Optical illusion

Netbooks don’t have one, small form factor PCs don’t have one, and two Macintosh computers don’t have one.

The optical drive, it seems, is dead.

When netbooks arrived without optical drives no one minded much as they were and are intended to be secondary computers, you don’t do optical disc stuff on them. However, when Apple withdrew one from its entry-level Mac Mini people began voicing that this was too revolutionary a move. To give them credit, Apple have been rather good at predicting technological deaths before the PC world. With their 1998 iMac range, the floppy drive was gone and they helped popularise USB.

The problem with discarding optical drives now, however, is that people still have a use for them, even though it’s fair to say that their dependence is dwindling. The amount of boxed software I purchased for my ageing PC in recent years I can probably count on one hand, and when I watch DVDs I’m more likely to watch them on the TV with a dedicated player than on my 15” monitor. But I do like to rip CDs frequently (that yet not converted) to my large-capacity iPod even if I’m now only buying CDs of artists whose products I really want to own in physical form.
Data sharing via disc is becoming less popular with higher speed broadband, not to mention USB thumb drives.

Apple might be smart thinkers if, say soon, you could buy dual rights to a title. That is, when you buy a CD in-store or online you also get a download code to save you needing to rip a digital version. Downloading, currently, only takes a little more longer than ripping, and ISP download allowances are getting more generous. The same could apply to DVDs. I wouldn’t even mind if the downloads had DRM on them in this case.
This is a plausible scenario given that Apple’s current desktop operating system integrates the app store from their portable internet devices. Macs other than the Air and Mini still come with optical drives, but only one – and for how much longer? Many PCs have two which, certainly to the dismay of anti-piracy groups, have made the illegal copying of discs very easy.

There’s talk of PC manufacturers following suit when Windows 8 rolls out, and if that’s the case, all traditional computers without any form of storage are likely going to be the norm shortly. We’ve already seen Google come out with the Chromebook laptop that has everything in the cloud.

I do have some reservations about cloud computing though. I don’t feel very comfortable about all my data being off-site and I don’t like having to need an internet connection just to fire up a word processor. Likewise, does a graphic designer or musician really need cloud computing? But technology moves forward and you have to learn to love it or just not use it.

Going back to the optical drive, there’s nothing wrong with attaching an external one if you really need it on such computers, but I do think it’s a tad premature that these are omitted on desktop computers like the Mac Mini. Even so, it’s true to say that I don’t use my drives much and in the case of the Mini, if it did have an internal drive and it broke (a drive of mine once minced a disc and died) you would probably need to get the whole machine serviced due to Apple’s beautiful but irritating case design.
I only really use discs to rip content and if I can download what I physically own I don’t need an optical drive.  Because of laziness (that is, the effort to pull a CD from a shelf) I often listen to CDs I own through Spotify (I don’t keep rips on my computer due to limited disk space).

Just to add: my eight year old desktop computer has a floppy drive too. I only used it a few times in its first year. Maybe the computer’s replacement will be a Mac Mini in a year or two?


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