Friday, August 30, 2013

The Death of Optical Media

In the first days at the dawn of the (electronic) computer age, the first removable storage medium was paper.  Punch cards, printers, etc.  Magnetic media like tape and floppy disks soon took over, and ruled the computer world from the 1970's until their demise in the early 2000's.  The limitations on damage susceptibility and capacity were greatly outweighed by their successors: flash memory and optical media (Compact Disc or CD namely).

CD's were replaced by DVD (Digital Video Disc, which despite its name is not just for video).  So it made sense that the DVD replacement, the emerging BluRay format, would logically overtake and eliminate DVD's like DVD's did to CD's.  For very little relative money, you can buy a 32- or 64-GiB SD or other format flash card, and not have to worry is it rewriteable, and wait the long latency times that optical media take.  And they are limited to 8GB (DVD), and some larger capacity BluRay, but still can't keep pace with the innovations in flash memory that the public gets access to annually.

The year 2012 saw the first time that new Mac computers were shipped without any optical drive at all.  The public adoption of BluRay happened at a time when high speed Internet (and not your daddy's 56kbps high speed Internet) is widely available, and most software is delivered via download.  Also, the Apple platform ships with the App Store as part of it, facilitating the delivery of software "OTA" (or Over The Air).  In fact one of the reasons they were able to achieve the amazing thinness of the new iMacs is because they removed the optical drive internally.

A bit of reminiscing as to how we got to today, but this was touched off by a new laptop I got for work.  It came with 2 hard drives - a solid state, and a regular in the DVD drive bay.  The DVD drive shipped in a plastic bag, with no way to hook it up other than pulling out the hard drive.  Of course in order to recover the computer from a catastrophe, you get DVD's shipped with it.  So I thought I would need a cable or something so I wouldn't have to shut down, pull out a hard drive, and boot up.

But then I got to thinking.  When did I actually use an optical drive, in the past 5 years?  The only time, is when I needed to access some files I had archived off onto the stacks of CD"s and DVD's in my office.  And that's rare.  Usually I can find what I want online with a quick Google search faster than looking up my CD index, and getting the disc out of the right place.

Let's look at the deposed Floppy Disk.  You can't buy a computer any more with one in it (well, maybe some weird off brand).  Certainly you could build your own from parts, but that's not my point.  Manufacturers have recognized that disk sales are about nil, and people don't use 1.4MB capacity anything any more - heck my cell phone has more RAM than that to operate!  Wrist watches probably have more sophistication than that.  So when Apple announced no more optical drives included last year, I was initially shocked (you mean our kid is graduating already! they were just in diapers!), but then realized how little I use optical drives.  I'll still keep the replacement DVD writer drive on top of my desk hutch!

How about you?  Do you use optical media any more?  Do you agree with Apple, that if you want one, buy it as an accessory?  Or do you think it is still necessary, and why?

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