First Apple Assassinates Optical Media, Now USB Thumb Drives Need Witness Protection



Apple’s line of MacBook Airs never shipped with an optical drive and now the Mac Mini has joined the party. The new Mac Mini, released this week, no longer includes one of these drives either. If you want an optical drive to use with these Macs you have to purchase an external USB SuperDrive. Now the arrival of the new MacBook Air and Mac Mini herald the death of the USB thumb drive.

You might be surprised to find out that neither these systems ship with a set of  DVDs or a USB thumb drive that you can use to restore, repair or reinstall Mac OS X.

Instead Apple has come up with something new.

Apple has introduced new recovery features that are supported by Mac OS X Lion and therefore you don’t need a recovery DVD or USB thumb drive.  Full details about these new features can be found in Apple Knowledge Base document HT4718.

According to Apple the new Lion recovery features allow you to:

Recovery HD

OS X Lion includes a built in set of utilities in the Recovery HD. Restart your Mac and hold down the Command key and the R key (Command-R), and keep holding them until the Apple icon appears, indicating that your Mac is starting up. After the Recovery HD is finished starting up, you should see a desktop with a Mac OS X menu bar and a “Mac OS X Utilities” application window. Note: If you see a login window or your own desktop and icons, it is possible that you didn’t hold Command-R early enough. Restart and try again.

In order to reinstall OS X Lion, you will need to be connected to an Ethernet or Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi menu item is in the upper-right corner of the screen. Click the icon to display all available Wi-Fi networks. Click your preferred network name and, if needed, enter a username and/or password.

Lion Internet Recovery

If you happen to encounter a situation in which you cannot start from the Recovery HD, such as your hard drive stopped responding or you installed a new hard drive without Mac OS X installed, new Mac models introduced after public availability of OS X Lion automatically use the Lion Internet Recovery feature if the Recovery HD (Command-R method above) doesn’t work. Lion Internet Recovery lets you start your Mac directly from Apple’s Servers. The system runs a quick test of your memory and hard drive to ensure there are no hardware issues.

Lion Internet Recovery presents a limited interface at first, with only the ability to select your preferred Wi-Fi network and, if needed, enter the WPA passphrase. Next, Lion Internet Recovery will download and start from a Recovery HD image. From there, you are offered all the same utilities and functions described above.

I highly recommend that anyone concerned about system recoveries after upgrading to Mac OS X Lion read Apple Knowledge Base document HT4718.

Now I think everyone will be convinced that Apple’s assassination of optical media is well on its way — bye-bye CDs and DVDs. Now their smaller cousin, the USB thumb drive,  is being targeted by Apple Ninjas.

Luckily you can still create recovery media of your own on DVDs or USB thumb drives for Mac OS X Lion, but make sure to keep these safely tucked away in a witness protection program so those Apple Ninjas won’t find them. In a pinch a desk drawer will do too.



  • Mike Rathjen

    New Macs come with more than just Lion. iLife for example. Will you get to download that too? Is that in the recovery partition too?

    How much hard drive space is being lost?

    What will people without high speed Internet do when their hard drive crashes?

  • Tim Pease

    Come on David.  You’ve been writing about Apple far too long not to have seen this coming.  You KNOW they axe whatever technology they feel is obsolete.  Heck, I’ve only been a Mac user for just over two years, and I don’t get upset about their tactics.  Apple has been doing it their way for decades and it doesn’t seem to affect their bottom line.  I’m quite certain most Mac users out there know how to burn a DVD or make a bootable USB flash drive, and almost all have the resources to do it.  It’s time to move on.

  • Mike Rathjen

    New Macs come with more than just Lion. iLife for example. Will you get to download that too? Is that in the recovery partition too?

    How much hard drive space is being lost?

    What will people without high speed Internet do when their hard drive crashes?

  • jayjaytee

    Did you miss the bulletin about Lion being available on – tadaa! – thumb drives in August (for the outrageously marked-up price of $69)?

