BitDepth 795 - August 16

The optical disk has been a valuable addition to the computing and entertainment landscape. Here's why we're probably looking at its last days.
At CD’s end
The optical disc, introduced as the CD by Sony in 1979. In January, the company closed its New Jersey disc manufacturing plant. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

There are clues all around now that point to the coming extinction event for optical media.
The fastest growing segment of personal computers today? Tablets. Not an optical drive in sight for those.

The most popular kind of laptop available? Micro-sized portables, devices sized to a sliver of their former selves filled with silicon goodness nestled in among batteries. Left out of these slimmed down computers? Optical drives.

Consider this little tidbit of current technology reporting, which finds PC manufacturers struggling to catchup with Apple’s design for its Macbook Air, a wildly popular super-slim laptop model that looks set to win half of the company’s sales in the market sector over the next few months.

Driving this trend to slimmer, lighter and sexier are technology support systems that make it easier to part with the shiny discs that for two decades were the most convenient way to move large files around.
Leading the change is the growing pervasiveness of cloud computing services, ranging from commonplace communications hubs like Facebook to online applications like Google Docs which diminish the idea of the computer as a “place.” 

Add to that mix seamlessly transportable virtual storage options like Dropbox and, spacious hard drives and cheap, pocketable flash drives with capacities in the dozens of gigabytes.
As more gets crammed into less, the standard form factor of the typical CD and DVD begins to look archaic, and the iPod and iPad seem set to make the once hip and sleek optical disc the vinyl LP of modern technology.

Leading the charge to kill off the technology is Apple, having already dealt a deathblow to floppies when they dropped them from 1998’s first iMac. That was a conceptual decision, but the computer manufacturer’s svelte 2011 Mac Mini and Macbook Air models simply haven’t the room to spare. The company seems committed to the trend and newest operating system upgrade is only available as a download or on a USB stick.

Apple isn’t alone though. Ford will be scrapping CD players from its new cars, installing car audio systems with iPod ready USB jacks.
Apple’s iTunes store grows when customers skip store-bought media packages in favour of online downloads of music, television programming and movies which also reduce the atoms that a travelling laptop user must pack.

As the tablet ethos of download it and consume it becomes more prevalent, there are fewer reasons for the average customer to make use of optical media and even less incentive for computer manufacturers to sacrifice valuable internal real estate for the drives they require. 
I depend on a good optical media drive for backup and client delivery strategies, but I haven’t had any compelling reason to keep a drive in my laptop.

In November last year,
I pulled the optical drive in my MacBook Pro, replaced it with a fast 750GB drive and put a 120GB solid state drive (SSD) in the drive bay.
Since then, there hasn’t been a single occasion when I’ve missed the internal optical drive, but I’ve been really happy about the new SSD.

Having two drives in the laptop makes it possible to do real backups of critical field data without having to carry around a second drive and the SSD has boosted the speed and utility of the laptop, an ageing 2008 model.

With BluRay adoption creeping along, optical disks as a medium for anything other than streetside movie piracy is slowly becoming a slice of digital history, a legacy technology that’s slowly fading away.
blog comments powered by Disqus