If you’re mulling replacing your MacBook Pro’s optical drive with a SSD to take advantage of “paired storage,” or for some other reason, a scan of Low End Mac’s John Hatchett’s latest column, “Are CDs and DVDs Necessary Anymore?” would be a timely and worthwhile read. Hatchett recalls the “ruckus” when the iMac was announced and the “experts” thought Steve Jobs was crazy because he ditched the 3-1/2″ floppy drive in the iMac. Third party manufacturers rushed to make portable USB 3-1/2″ floppy drives, but today the only use most folks have for a 3-1/2″ floppy is an improvised drink coaster (I actually have several still-working Macs with floppy drives, but can’t recall exactly the last time I actually accessed a floppy). Once dismissed as a silly idea, eliminating the built-in floppy drive is now the norm, and the medium is all but extinct.
Hatchett notes the question now is whether optical drives are really necessary, observing that Apple’s MacBook Air series has never had internal optical drives, and he wonders if it won’t be long before they disappear from MacBooks and MacBook Pros, asking “when was the last time you used your optical drive?”
Actually, I use the optical drive in my MacBook fairly seldom, but when I need it, nothing else will do for installing or re-installing software distributed on CD or DVD media, running system diagnostic and disk repair programs, for reading burned disks of my own or sent to me, and for viewing CD/DVD videos.
However, I think I could get along quite happily with an external optical drive such as Apple’s MacBook Air SuperDrive, sort of a reversion to my mode back in the day when I was running my PowerBook 5300 that had no internal optical drive, and my WallStreet PowerBook that had a really slow one.
John notes the future for most of the stuff we do with optical drives is in the cloud, for both computers and “post-PC” devices, along with data storage, online applications, and syncing, but fantasizes about the SuperDrive ever working with the iPad, which would require Apple giving the table a real USB port and adding optical disc drivers to the iOS software, noting that the iPad can take the place of a laptop some of the time, but not all of the time, and you still have to have an OS X or Windows “mothership” with which to tether your iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone.
I agree about the future dominance of the cloud, and have been reluctant to embrace the new Mac App Store paradigm for software sales and distribution as a consumer, although I appreciate its already proven advantages for software developers, and don’t begrudge them the boost in income many are getting.
However, Apple announced this week that in order to be eligible for this year’s Apple Design Awards, Mac OS X developers must sell their apps through the Mac App Store. This underscores that the App Store concept is one more example of convergence inside Apple’s “walled garden,” which is a space I don’t think I want to live in entirely. That may seem a non-sequitur in a discussion about the survival of built-in optical drive support, but it’s really quite relevant. Think of Steve Jobs’s continued blackball of Blu-Ray technology on the Mac.