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Summary:

When .Mac was first announced at the July 2002 Macworld Expo in New York (remember those?) it held the rare distinction of being one of the few Steve Jobs keynote announcements to draw silence instead of applause. Of course, why should anyone applaud when they’ve just […]

When .Mac was first announced at the July 2002 Macworld Expo in New York (remember those?) it held the rare distinction of being one of the few Steve Jobs keynote announcements to draw silence instead of applause. Of course, why should anyone applaud when they’ve just been told that something they were getting for free would now cost $100 per year? But when even the most faithful Mac users (i.e. the ones who waited for hours outside the building to get into the keynote) aren’t excited, then you’ve got problems.

I’m not going to raise the old argument that iTools should’ve been free for life. In fact, I was an iTools member who took the 1/2-price incentive that first year and got a .Mac subscription. I’ve continued to renew that subscription each year, but not without some hesitation.

Because the free iTools service ended in October, the majority of .Mac subscriptions also lapse this fall, so us .Mac members have a $99 decision to make. And unless Apple makes a major change or two, I will not be renewing this year.

But why now? If I’ve managed to rationalize the purchase in years past, what makes this year different? In a word: iWeb. You might think that the addition of iWeb to Apple’s iLife suite would be a reason for me to continue my .Mac membership. But instead it’s making me want to drop it.

Prior to iWeb, there was HomePage, Apple’s simple, online web page creation tool. The pages you could create with it were limited in their variety, but it was simple and easy to use. I could select a group of photos in iPhoto, hit the HomePage button and it would automatically create a new web page with those photos in the order I had made and with the captions I wrote. It would also link that page to all the others on HomePage and create a thumbnail link on the main menu page.

The benefit to me is that it’s easy to use and simple to keep updating. The benefit to Apple is that because it uses their proprietary software, it locks me into their system. And if I don’t renew my .Mac membership, my online storage disappears and all my online photo albums go away.

So imagine my surprise when I I tried to easily accomplish this same task after installing iLife ’06. The HomePage button has been removed from iPhoto and replaced with the iWeb button. I gamely give it a try, but the first test has failed: it’s not as easy as using the HomePage function. After publishing the page, I realized that it doesn’t link to my previously existing .Mac pages nor does it link from my previously existing main menu. In fact, it’s not even under the previously existing domain. It’s under the longer, more unnecessary web.mac.com/username/iWeb/Site/ instead of homepage.mac.com/username/

It is still possible to use HomePage on the .Mac site, and create photo albums, but it’s no longer a one-click operation. It involves exporting the photos from iPhoto to a new folder on the Finder, uploading them via the iDisk, creating a new page on .Mac, re-ordering them and re-captioning them. If I wanted to go through all of that, I could use any of a number of online photo-hosting services. And it wouldn’t cost me $99 per year.

That’s just one aspect of .Mac that affects me individually. But every user of .Mac is affected by at least one of its services, and even if they never use HomePage, they use something else:

E-MAIL:
Obviously, getting an e-mail address from .Mac is not a big selling point. But the track record of their service is incredibly poor. When it was a free e-mail account, outages could be excused. But it’s been years since users have been paying, and even as recently as last week e-mail was intermittently unavailable for 12 hours. I’ve had an EarthLink e-mail account for years and it’s never been unavailable for more than an hour a year.

iDISK:
iDisk is the most interesting yet poor quality feature of .Mac. When it originally appeared, it was a useful and simple way for Mac OS 9 users to transfer Mac files (containing Type and Creator Codes) via the Internet. The tradeoff was its glacial speed. Now that OS X doesn’t rely on type and creator codes and has given in to filename suffixes that usefulness has gone away. But the speed problem didn’t. Subsequent major updates to OS X have touted increased iDisk speed as a benefit (thus admitting it was slow). But I don’t know anyone that would call it fast. The syncing was a way to mollify that problem, but it’s caused problems of its own (ever seen a rogue process called SynchronizationServer) and at the current minimum of 1GB of storage space it can make things even slower.

BACKUP:
The big question at this point is whether Leopard’s Time Machine will turn the Backup application into the next Sherlock. Will Apple simply lose interest in Backup or will Leopard users simply not have any reason to use Backup?

WIDGETS:
What? You aren’t aware of any widgets that come with .Mac membership? That’s because Apple never released any, though they promised to. After Tiger’s release, Apple promised its .Mac members they would be getting exclusive widgets. To this date, they have never arrived. Is there a legitimate reason for Apple vaporware?

Overall, .Mac has gone through a number of changes over the years, but it hasn’t improved much. And when the Macintosh faithful are still not excited (nor even resigned to ponying up the annual fee), it’s time for Apple to re-evaluate what .Mac is and does.

Apple, you’ve got one month to pull out something new and exciting to convince me to renew my .Mac account.

  1. Why don’t you just use Flickr?

    I’ve never used .mac so I don’t know the ins and outs but it sounds a lot more cumbersome than flickr. iPhoto also syncs with Flickr using the wonderful FlickrExport tool.

    It’s also cheaper, Flickr is free and has limitations, but if you want to pay its $25 a year and the Flickr export tool is $21.87.

