At its "Back to the Mac" event on Wednesday, Apple began what may be a long campaign to starve two aging technologies to death. Optical drives and Java have fallen out of favor at Apple, and it's only a matter of time before they become marginalized for Apple customers.
Apple's longstanding dislike of Blu-ray -- a Sony technology -- has converged with its decision to sell Mac OS software through its forthcoming Mac App Store application to create a strong motivation for discouraging the use of optical discs.
The company's new MacBook Air doesn't include a CD/DVD drive. Its predecessors didn't either, but the optional USB optical SuperDrive was an option that made sense for most users, particularly given that reinstalling Mac OS X was best done using the DVD that came with older generation MacBook Airs.
Now, with Apple's inclusion of a USB drive for system software restoration and the ubiquity of broadband and WiFi, the external SuperDrive really isn't necessary, except perhaps to play computer games that require the presence of an installation disc.
CDs and DVDs have been the traditional mode of software and content distribution for years. But they're a medium that Apple doesn't control. With digital content and applications, however, Apple has a distinct advantage: It controls the Mac operating system and can leverage that control to encourage sellers of digital content and apps to surrender 30% of revenue for shelf space in its store ecosystem.
Encouraging Apple customers to adopt machines that don't need optical discs also serves to strengthen Apple's hand when negotiating with major sellers of digital content. DVD sales continue to be major source of profit for Hollywood studios. Those studios will find they have significantly less leverage in dealing with Apple as revenue from the distribution of physical discs fades. It won't happen overnight, but the groundwork has been laid.