  • lwdesign1

    I’ve been using Macs since 1989. I didn’t object when Apple killed the floppy drive, even though I had to buy an external USB floppy drive when my clients kept sending me floppies. I am concerned about the absence of the Superdrive. I regularly archive client design jobs onto CD or DVD for a backup. I’m hoping Apple won’t delete the Superdrive on the Mac Pro, iMacs and MacBook Pros so quickly, especially without some sort of replacement technology–and no, an external drive is overkill for what I need it for.

  • prof_peabody

    Silly article.  

    They don’t ship with DVD’s because … the device hasn’t got an optical drive! so that’s no surprise.  

    They don’t ship with the USB thumb drive because they aren’t even available yet. 

  • norfolkmustard

    iLife gets added to your MacAppStore account the first time you go into the MAS on your new hardware. You just have to hit the “accept” button to tie them to your AppleID and hardware serial.

    On my MBAir, the recovery partition is 650MB


  • norfolkmustard

    iLife gets added to your MacAppStore account the first time you go into the MAS on your new hardware. You just have to hit the “accept” button to tie them to your AppleID and hardware serial.

    On my MBAir, the recovery partition is 650MB


  • DavidWMartin

    Hi Tim. I’m in different. I’m not worried about it, personally, but I thought the information was unique enough to share with everyone. I adopt to what Apple throws at me. Compare this to all the complaints about the change in scrolling in Lion. I’ve used that scrolling method for a while now and I like it. I’m able to flip in the other direction as needed when going to machines running Leopard. Yes  the world is moving on, but it doesn’t hurt to point it out when it happens! Thanks for your comment. – DWM

  • DavidWMartin

    No I didn’t MISS that. Funny. hahaha. However, I’m not going to fork over $69 for something I can make myself and for that matter so can you.

  • DavidWMartin

    Ditto on the iLife Mac App Store download. I first saw this on my new 13inch MacBook Air last night. I was thinking about posting a few screenshots to just let people know it exists.

  • imajoebob

    Apple is pushing this too hard, too early. The overreaction the losing the floppy was pretty universal, but not this.  When Apple killed the floppy they had a replacement technology, CDs, and it was installed in their products.  Using CDs instead of Floppies was an improvement, and discs cost about 4 bucks. They dropped FW400, since a $10 adapter lets you connect your legacy FW400 cables.  Killing the modem was no big deal because we all had RJ-45 jacks.  Even that’s becoming less necessary, with Wi-Fi nearly universal.  Optical drives are definitely dated technology, but they’re a great form factor, from usability to portability, to storage (actually storing the CDs) to durability.  But what are we supposed to use instead of DVDs?  A Flash drive?  That’s worse than floppies.  We’ll have drawers full of them, and they’ll be impossible to write on or read.  

    I’m going to be even more cynical than this just being Apple trying to push newer technology.  I think this is a blatant attempt to force everyone to start using the “cloud.’  And who has the big, new, wallet plundering data farm ready to “serve your new need?”  Apple isn’t getting rid of the optical drive because it’s old, or slow, or inefficient, or anything else.  They’re killing it because it’s an alternative to the iCloud.  

    Any new thoughts on why they refused to join the Blu-Ray world?

  • Dave Perkins

    They probably aren’t shipping with USB drives because…it’s a waste of money.  Chances are, you won’t need to reload the OS.  If you do, you just have to connect to a network and reload it.

    You guys do realize that Windows PC’s haven’t shipped with the OS software for years.

  • TylerHoj

    The environment needs to thank Apple. As much as everyone is going to come up with some BS reason why they absolutely need optical or USB media just because they’re scared of a little change here and there, Apple needs to do this. All companies need to do this. The less pointless crap being produced, the less of it that ends up in landfills. And with over a million downloads of Lion yesterday, Apple has saved a countless amount of green house gas emissions. Thanks Apple. 

