Serial killing Apple plans optical drive murder in future iMacs

August 13, 2012 10:15 AM EDT

Way back at the end of the last Century Apple [AAPL] killed the floppy drive when it produced the optical drive-wielding iMac. Critics criticized, but history proved them wrong. Today while we're enduring the second decade of the New Millennium, it seems the company's ready to kill again: the optical drive is running for cover and its day is done.

[ABOVE: When it comes to legacy technology, the iMac is a serial killer.]

No more coffee cup holders

The clues are hidden inside Mountain Lion, where Appleinsider readers have found a configuration file describing newer Macs that can boot up an older OS from a USB drive. This feature should also enable users to install Windows on Boot Camp from a USB stick, the report suggests.

The file lists two unreleased Mac models, the IM130 and MP60 (the iMac and MacPro, respectively). This isn't conclusive evidence but it's a plausible hint that optical drive support may not be available to these future machines.

It's also interesting that neither the iMac nor Mac Pro have seen anything like a significant upgrade this year. Despite the usually highly important US education-buying season, the iMac hasn't seen any attention, while the Mac Pro just got a processor boost and a little more memory.

The new MacBook Pro with Retina Display also lacks an optical drive, seemingly confirming that in Apple's view these things are legacy technology, cut from the guest list at the great Mac upgrade party.

No great shock

If we stop for a few seconds, get over the shock of the new and speak honestly with ourselves, any move to dump optical drives shouldn't surprise anyone.

Apple first gave the format a good hard kicking when it introduced the optical drive-lacking MacBook Air. It also offered software to enable software installs from CD/DVD drives on compatible Macs on the same network.

You can pick up an external drive if you really, really want one to maintain Team GB-branded Spice Girl positivity. In truth of course there are fewer reasons to use an optical disk than ever before, for example:

The Mac App Store lets you install system updates and much of the software you need, though critics remain concerned at the amount of control the app approval system gives to the computer company.

The iTunes Store lets you purchase much of the music you might otherwise rip from a CD, while also offering a substantial collection of movies you might otherwise choose to rip using any of the many ripping utilities out there.

AirDrop, Dropbox, iCloud and all the other solutions available in the booming market for cloud-based systems make it easy to transfer files. The lowering cost and rising capacity of USB sticks means you can pick up a 32GB stick for under $20.

The good, the bad, the ugly

The death of optical drives in future Macs isn't a bad thing. On the one hand it will enable Apple make smaller, thinner computers. The move should also help reduce running costs through increased energy efficiency.

There are some challenges: not least the unpreparedness of some software providers to migrate from the format. For example, many educational and some research materials are made available on CD, rather than online.

Software developers offering solutions that don't make it through the App Store approval service will be directly affected, which will likely force them to deliver their titles exclusively online, rather than through retail. That's becoming an unequal struggle as the company works to make the App Store the only place you go for software.

The last rides

Heavy media users will be annoyed at the move, as you can pretty much guarantee to pick up a CD full of music at a lower price than found in any online store. Amazon's announced move to make any CD purchased available to users in their music locker could form a blueprint for future music sales.

The big challenge to optical drives -- and to hard disk drives which have also picked up their big red London bus ticket for one last ride into the history bin -- is that these things have moving parts which are liable to failure.

It will take a while until every PC uses a solid state drive, but it seems likely that all flagship models from most vendors will likely lack optical drives by around 2016, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Here in Apple's world, that change has already begun, which is why it now seems far more likely that your next Mac won't have an optical drive.

Do you really think you still need one?

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