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In their most recent offering, Apple has dropped the base MacBook computer and now replaced it with their super thin MacBook Air. This is supposed to be their entry-level computer, and it has a ton of great features, with one notable exception - no CD/DVD drive. Apple is known for leading the charge on a great many technologies and they've banked on quite a few big successes in the past years, such as the iPhone and iPad. If this machine goes over well enough that customers don't miss the optical drive, you can expect other models Apple computers to also lose their multimedia drives.
It used to be that only cheap, low-end laptops and netbooks would go without CD/DVD support. Now that Apple is putting out a full featured machine without any optical media drive, could this be the beginning of the end for our laser bouncing friends?
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Data Storage Considerations
Do you really need a CD or DVD burner for your computer? Think about that for a moment. A DVD only holds 4.7 gigabytes of data and requires you to keep it safe in a case, plus you have to wait for it to burn and hope that everything copies properly. Or, you can buy a 16 GB flash drive on Amazon.com for less than $20, and that's more than three times the capacity of a DVD, plus it fits in your pocket.
If you are burning data to a CD or DVD to share it, do you plan on mailing the disk? The cost of postage and packaging for just one disc would be enough to nearly cover the monthly costs of basic web hosting. You could put that same data online and give your recipient instant access without having to depend on mail carriers or worry about the disc being damaged or lost during shipping,
Digital streaming content and cloud storage are making local storage less and less important. This means you won't need a portable USB backup hard drive or a case full of blank CD-R or DVD-R media to back up or transfer your data. Consider the alternatives and how there are already many services in place (Netflix, iTunes, Steam, etc.) that already make optical drives unnecessary.
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Many movies you buy in stores now include a 'digital copy' that you can put on your mobile device. This saves you the trouble of having to employ DVD ripping software and converting the movie. Some require you to use a disc, but in the future a one-time use download code could also work. Even without the physical media, you can stream movies over your Netflix account or buy them through iTunes, then transfer them to your iPad or iPod Touch or even watch them on the computer.
Netflix recently updated their subscription services to separate streaming movies and disc-by-mail in an effort to force people into choosing one or the other, or paying higher prices to keep both. With the U.S. Postal Service's recent announcement that they are looking into whether or not to close nearly 3,700 locations across the U.S., this could be a move by Netflix to start breaking away from their dependence on the postal system.
CD sales have been in decline for years. It's easier to download entire albums on iTunes in just a few minutes, than go to your local store and dig through the shelves until you find what you need. You may need an optical drive to rip your old CD's into iTunes, but haven't you already done that?
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Why Wait for a Disc?
Microsoft has a feature called 'Windows Anytime Upgrade' where you can go online and purchase a higher grade version of Windows for your machine and run the upgrade without having to use any discs. Companies like Adobe also offer downloadable software services so you can pay online and begin downloading immediately. Antivirus software makers offers the same functionality so customers won't have lapses in service. Who wants to wait for a CD or DVD to arrive in the mail when you can start downloading as soon as the payment clears?
PC gaming has taken big strides in forcing users to rely on online content, makeing users maintain active Internet connections while playing and registering games online. Services like Steam allow you to login via a client and download the game to your PC, and having the game disk will only help to speed up the one-time install process. After that, you don't have to worry about keeping discs in the drive or even swapping them mid-game.
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CD/DVD Shelf Life
Did you know that a CD or DVD full of family photos that you burned to disc five years ago may already be halfway dead? The average shelf life of a CD-R is only ten years, give or take, depending on brand and quality. You might one day break out those old discs and be in for a rude awakening.
Optical media will fail over time just because the medium itself is fragile. It's susceptible to scratches, heat, compression and a variety of other deadly forces. I've bought DVD movies that slipped off of the little holder inside the case and it caused some scratches on the surface of the disc. I've even cracked a disc in half one time when it wouldn't come out of the stiff plastic and I pulled up on it too hard.
We recently had an issue with the only known copy of some ancient training program CD that someone was trying to use. We went round and round with compatibility mode issues and even tried another computer, then we discovered that the disc itself was bad. You could view the files on the disc, but it would throw CRC errors if you tried to copy one main installer file to the hard drive. Trying to open the installer just gave a 'This is not a valid Win32 application' error.
Optical discs are going the way of the cassette. They wear out over time and are not reliable, plus you have to store them somewhere and that takes up space. With high speed Internet access and things like cloud storage making it so easy to safely backup data, the idea of keeping stacks of CD's or DVD's around is quickly becoming obsolete. I congratulate Apple on making this push forward and I hope more computer manufacturer's follow suit.
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Apple Computers, http://www.apple.com
OSTA.org, Understanding CD-R and CD-RW disc longevity, http://www.osta.org/technology/cdqa13.htm
CNNMoney.com, Post office releases list of nearly 3,700 offices slated to close, http://money.cnn.com/2011/07/26/news/economy/post_office_closings/
Image credits: WikiMedia Commons, Creative Commons License