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RIP: Optical Drive, Oh How Well We Knew Thee.

Blu-ray logoLike the VCR of yesteryear, the optical drive is quickly going the way of the dinosaur. For those of us that cherished our whirring, clicking little friend, the date of July 20th, 2011 will live in infamy. This is the date that CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs everywhere, overcome with a collective vision of impending doom, withdrew their life savings and rolled away to Cabo. This date also mysteriously coincides with the release of three Apple products: the refreshed MacBook Air and Mac Mini lines, and the release of OS X version 10.7, Lion. It was the debut of these three products, and the omission of another, that served to so perfectly highlight the downfall of a technology that was so necessary a mere five years ago.

Secrets are hard to keep in any industry, least of which in one that deals with technology. Specifications are forecasted and are rarely surprising. The latest announcement was no exception, and the new Mac lines ushered in the expected changes: Faster processors, better graphics and a new I/O port. Fantastic. What was surprising was the Mini sporting a slot-less façade. Why would a desktop replacement be without something so basic? The answer is simple, yet still striking: the optical drive has become obsolete.

The optical disk drive has been a viable technology for half a century, although it didn’t become widespread until the music-driven CD boom of the ’80s and the PC boom during the ’90s. For 20-odd years it has dominated media storage and playback, so why is it so close to falling off the edge and into the dark pit of oblivion? The answer would be as simple as looking at the purpose of the drive itself. In order to avoid both boredom and insulting your intelligence, I’ll ask that we agree on these two simple points: 1) that it is(was) the most convenient means of portable media storage, and thus 2) is (was) the most convenient means of providing content to a customer. It could be said that the greater storage capacity, smaller size and speed of flash drives have antiquated the optical drive, and that is certainly something that is true. However, the main culprit is arguably the greatest technological advancement of humankind: the Internet.

Broadband speed and market penetration are solving both of the aforementioned problems. The boring problem, storage, is being handled by the cloud: it’s increasingly easy and fast, and having access to something anywhere is certainly a perk. The fun problem, content delivery, is no longer an alternative but rather the default. When is the last time you used a CD to install or buy anything? Apple’s latest software offering, OS X Lion, illustrates the migration from discs to downloads beautifully: Right now you can opt to download Lion from the App Store for $29.99 . . . OR you can choose to purchase a physical copy for $69 in August . . . on a USB stick.

Apple has often spoken about leading us into a post-pc world. Apparently, this world comes without a disk drive.

More interesting than the updates and additions on July 20th was the lone omission. With hardly a whimper, the white, plastic MacBook was put down, a castaway in a sea of anodized aluminum. At $999 the new MacBook Air is the default entry-level device, one that is lacking any semblance of a drive. It can safely be assumed that Apple is making a push for a ports-only, cloud-based future.

To assume that Apple is the only one that considers optical drives anathema would be a mistake. Google’s Chromebooks all lack the hardware, as does Samsung’s Series 9 laptop, and every netbook ever made. What can be safely assumed is that this hardware, at least in the PC realm, is on its last legs. I know what you’re thinking.What should you do now that all your backup copies of Vista are going to be useless? Conjure up your inner-craftsman and get creative. A chain-mail CD suit of armor? Mirrors for that giant parabola death-ray you have been building in the backyard? Sounds good to me.

Finally, the optical drive is being taken out to pasture.
Please, for our sake, make it quick.

This article was submitted by Sage Lane, and has been edited only for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Any opinions expressed in a User Submitted article are solely those of the author and do not reflect that of TechnoBuffalo.com, its management, employees or its advertisers.

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