Going Digital: How to Prepare for the End of Optical Media

Growing up, I remember mix tapes recorded from the radio. People thought that those mix tapes were the greatest thing… until CDs became popular and cassette tapes became obsolete. Everyone started getting their music fix on CDs, they were even re-buying music that they had already purchased on cassette tapes. With the advent of MP3s, people downloaded music and burned the songs to disc. MP3 players were released to the public, although they didn’t take off right away. Then, Apple released the iPod which was soon followed by the iTunes music store. That changed the way people bought music. Digital distribution exploded and the decline of optical media was accelerated.

Popular computing systems do not typically ship with optical drives built-in anymore. The last four laptops I have purchased have not come with one. Asus Eee PCs lack them, as do MacBook Airs. More and more people are moving towards other methods of data storage; storage clouds and external hard drives are among some popular solutions.

Keeping those discs littering up the house in cases and trying to find what you need is a hassle anyway. It’s never too late to make the switch. Here are some ways to get started.

Audio discs

At this point in time I’m certain that most people have used or at least heard of iTunes, Windows Media Player (WMP), or other music management applications. Free applications such as these are ideal for ripping audio CDs that you own to your computer’s hard drive, if you haven’t already. If you are a Linux user then you can try K3b (for KDE environments) and Sound Juicer (for Gnome environments). If you don’t like any of these options there are others out there. In your search, try to find something that connects to an online CD database such as Gracenote or CCDB. Having that feature will save loads of time by automatically populating the album information (metadata).

In the future, buy your music in a digital format. iTunes is one of my favorites, however I find that Amazon’s MP3 store has much of the same music and is cheaper at times. If you don’t mind spending a premium each month, you can stream music without ads or limit with Spotify. Six dollars every month will allow you to play unlimited songs on any computer that has the client installed. If you are a heavy mobile user, then you have the option to pay $10 to sync your Spotify playlists to your phone or iPod Touch for offline playback anytime. The offline mobile feature supports many platforms including iOS, Windows Phone, Android, and Blackberry. The option to stream your playlists is available, but be mindful of your data caps.


Ah, DVDs. Those shiny rounded discs of entertainment are a source of misery for some. I have two shelves full of these things and I can never find the one I’m looking for when I want it… It turns most movie nights into second choice movie nights. I thought about using a program to rip my DVDs that I own to a server so that I could stream them to my Apple TV. However, with copyright law being what it is (making no sense at all) I have not done this. Hopefully the laws will be made clearer and fair-use policies will actually be usable in the realm of DVDs. Until then, I guess I need to organize the shelves… To prevent this predicament from getting worse while preparing for the future all at once, users can buy media online. I personally use iTunes and Amazon; Mostly iTunes, because I can use my media on Apple TV. I buy movies as well as TV shows. I can then transfer these files to my various mobile devices and/or stream them to my TV.

Amazon has an impressive digital market for movies and TV shows. They are adding more and more content every day. Also, if you are a Prime subscriber much of this content is available to stream at no extra cost.

There are most likely other vendors that offers movie downloads, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell if it is a legitimate source or not. If you are able to find one that is genuinely legal, then you want to make sure there no catch to the licensing. You never know when a company will go down and take your files with them.


Rule of thumb here is, when available, buy the digital edition. You can always burn the file to a disc or copy it to an external drive for a backup. Image files are the best way to go for larger applications. You do not even have to burn them if you do not want to use the file, which is what we are aiming to do here. Just download any virtual disc tool and mount it. Right away your able to use the disc as though it were in an optical drive.

If you have a vast collection of software on CDs and DVDs that is tempting you to buy an external optical peripheral before purchasing a new computer, think again. Newer builds of Windows make it easy to create ISO from a disc so you can do just that, and mount them later as a virtual disc. Mac also has the same ability alongside every Linux distribution that I’ve used.

Flash drives are a great companion in this area. The last several occurrences where I needed to install an operating system I did so from a flash drive. Linux systems (especially Ubuntu) make this very simple and contain a built-in utility to create a flash drive install disk. Windows has finally caught on and makes this simple for Windows 7 with this nifty tool. I’ve never installed Mac OS from a flash drive, but it should be possible. Here is a tutorial on how to make a recovery flash drive here.


Cloud, cloud, cloud. There are so many cloud storage services available now it is ridiculous. For document storage (documents, spreadsheets, and presentations) I recommend using a service such as Google Documents. When you upload the file Google Docs gives you the option to convert the file to their format. This is beneficial because files that are in the Google Docs format do not count against your storage quota. iCloud is another good service for Apple users that are looking to store documents online for backup purposes. I will admit that I prefer to use Google Docs since it is platform agnostic and I can documents can be edited right in the browser.

Any purchases in iTunes can now be re-downloaded through the purchased section in the iTunes Store while logged in with your Apple ID. Even Amazon will place your purchased MP3 files in their cloud player before allowing you to download them if you choose the option. In both cases, copies are on their systems for safe keeping. The companies recommend that you back up your files just in case, but that is most likely only to protect themselves in the event of something happening. You should do this. If you like to live dangerously and will trust the organization to keep your purchases safe, then the company’s purchase history will function as an impromptu backup service.

Lastly, external hard drives are great as a backup storage mechanism. Space is cheap these days so it wouldn’t be a problem to back up an entire collection of music, movies, etc. if the need arises. Just plug it in and go.

There are plenty of options available for people looking to ditch optical media. For most things, there is a way to access files via a tablet or smartphone so you have them on the go. Save space, save time, and make things easier for yourself. The optical media cataclysm is nigh.

  • Guest

    Once you’ve backed up the back up what and where do you back up the back up to?

    I prefere to use an external hard drive