Stands for "Compact Disc." CDs are circular discs that are 4.75 in (12 cm) in diameter. The CD standard was proposed by Sony and Philips in 1980 and the technology was introduced to the U.S. market in 1983. CDs can hold up to 700 MB of data or 80 minutes of audio. The data on a CD is stored as small notches on the disc and is read by a laser from an optical drive. The drives translate the notches (which represent 1's and 0's) into usable data.
The first CDs were audio CDs, which eventually replaced audio tapes (which earlier replaced records). Audio CDs have the advantage of allowing the user to jump to different places on the disc. CDs can also be listened to an unlimited number of times without losing quality. Audio tapes can start to lose quality after listening to them as few as ten times. This is because the laser that reads the data on a CD doesn't put pressure on the disc, whereas the playheads on a tape deck slowly wear away the magnetic strip on the tape.
In 1985, CD-ROMs hit the computer market. Because they could store far more information than floppy discs (700 MB compared to 1.4 MB), CDs soon became the most common software format. In 1988, the CD-R (CD-Recordable) technology was introduced, allowing computer users to burn their own CDs. However, this technology did not become mainstream until the late 1990s. A smaller 3" CD, called "CD-3" is also available and is readable by most tray-loading CD-ROM drives. For a timeline of the history of the CD, visit OneOff Media, Inc.