Remember when the iMac appeared in 1998 and had no floppy drive? And everyone went buh buh buh and WTF? Apple wasn't saying, "You have no need for one," but "Move forward from the need for one, because that's how the future of storage is." Floppy discs were too small in capacity; the future was Zip discs and Jaz discs and thumb drives and external drives with dozens of gigabytes.
This did not mean Mac users stopped using floppies on that day. I had my Blueberry iBook and I bought myself a third-party USB floppy drive to go with it, because, sure, I used floppies. Except...not so much, within mere months. Soon I had my thumb drive and my external hard drive for backup and for storage and for file swapping. And I needed a floppy once in a while but that was primarily because they were making me use PCs at work (natch).
I still have that third-party USB floppy drive (in Blueberry) and, yeah, every so often since 1999 I've dragged it out and dusted it off for use maybe, oh, a couple times a year. The last time I needed it? Two years ago, when I picked up the two floppies that I'd used to file swap with my work PC and did a backup of the old files on 'em, just in case I did ever need 'em, and put them away once and for all (work PCs compatible with thumb drives at last, thankyouverymuch). Plugged the thing into my new MacBook Pro when I got it, too, just to check if it was still compatible. Was. It might be a relic but it's nice to know, you know?
Jobs addressed the ways a consumer most frequently uses an optical drive at present.
1. Burning Audio CDs. Yeah, I do this, and I play them...except, not so much. I really don't play them, do I? Instead I copy my music to my iPod. I haven't listened to a CD in my car in over two years, except for audiobooks from the public library. I use my iPod or my computer for music when I travel. When I'm at home. When I'm at work. The only place I listen to CDs is when I go to sleep at night; I have a handful of environmental/mood CDs in my bedroom which I play on the twelve-year-old CD/cassette boombox next to my bed. And if that thing broke tomorrow, I could set up my iPod in its place with that old set of (blueberry) computer speakers that I have in storage and put the CDs away entirely. I still burn audio CDs here and there, though--for backup, for the bedroom boombox, for my mom. But that use has already become archaic.
2. Importing/installing software. I do this too...except, not so much. For the computer I'm currently running, I installed Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop Elements; those were the only two programs that required a CD-ROM. Every other piece of software on my computer which wasn't preinstalled I downloaded from the web via wireless connection. 'S it. Downloads are the new standard; they're always the latest version.
3. Watching DVDs. I do this...except, not so much. I play my DVDs on my DVD player on my big flat-screen television. It's how I want to watch movies; Jobs acknowledged this is what people want and so that's what the overhaul of the Apple TV is all about. What do I watch on my laptop? AVI files, because those tie up my computer to play them whether I just watch them on my laptop screen or hook up the computer to my TV screen. So those are already DVD-less. I do use my laptop as a DVD player when I travel but, again, not so much--when I travel there's so much to do I don't sit around in my hotel room watching DVDs. And the last hotel I stayed in had its own computer with a DVD player and I used that for my exercise DVDs; plus DVD players are becoming more standard in hotel rooms as well. Airplanes? Yeah, maybe. Maybe one movie for a long trip. Except airline in-seat entertainment systems are actually getting more extensive (as opposed to airline food) so I'm more likely to fiddle with those. And if I only want a few movies for the ride I can put those on the hard drive temporarily, if I have the technology--and now we really do, with Apple's movie rentals emerging. Yes, I still want my movies on DVD, if I'm going to keep them. And I still like my Netflix, where I can keep the film as long as I want and watch it as frequently as I like before I return it. Not getting rid of that. It's just that those aren't the movies I'm clamouring to play on my computer.
4. Making backups. I do this...except, not so much. I mean, yes, but pretty rarely. Regular backups I make to external hard drives rather than CD-ROMs. I still live in fear of that EMP that's going to take down the Eastern Seaboard on the next episode of 24--yes I watch too much television--and wipe all soft-storage data, so, yes, every couple of years I make backups of all the fic folders and art folders and emails on my drives, because the post-apocalyptic world should not survive without Harry Potter fanworks omigod, but, again, this is a rare use of a CD/DVD burner for me.
So, yes, some use of an optical drive is still necessary and will also be desired for at least some time. So this time, rather than have consumers go off cussin' to buy third-party products, Apple's made plans for this. Native software and native hardware both. On the bet that a purchaser of the MacBook Air likely has another computer available, software's available for both Mac and PC to let you use another computer's optical drive for importing CD/DVD data wirelessly. And if you don't, if you're all, "Oh, yeah, high-and-mighty so-and-sos, assuming I can afford another computer. What if I can't? What if I don't want to maintain my old one's software to keep up with my laptop? What if I want to take the optical drive with me, Mr. Smarty Pants?" Done. USB-connectible Apple-made slim external optical drive. For $99. $99. That's chump change.
Am I on board for the elimination of the optical drive? Yes, I am. How about the elimination of certain ports, like FireWire and Audio In and an extra USB port? Not so much, not yet. I admit I'm not ready to rely solely on wireless for all backups (the beauty of a laptop is that in a power failure you can still work on battery, dial-up, and unpowered external drives for a bit), nor can one feed all externals via USB and get the same performance (FireWire through USB is only as quick as USB, for example). And I still prefer an ergonomic mouse to a trackpad, despite the innovations that keep arising in trackpad use, so I like having that extra USB port. But if Apple's saying that FireWire and the like are soon going to be secondary, older tech compared to wireless technology...I may squirm, but I don't think I can doubt them.