No, I Don't See

The bad pun title is the kick-off for the we don't need no stinkin' optical drives post.

I considered putting this in my original Macworld Predictions post, but since Thaddeus asked, I'm going to answer.

Do you think we're to the point where people don't care at all about physical discs? What about reinstalls?

No, I don't think we're to that point, at least not generally. However, an ultraportable laptop is not the machine that the average user buys. Usually ultraportable laptops are sold at a premium. Joe User would rather have more memory and a bigger screen to go along with a cheaper price. They're more likely to buy the machine in the Best Buy ad, than seek out a Japanese import. So, I don't think optical drives are necessary in ultraportable machines.

I think optical drives are still essential for any computer other than an ultraportable, but even that is fading. People still want to rip music from their CDs. People still want to install software they buy off the shelf. People want to feel safe that they can pop in any CDROM someone gives them.
Ultraportables on the other hand are for folks that are using them as second machines. These are power portables. Size must be a minimum. Weight is not allowed. Durability keeps you working when you're travelling. Heck, even a $50 savings for not including the optical drive is welcome on machines that hover around $2000.

Further blows against optical drives come with most software being available for purchase, download, and installation over the web. CD drives were replacements for the old floppy drives. These were needed to boot the machine. Many OSes support booting from flash drives and certainly from externally connected drives. OS loading is a concern, but not a deal killer. For the folks that assume they'll be stranded with a computer that won't connect to the projector and would need to burn their presentation to CD, I say spend $10 for a flash drive that fits on your keychain. That will be faster and cheaper than carrying around blank CDRs for doomsday. For me personally, I've only used my optical drive in my MacBook to install Leopard and to watch DVDs while travelling.

If and when Apple releases an ultraportable notebook without an optical drive, I think they'll ship an external drive with it. At worst, they'll offer one for purchase for $79.

My final advice, mainly for the folks that say Apple would be stupid to not include an optical drive, is that if you think you need an optical drive, buy a computer that includes one. You won't see Apple dropping them from MacBooks and MacBook Pros anytime soon, at least not at 13, 15, and 17" sizes.

1 comment:

Thaddeus said...

I'm suspicious you had something to do with writing the product spec for the new Macbook Air... props to you on calling it almost perfectly (even the external optical drive option for $99 - just $20 higher than your guess).