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How to Share a Mac's Optical Drive

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Did you know you could share the optical drive from one computer with another OS X machine? It even works cross-platform to a certain extent, allowing you to use your Windows optical drive through your Mac. Learn how in this quick, in-depth guide to optical drive sharing.


Possible Scenarios

Why would you ever need to borrow another machine's optical drive? Perhaps you have a Macbook Air and want to reinstall OS X, but it's an older version of Air and you have no inner recovery drive with the installation burned onto it. Or maybe your Macbook Pro drive died, and you really need to back up your data onto some optical media.

Yet another scenario: someone gave you a CD with pictures, and you have no means of reading it with your Macbook Air, as you have no external optical drive.

All these can be solved with the help of DVD/CD Sharing, an option available since OSX 10.4+. To use this feature, we need to prepare the machines first and foremost.

Since OS X 10.4+, the option to use a remote optical drive is natively available.

Step 1. Prepare the computer without an optical drive

This section focuses on preparing the computer that will be the user of the remote optical drive.

While the computers without an actual drive won't have the following option, it is sometimes required on machines that have a broken drive. Therefore, go to System Preferences > Sharing > DVD or CD Sharing. Turn it on, and leave the "Ask to use" checkbox unchecked.

DVD or CD Sharing on the Mac
DVD or CD Sharing on the Mac

DVD or CD Sharing is usually unnecessary on the Mac that will be using another Mac's drive, but can sometimes play a role in getting it to work properly.

Also note that Apple restricted the Remote Disc option (the ability to use another machine's optical drive) to devices that actually don't have an optical drive (Mac Mini, Macbook Air, etc.), so we have to hack around that and manually make it available.

If you want an iMac or a MacBook Pro to be able to use another machine's optical drive, open the Terminal application (Applications > Utilities > Terminal) and enter the following commands:

defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser EnableODiskBrowsing -bool true
defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser ODSSupported -bool true

This tells the system to allow the machine you're on to see the remotely shared optical drive we'll be setting up in the next step. Note that it is unnecessary to do this on a Macbook Air or Mac Mini.


Step 2a. Prepare the Mac with an optical drive

This section focuses on preparing the computer that will be the provider of the optical drive. It assumes the computer has OS X installed. If it has Windows installed, see the next section instead.

If you have another Mac which will be providing the drive we'll be tapping into, make sure it's on the same network. Wireless or wired doesn't matter as long as they share the same local area network. Next, do the exact same as above - go into System Preferences > Sharing and check DVD or CD Sharing.

If you want, feel free to check the "Ask me before allowing others to use my DVD drive" option - this will make sure that the Mac looking to use the drive requests confirmation from the host first, which will appear in the form of a popup.

Tip: It is recommended you check "Ask to use for additional security" if you intend to maintain this relationship between your computers for a while.


Step 2b. Prepare the Windows computer with an optical drive

This section focuses on preparing the computer that will be the provider of the optical drive. It assumes the computer has Windows installed. If it has OS X installed, see previous section instead.

Surprisingly, Apple supports sharing from Windows as well. This means you can tap into a Windows host and use its optical drive. To do this, you need to be running Windows XP SP2 or newer, and you need to download and install the DVD or CD Sharing software update.

Once done, a new option will appear in the Control Panel.

New Control Panel Option
New Control Panel Option
New Control Panel Option
DVD or CD Sharing on Windows

This acts exactly the same as the option on an OS X machine and offers the identical options, with one additional important benefit we'll cover later.


Step 3. Using the remote drive

Now that our OS X/Windows host is prepared, it's time to access the drive from our drive-less machine. Open Finder, and look for Devices. In case you don't see the devices section, go to Finder > Preferences, and under Sidebar check everything you see in the Devices section near the bottom.

After you do this, the remote host should appear in the Devices list in your Finder's sidebar, like so:

By clicking on it, and then on "Ask to use if you checked that option" on the machine you prepared, you can access the device.


Your Mac will tell you that it's talking to the other machine

Permission on the Windows side
It's connected!
It's connected!

It is very important to remember that drive sharing won't work for media that is copy protected - DVD movies, Audio CDs, original games and bootable media like OS installation DVDs. This is strictly for backup purposes and/or data read/write operations - not for streaming content from one device to the other. If your drive died, it is recommended you buy an external one or a SuperDrive - external USB optical drives can be found for as little as $30 these days.


Installing OS X from a Windows Machine

The Windows update package comes with an interesting perk - it has out-of-the-box support for installing OS X directly on a Macbook Air remotely. To do this, prepare the Macbook Air as you would usually for accepting a remote optical drive for use. Then, on the Windows machine, go to Start > Programs > DVD or CD Sharing and select the only available option. Insert an OS X installation disc into the drive, and follow the wizard instructions, it's as simple as that!

Remote Installing OS X
Remote Installing OS X

Conclusion

You are now fully prepared to share an optical drive from Windows or OS X with another OS X machine. This should alleviate some headaches should you ever run into problems with your drive or purchase a machine without an on-board optical drive.

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