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The return of the 'floppy'. Thanks, Apple!

Apple logoIs it the end for optical discs now that Apple is favouring something that looks remarkably like a tiny floppy disk? And is Apple plotting a strategic storage shift for its MacBook laptops?

Last month, most of Apple's MacBooks were upgraded with SD card slots. The most popular 13- and 15in MacBook Pros both now have card readers. Apple even explains how to build a bootable SD card. Why on earth would Apple go through the trouble of explaining how to create a boot disk from an SD card? That seems way out in left field. They never did that for USB key drives.

I think there is more to it than that. Apple doesn't just do things like SD cards. "You can just throw in a USB SD card reader," had been the mantra up until this point. Apple didn't need to bother itself with these little things.

Now, I think things have changed. The SD card has become part of Apple's MacBook strategy. It should be arriving on the MacBook Air and the regular MacBook at the next updates... and it might even take the place of the DVD drive on the next MacBook.

That's right, I think the SD card is going to replace the DVD drive on most of Apple's laptops going forward. If you really need a DVD, you'll be able to buy an external USB Superdrive - but that option will mostly be a safety net.

13in Apple MacBook Pro review

Storage no-brainer

Remember when Apple killed the floppy with the iMac? This will be the same thing. You could buy external floppy but how many of you really did?

Think about it. What would you rather have on your laptop? An easily rewritable 32GB SD card the size of a postage stamp that can hold about the same amount of data as 8 DVDs or a big spinning disk that can scratch easily and takes up about a quarter of the internal usable area in your laptop?

It is a no-brainer. Optical is over.

With compression much better than antiquated DVDs, a full-length, DVD-quality movie can fit on a 1GB SD card, with much room to spare. SD cards cost about £1.50/GB. DVDs are cheaper, but cost really isn't an issue.

Backing up to an SD card is much better than trying to deal with DVDs. You can even use Time Machine with SD. 8GB DVDs won't hold most people's photo albums. However, a 32GB SD card should be able to knock out the casual user's home directory.

Blu-ray

Even Blu-ray movies can largely fit on today's SD cards. Tomorrow's will be much bigger (though Apple hasn't announced support for those yet - the max is 32GB).

And that's before you consider that Apple wants you downloading your HD movies from iTunes rather than buying physical media. Apple is also pushing packaging to ever smaller sizes. SD cards are much more durable than DVDs and are so small they can be swallowed.

So, if we are no longer burdened with big optical drives in our laptops, what are we going to do with all of that space?

I think a 15in MacBook Air would certainly be an entertaining idea. If you look at the space in a 15in laptop, a huge chunk is taken up by the DVD.

I also like the idea of having more than one SSD/HDD slot in the laptop. Perhaps a small, speedy 1.8in SSD drive for the OS/settings/applications and a huge 500GB HDD for media? That sounds about right to me.

There will always be those who cling to their old technology. How will you install software? (Heard of this thing called the App Store?) How will you install the OS? Remember, above, Apple showed us how to build a boot disk from the SD card. That probably comes from experience.

People will complain that they can't watch their DVD collection. What are they going to do with all of their old DVDs? (Get HandBrake).

Remember how indispensable the floppy was?

Seth Weintraub blogs for Computerworld US

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