The scenario you described is now very, very common. In fact, none of the three Macs in this household have optical drives, and neither does my Microsoft Surface Pro running Windows 8.
But it’s not really a problem. I’ll explain why and what I do.
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The beginning of the end
It’s probably safe to say that the days of the optical drive are coming to a close. Not this week, not this year, perhaps not even this decade, but I think the writing is on the wall.
Regardless of its future, it’s simply a fact that machines are more commonly coming without a CD, or a DVD, or a Blu-ray drive.
Software companies are absolutely moving towards more and more online delivery. They’re assuming connectivity, which I know can be frustrating for those that have poor, slow, or metered connections, or no connection at all.
For my Mac Pro, I’ve never had any form of optical media for the operating system. It was pre-installed. And the updates, which are often very large, are delivered via download. As I said, the same is now true for my Surface Pro as well.
There are two things that I think people need to consider.
One is to start phasing out the use of optical media for backup – period. Backing up your system to optical discs is already incredibly unwieldy simply because of the number of discs that it takes. And optical discs, especially the writable ones, are actually known to have a limited shelf life. That means your backups may not be there when you need them.
Instead, it’s time to move to things like external hard drives, SSDs, or other larger format devices. All of my backups are to external drives, and to a much lesser extent to the Cloud.
Reading the discs you have
But what about those discs that you have now?
Actually, there’s an easy solution for that as well. Get an external USB optical drive. I happen to have an external CD/DVD burner, which can also read Blu-ray discs. It works great. I don’t use it very often, but it’s quite handy to have around. And as far as recovery media is concerned, if you configure your PC to boot from a USB, it can typically boot from a USB optical drive.
If what you really care about is data, that’s potentially an argument for keeping an older machine around. An older machine with an optical drive that you can read from, connected to your Local Area Network, can make all of your old CDs and DVDs accessible to any machine you have.