The Macbook Air's Surprise Innovation

Last week Apple announced its new Macbook Air. While it's crazy thin body and solid state hard drive have been two of the most hotly discussed innovations, there was one quiet addition that made us pump our fists in the air when we opened up our review box.

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Since the Air doesn't have an optical drive to plug discs into, Apple crammed its Mac OSX Snow Leopard operating system and iLife '11 software into a tiny USB drive. Like teeny tiny. The USB key is roughly 0.5-by-1.5 inches.

We've often complained about tech companies who still pack their gadgets with wasteful paper manuals and installation discs. If you didn't already know, CDs and DVDs are not very eco-friendly. The materials used to make them make it impossible to recycle, so when the software loaded onto them becomes obsolete or you accidentally break or scratch the discs, CDs end up sitting in landfills. Unfortunately, since producing a CD or DVD is so far much cheaper than any other green alternative, many companies still use them.

That said, many companies have looked at alternative ways to get you the data you need to run their products. A lot of software can now be downloaded via the Web, but for items such as computers or modems and wireless routers, it's always a good idea to have a hard copy you may need if something goes down. Having everything you need stored on a small USB hard drive, which uses less materials, of which much is recyclable, is a natural next step and we hope other companies follow suit.

Images: Sonia Zjawinski