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.
Apple also made it clear that it isn't fond of Java. The company's newly issued guidelines for submitting Mac OS apps for inclusion in the Mac App Store state: "Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected." A deprecated technology is one that's being phased out.
To underscore the fact that Java is "deprecated" rather than "optionally installed," Apple's developer notes spell it out: "As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the version of Java that is ported by Apple, and that ships with Mac OS X, is deprecated. This means that the Apple-produced runtime will not be maintained at the same level, and may be removed from future versions of Mac OS X. ..."
Apple's objection to Java is likely to be similar to its objection to Adobe's Flash. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs put it in April, "We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform."
Flash and Java are both third party software layers, layers that Apple doesn't control. Discouraging their use is Apple's way of solidifying its control of its platform. Apple's move against Java may also reflect wariness about Java's future under Oracle, which recently sued Google over its use of Java.
In a post to a Java discussion group, Carl Jokl, a Java developer at Keynetix and researcher at the University of Bradford in the U.K., said he was annoyed that Apple is being allowed to get away with dropping Java and likened the situation to the world of 1984, evoked by Orwell and Apple, in its famous commercial.
"Apple's developer world is 1984 hell with Big Brother Steve watching over your shoulder, 'To ensure quality of software,'" he wrote. "That will be the reason given but not the whole story."
"What is wrong with the world!" he continues. "When did 'write once, run anywhere' turn into 'fragment to the max'? [A reference to Jobs's recent disparagement of Java-based Android as fragmented] Perhaps things will go full circle again. Once we are back to having to develop for each OS individually then maybe it will occur to people why technologies like Java were good in the first place."