Is it time to get rid of the optical drive? [Editorial]

So today it was confirmed that Apple’s new, slimmer, more powerful iMac will drop on November 30, just in time for the holidays. The new iMac comes with a whole host of new features including the mind-blowingly slim form factor and a whole host of new internal parts. But there’s one particular new feature I’d like to explore a little more, or rather, the lack of a certain feature.

As you know, the new iMac will not feature an optical disk drive. Apple’s disdain for the optical drive is beginning to go mainstream. The absence of an optical drive was first apparent in 2008, with the release of the MacBook Air. Naturally, the impetus of the MacBook Air was its incredibly small form factor, and so the absence of an optical drive was necessary to keep size to a minimum. Back then, the idea of a laptop without an optical drive was a horrendous, alien idea that scared us out of our wits. How are we supposed to use all our CDs and DVDS? I mean, this is just awful, please somebody… Wait, what? There’s a SuperDrive? Cool. Between the SuperDrive and iTunes Apple pretty much solved the Optical Drive crisis in the MacBook Air. And in time, most people realised that they didn’t even need to use their SuperDrive. The Mac App Store and the iTunes experience provided such a seamless software and media experience that MacBook Air users didn’t miss the Optical drive one bit. Now it’s time for iMac users to make the transition. iTunes and the Mac App Store have only improved since the release of the MacBook Air in 2008, and I think it’s safe to say that even without an optical drive, iMac users are in for a fantastic software experience.

In my opinion, Apple has played the game perfectly with this one. The MacBook Air showed people that using a computer without CDs was a manageable task, and that in many ways, it was a much more fluid experience than before. Now, having seen the success of the MacBook Air, Apple has made the feature mainstream, so now everybody entering the Mac ecosystem gets a chance to experience life without compact discs. But what about the PC industry?

I say this, because there’s a very key difference between the Mac and the PC. The PC has been around for years, and its success is unrivalled. Whilst it may be true that Apple’s Mac is starting to catch up with its Windows competitors, its still true that the PC software market is substantially bigger than the Mac’s market. The use of CDs for gaming and software installation is still rife in the PC community, and whilst CDs may be declining in usage, they’re still an incredibly important aspect of the PC experience. As a PC enthusiast myself, CDs are still a huge part of my overall PC experience in a couple of key areas.

One example of some pretty fantastic case art, somehow, a download doesn’t quite offer the same excitement…

Whilst it may well be more convenient to download software from a single online source such as Steam or the Mac App Store, high speed internet isn’t yet mainstream, and it still takes an incredulous amount of time to download any kind of substantial software over an internet connection. What I might spend 12 hours downloading, I can have installed from a disc in 10 minutes. Furthermore, online downloads aren’t always the cheaper option, and particularly when it comes to gaming, it’s still very easy to grab a fantastic bargain in CD form that might not be available over the internet. There’s also a sentimental aspect to holding onto CDs. For many, gaming is a passionate hobby. There’s something about purchasing a physical copy of the game that is somehow more satisfying to the soul than downloading it from Steam. Whether it be the aesthetic pleasure of the case art, the pride of displaying the game in your house, or the prospect of extra content, such as the “Hardened Edition” of Call of Duty Black Ops 2, there will always be an audience of core gamers who want to purchase the physical copies of their game. And its the same when it comes to music, or in less popular cases software.

I don’t doubt that the optical drive will one day cease to exist in computing. Apple’s endeavours have shown that computing without optical drives is possible, in fact, its awesome. However, I’m still convinced that the PC market isn’t quite ready to make the jump. Internet speeds aren’t quite at the stage where downloading software is more convenient than CD installation, furthermore, its not always true that downloading software or games is cheaper than buying physical copies, at least not yet. In my opinion, the optical drive isn’t quite finished yet.


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  • Bratty

    I was thinking about when I last used a cd (any cd, not just for a pc) and it was 3 years ago. If I do need to use it for software, an external drive is fine. The funny thing is that our office does lots of media production/editing and after all the initial whining about lack of optical drives on some laptops, the techs just use the external drive to load software etc and its actually efficient.