  • Hampus

    The disc isnt an alternative to iCloud, possibly the App Store but not the iCloud, that’s a syncing service ;P
    Apple seem believe a lot in a future of stream and downloading both software and other media. Makes you wonder why they aren’t working harder to get deals to sell movies and tv trough iTunes in more parts of the world.
    Also, unfortunately for most people living in the US your ISP do not share Apples vision of a future where anyone can easily stream or download all their movies and software, not without paying a lot extra to said ISPs though.

    They have refused to enter the blu-ray world as the readers/burners are overly expensive due to a license fee to Sony and that applies to any blu-ray playback software too which is why all of the cost $50 at a minimum and apps like VLC can’t play Blu-ray
    Also, being another optical media it kinda goes against Apples streaming/downloading visions.

  • poppa1138

    if you want Lion on a bootable dvd,there are tutorials appearing if you Google it..

  • Sean Heather

    Doesn’t bother me, I have had my iMac for over a year now and not once have I inserted a disc into it.

  • imajoebob

    Must still be on your first Mac.  In part, because these things are so bullet proof and long lasting, you end up replacing a hard drive before you buy a new computer.  You can’t do that without a way to load the OS, and I think expecting someone to pay an extra 69 bucks to have that ability is thoughtless, at best (don’t ask what worst is).  The other thing that bugs me is that if you buy an 11″ MBA with the 64GB SSD, you’re not just really getting about 59GB of storage (the old binary vs decimal byte count), but you really only get (blind guess) a 56GB drive (based on a DL DVD), because of the automatic partition for the recovery drive.

    The last two PCs my family bought came with WIndows media.  They didn’t come with Office media.  Big difference.  

  • Nathan Schroeder

    Apple’s answer to this is the internet.  Being able to slim things down, ship less stuff and make the process all based on the computer rather than trying to find that little piece of plastic you got 2 years ago with your machine, sounds a lot like Apples modus operondi.  They are always trying to do more with less.  I don’t see this and any conspiracy but as a continuation of something they started with the Mac Classic.  Dump the old technology in favor of something not everyone believes in but is smaller, simpler and more effective.

  • DavidWMartin

    Apple wanted to force people to the Mac App Store so I’d say that is why this rumored USB stick isn’t here now. I spent some serious money on a new MacBook Air last night – Apple could have thrown in a cheap 8GB thumb drive if they wanted too.

  • Chase Hausman

    Yes.  That was answered above in the comments.  And in the Apple article linked to.

    The space the OS takes up.

    Go to an apple store, or as was also said in the article linked to, borrow a friends, go to an “internet café”, or do it at work (With proper permission).

  • CharliK

    If you don’t push, folks won’t do it. They won’t stop using disks. They won’t start demanding better bandwidth, etc

    As for Blu-ray, if you knew anything about what a headache the licensing was and still is, you wouldn’t be asking why. Particularly when Apple can spread the costs over tens of thousands of machines a day.

  • CharliK

    It’s not outrageous at all. They are doing it for the folks that haven’t updated to Snow Leopard and don’t think to do it before the DVD stock runs out. Which is also possibly why they are waiting a couple (to six) weeks. Let those DVDs sell rather than turn into garbage

    But Apple is also a business and they want their licensing fees. So $29 for Snow Leopard, plus $29 for Lion + $11 in parts and labor. Not really that high. Particularly when you consider the question of whether this will work for those that never got Leopard (the Snow Leopard ‘upgrade’ disk did)

  • davester13

    Hell, they just knifed the MacBook from behind…

  • DavidWMartin

    Good point…as I place some plastics, etc. into my recycle bin – that I drag to the curb twice monthly. I’ve cut back a lot, but I think I need to put some more thought into doing more of that. 

  • Erich Meatleg

    I still want to be able to back up things to optical devices.  It is much cheaper than having to have a spare HD around at all times. I made two copies of the Lion installer just for safe keeping, so I  don’t have to waste time and bandwidth to download it again should I need it in the future.  This decision to remove the optical drive from the mini is asinine. It should at least be an option… I can’t get my mother a new mac mini to replace her 5 year old mini unless it has one as she USES it to input CDs and DVDs…