Law Office Technology — Optical Drives

CD Drive Lens
By Ioan Sameli ( [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
After visiting the DA’s office in Montgomery County, Texas yesterday to look at discovery on a case, I’m having a hard time thinking that OS X is a viable platform for a law firm that handles any sort of criminal litigation, or potentially civil litigation.  In addition to the paper-based offense reports that needed to be copied and scanned, there were two DVD-ROMs containing videos, photos, and audio. If I didn’t have an optical drive, I wouldn’t be able to review this evidence, and that leads me to one of my biggest frustrations with what Apple is trying to do with its computer lineup.

No Pity for Legacy Optical Drives

It’s no secret that Apple likes to kill off technology that is inefficient. The original iMac famously did not include a 3.5″ floppy drive because the format was inefficient–why support something that only holds 1.44MB of data when you can attach a Zip drive that holds 100MB, or even better, a USB drive that holds 256MB?  (Remember, this was the ’90s, so storage capacity was a mere fraction of what it is now, though the recent move to favoring SSD in the name of speed has greatly redefined what counts as an acceptable amount of internal storage.)  The new MacBook takes this dearth of legacy support to a new extreme: it not only doesn’t include an optical drive (the death of that support began with the original MacBook Air’s debut), but it has only one USB-type C port, which also serves as its power port. The MacBook is entirely focused on wireless data transfer, peripherals and legacy support be damned.

Critics of this one-port strategy like to counter by saying “well, then, this is not the laptop for you; get something with more ports.”  Which is all well and good if these design decisions didn’t begin to affect the other product lines offered by Apple and the design choices of PC manufacturers.  When the MacBook Air came out, it eschewed the optical drive, and many people didn’t mind so much because they weren’t buying music on CDs, weren’t buying software on DVDs, and weren’t renting movies on Blu-Ray.  Cloud storage was just beginning to take off, and it has only expanded in the ensuing years.  Optical disks are slow to access and slow to burn, and they have a limited amount of storage per disc (approximately 700MB for CD-Roms, and approximately 8GB for DVD-Roms).  If people really wanted the optical drive, they could simply purchase an external drive or a computer with an optical drive.  The point of the Air, it was argued, was that it would be thin and light, not a powerhouse.

Time Has Made it Worse

That was 2008.  At that time, all Apple machines besides the Air offered optical drives, ranging from the Mac mini to the Mac Pro.  Now, though?  There is one machine (the 13″ MacBook Pro without a Retina display) that still offers a built-in optical drive.  That’s it. The Mac mini doesn’t offer it anymore, the iMac doesn’t, the Mac Pro doesn’t, and none of the other laptops–even the other MacBook Pros with the Retina display–offer it anymore.  Yes, you can buy an external Superdrive (or other brand of optical drive) if you want it, but it creates clutter and extra weight, is potentially even slower than those that are included internally, and incurs extra expenses.

This lack of optical drive support is just one reason why I feel like an attorney looking to purchase new technology for his office should probably avoid OS X. Yes, it seems a little weird to essentially reject an entire computing platform because there isn’t an optical drive built into a particular machine.  It goes beyond that, though, which I will address in my next post in this series.