…And Why Exactly Do You Still Need that DVD/CD Drive Again?

I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the MacBook Air, but one thing I do appreciate — they left out the optical drive. The Air is way too expensive and the form factor is still too big for me (I need it smaller in dimensions and I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the “thinness” they felt was so important.) But the fact remains that leaving out the CD/DVD drive is a trend I certainly hope continues.

I often chuckle inside when working with older PC users who insist upon having a 3 1/2 inch floppy drive in the machine. When I show them a USB drive that fits on a keychain and mention the fact that one keydrive can hold over a thousand floppies of info, they seem completely disinterested. They want their old tech. Like their bank books and their china closets, they want what’s familiar to them. But upon hearing the response that the tech community had to the absence of the CD/DVD drive in the MacBook Air and the simultaneous praise of the Lenovo X300 because of it’s inclusion of one, I had to shake my head in discouragement.

Why are we still attached to these old, familiar ways of doing things??

It’s completely not lost on me that it’s convenient (particularly in business) to have the ability to drop a CD or a DVD into the machine. I’m sure there are tons of situations where an optical drive saved the day. Perhaps they’re handing you a contract and they only have it on a CD. Maybe you need to install drivers. But when you really think about the possible reasons and then consider the fact that we have the web, I just don’t understand the attachment.

The primary need for a CD/DVD drive is to install applications. But how often are we installing applications?? And particularly in this day and age of application releases being done through the web, do we really need these drives on the road? Even the iPod shuffle doesn’t come with a CD, and with that device you need iTunes to get the benefit! (Not sure — perhaps they put iTunes on the iPod?) Regardless, I just don’t see this immense need to install applications all the time. What are all these apps? I need to meet these people who are doing so many installations.

Then there are the folks who love using CD/DVDs to share files. I’ll accept the fact that it’s convenient. Being able to hand a physical disc to a client and indicate that everything they need — contracts, documentation, etc. — is on the disc is better than directing them to the web. Or is it? With the emphasis upon us being more “green”, I think this is one area where it really makes sense. Why go to the trouble of backing information up to a physical disc to bring it to someone when so many online services exist?

Then there are the “back up” folks. “I use my DVDs to back up.” Well, you might have me there. Smart choice. DVDs can certainly be transferred to another offsite location, making them a bit better than solely using a physical USB drive attached to the machine. (I’m reminded of the story of Francis Ford Coppola being robbed, where they took his laptop and his backup drive. Tsk, tsk. But even in this situation, online storage services exist that are reliable, convenient and in some cases, more secure. For one, the data is being stored “in the cloud”, so to recover from a disaster is much more convenient (although probably significantly slower) than going to your mom’s house to get the backup DVD that you burned. And how often are you burning these DVDs and moving them offsite anyhow? Using the S3 service from Amazon (or other similar services) in conjunction with some sort of time-based, automated storage solution means that the backup folder is checked for changes regularly. This makes it significantly more valuable than most storage schemes.

Then there are the folks who want to watch DVDs on the road. Do me a favor – do a search for a little something called Handbrake. (Not at all suggesting that people be dishonest. But putting those movies on your laptop as a file is a much more convenient option than dragging around a leather flipcase full of DVDs.

There are a few rare situations where you might need an optical drive. Even my Handbrake suggestion means that you’ll need to have another PC that does have an optical drive. If you decide one day that you are going to rip all of your music to a digital format, clearly you’ll need an optical drive to read the stuff. And if you get a new version of Windows, they don’t yet distribute it on a key drive. Most installs are done via DVD drives. Then there are the driver CDs that manufacturers include in new hardware boxes. And the trial discs. Sure, there are going to be times when the trusty old optical drive will be helpful. But I don’t think it’s nearly as often as people may think.

My point is simple: If we’re moving in the direction of a more portable and powerful machine, that’s a good thing. But with any portable solution, there are going to be some trade-offs. Clearly it’s important to users to have a screen that is visually appealing with good battery life and that is powerful enough to do some heavy lifting every now and then. But do we really need to bring the optical drive around with us everywhere we go? If the laptop is your only machine (and I don’t really advice this — it’s just putting too many eggs in one basket), then perhaps it makes sense. But consider offloading that extra weight (and battery drain) and carrying a portable CD/DVD Drive. I promise you that if you own a laptop and take inventory of the amount of times that you actually use the drive, you’ll see things my way. And if for some odd reason you find that you’re using your laptop optical drive 2-3 times a day (or even a week), then let’s talk offline about my PC consulting services. Because if you’re using it that often, there’s most likely some inefficiency in your process. 🙂


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