco’s future, if you are ahead of the curve and need to burn these disc types today, then you’ll have to look elsewhere, but for everything else, Disco should take care of you.


I would definitely recommend Disco to anyone who finds themselves limited by OS X’s built in disc burning but doesn’t want to shell out nearly $100 to get an overstuffed application like Toast.  Disco has been my primary disc burning application since its early development days and I’ve come to rely on it to create discs I can confidently hand off to anyone running Mac or Windows and know they’ll be able to read it.  I like it so much, I have multiple licenses: one for each of the Macs I regularly burn discs at.  Download the demo and give it a spin to see if you don’t agree.

Review Summary

Disco 1.0.2
$ 29.95 (demo available)

FMEO Rating:

FMEO Rating: 4 Macs

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later; Universal binary; CD or DVD Burner. “Smoke” requires a recent Mac with modern graphics card.

Strengths: Motion sensor support, Disc cataloging, Elegantly simple interface.

Weaknesses: Currently lacks Blu-ray and HD-DVD support.

(This review originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of macCompanion Magazine.)