For a company selling peripherals, Apple places some stringent policies about where and when its external optical SuperDrive will operate. This policy can be bewildering to customers when they connect drives up to their systems. And it's mostly inexplicable to a company making accessory peripherals, even as a sideline. Thankfully, with a bit of tinkering with the command line, one can get around the restrictions.
As I've mentioned in past posts, my primary system is a Late 2011 MacBook Pro upgraded with an Other World Computing Data Doubler bracket kit, letting me replace my internal SuperDrive with a fast solid-state drive (SSD). So, the system contains an internal hard disk drive and the SSD, which really boosts performance. The DVD optical drive is in an external enclosure.
The other day, the DVD drive stopped working, of course, when I was on a deadline for a client who wanted files on a CD-R. No problem. I went to the local Apple Store and bought their "sleek, compact USB SuperDrive." After plugging in the drive at home, I discovered that it didn't work.
While the USB connector is standard, Apple has decided to limit the drive's compatibility with Mac models. I failed to read the full text of the drive's "essence of simplicity:"
It connects to your MacBook Pro with Retina display, MacBook Air, iMac, or Mac mini with a single USB cable that’s built into the SuperDrive. There’s no separate power adapter, and it works whether your Mac is plugged in or running on battery power.
Sounds great. Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro 2011 isn't on that short list of Mac models. The drive won't accept a disc. While it won't mount a disc, still it shows up in the hardware section of System Information in About This Mac.
Thankfully, Swiss developer Lukas Zeller offers a fix by patching a boot parameter preference, /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.Boot.plist. In the fall, he modified the document to support OS X Mavericks.
If you're going to apply this fix, I suggest you read Zeller's entire document. Your system may not actually have this .plist file.
The user experience isn't very satisfactory. Apple doesn't provide an error message that would pop up in the system and tell the user why the drive doesn't work. Or in Disk Utility. Or in System Information. There's nothing highlighted on the retail box to tell the purchaser that this Apple accessory may be inoperable.
Worse, there's the big question of why does Apple care who is using its optical drive? Especially, Mac users. Why prevent folks from running two drives or users of older systems running an external drive? It's all a very strange strategy.