The only company that can make Apple's products look comparatively ugly is Apple. Take for example the new MacBook Air. Grab one of those babies, put it next to a current MacBook or MacBook Pro, and the bigger notebooks look like monstrosities. Now, I'm sure Apple will start to port many of the improvements of the latest Air -- like the SSD chips and improved screens -- over to the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but I'm hoping that Apple takes the biggest step that it can regarding the MacBook line and tears out the optical drives.
I've owned my 15" MacBook Pro (the last one to have a removable battery) since June 2009. Not once in my seventeen months of ownership have I ever used the optical drive. I've never used it to import music, play a DVD, or burn a CD or DVD. I'm not alone in my realization of having a completely irrelevant piece of hardware on my top of the line laptop either. MG Siegler at our recently acquired sister site, TechCrunch, pretty much noticed the same thing a few weeks ago.
If the MacBook Air really is the sign of the future of Apple's laptops, then the optical drive just has to go. People own laptops because they take them places. Portability is their main attraction. As Apple has shown us, no optical drive equals more portability. I mean, it's not like most users need them, is it? When was the last time you actually were out and about and needed to use your optical drive? Were you in a coffee shop, and the guy next to you needed to give you a Word file, so he burned it to a CD? I didn't think so. There are so many faster, lighter, and more portable ways to transfer data -- like USB drives or DropBox -- that the optical disc is all but pointless for file transfers. Installing software is also a moot point, since most of us download our software or will buy it through the upcoming Mac App Store. As for watching DVDs? A movie plays better and drains less power on your laptop if it resides on your hard drive.
I'm not saying optical media is completely useless. I think Apple should continue to support optical drives on its iMacs and Mac Pros for the foreseeable future, because doing so doesn't add any bulk to the hardware. But when you're talking laptops, get rid of the drives already! If we really need to have an optical drive, chances are it's for something we'll only be doing occasionally, like installing a large software package that isn't available for download like Adobe Create Suite, or backing up documents to DVD. For those times, the $79 external SuperDrive will do just fine. But the limited occasional use of an optical drive just isn't enough justification to keep it built into our portables anymore.
Remember the big stink when Apple eliminated removable batteries in their MacBook line? For all the uproar, how did Apple's bold move actually pan out? The people who thought they couldn't live without the option to have an extra battery on hand are doing just fine. A lack of an optical drive on future MacBooks will have the same effect -- real world usability will not be hindered at all, and the absence of said drive will lead to thinner, lighter, and more power-efficient MacBooks.