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  2. I’ve renewed .Mac twice now, but I will not do it again. The first time I renewed it was strictly because Apple promised the extra widgets. And we’re still waiting. The second time was because I used my .mac mail on my resume, and still needed the address even though I already forward all my mail to my gmail account.

    The only .Mac service that I actually use is backup, and that is only because it is automated and haven’t sought out an alternative just yet.

    I think Apple needs to seriously consider merging .Mac into the OSX purchase for it to retain any relevance/value, but that might not even be enough. At this point I wouldn’t even use .Mac mail or iDisk even if they were free. Using iDisk through the Finder is just an exercise in frustration, although the new web interface is at least serviceable.

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  3. In times of Gmail with a free 2,7 GB, a multitude of online storage solutions and cheap webhosting, .Mac seems rather outdated.

    For 100 bucks per year, Apple should at least offer a high uptime, twice the storage and some extra bells and whistles to justify getting paid for.

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  4. You forgot about the sync feature that is the only reason for me to pay for the .mac account. And it just doesn’t work. With each OS update it gets sometimes better, somtimes worse.

    I don’t understand why it is so difficult to synchronize bookmarks and mark the already red RSS items accross two clients.

    The best solution so far is to invoce the sync manually everytime I switch between laptop and desktop.

    Worth 99$ ? Certainly not. As you said, iDisk is so ridiculous slow, the homepage can’t deal with non-US characters (I once published a photo gallery from Aperture that contained some äöü). Really, what kind of
    service is this!

    I wouldn’t mind to pay for iDisk, sync and backup, however it must work much better and be fast.

    Cheers,
    Florian

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  5. Well, I just see that youre page does not support international characters as well. Please fix this. It is so frustrating to see that many native english people just don’t care about the rest of the word who use also other caracters than US-ASCII!

    A good start would be to have a fully UTF-8 capable filesystem/database and encode your page as UTF-8 instead of default.

    Put this into your HTML page header:

    You could also tell apache to use the right character set right from start using this directive:

    AddDefaultCharset utf-8

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  6. I too was a .Mac user from the days it was free. Last year I decided not to renew. Yeah I liked my mac email id and I had had it for about 4 years but armed with a new gmail account I decided that it was worth the trouble to inform all my friends about a new email id. I saved 99 dollars and spent some of it on a Flickr Pro account which I’ve found to be well worth it. I also decided to stop upgrading the OS every year. Another 129 dollars saved! So I’m still on Panther and until I upgrade my hardward I’m not going to waste my money on upgrading the OS every year. But then in a moment of madness I bought a copy of iLife. I have now resolved to stop that too.

    I’ve had a look at the Leopard page on the apple site and judging from my past usage and needs I think I can safely skip it! It’s taken quite a few years and the feeling of having been taken of for a bit of ride for me to get this way.

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  7. I’ve used a couple of trial accounts of .Mac during the past few years, and I have to admit that few things really exited me. Homepage was my favourite though, as it was an easy way to build good looking pages, with no software at all.

    It would be great if we had a bunch of online applications like photo managers, calendars, notes, webpage editors, mail etc. that integrate with OSX and iLife. But that would lead to potential problems for Apple and possibly for users as well.

    Having two versions of an application, i.e. iPhoto and iPhoto Online can be confusing at times. No matter how well you do it, an online application cannot share the same features with common computer software. So, the iPhoto Online will either be a visibly crippled version of iPhoto, or it will make it hard to the user to find the differences between them.

    Apple on the other hand needs to keep the focus on its Mac platform (hardware software). Rich computer-less apps (that have their equivalents in OSX, too) just don’t help. They’d give a portion of the Apple experience for the cost of a .Mac accounts, but the temptation to switch to Mac (without dot) starts fading.

    .Mac has to be improved though, but it has to be in a way that it doesn’t “compete” with current Apple software. And it has to be with features that are trully useful.

    Webpages:
    Apple could offer a domain name for every .Mac accounts. One click publishing to your http://www.myname.com would be perfect for everyone, wouldn’t it?

    Sync:
    Make it work better and sync more: notes, application preferences, folders, everything.

    Remote access:
    Log in to your .Mac accounts to gain access to your computer

    Space:
    The users need more space to play with.

    Muisc:
    Free songs for .Mac members. Backup purchased music from iTMS.

    Support:
    Get help from Apple via mail, chat (iChat) or phone.

    Member Benefits:
    The current .Mac features page mentions member benefits, but apparently these were never so important as to be mentioned by any user until now.

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  8. Ken – “Backup purchased music from iTMS.”

    Someone buy that man a beer. That is exactly the kind of KILLER feature that .Mac needs to adopt to differentiate itself from the excellent FREE offerings from Google and the likes.

    If Apple want us to fork out $100 a year, they need to provide something no-one else can. Currently, others can and are; and the alternatives are better & free.

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  9. Apart from the usual complaints about the whole thing I’d point out that new .mac membership is $79 from Amazon (US)…. about £40 in UK money. This morning I received my renewal letter from Apple….. for a shade less than £70 (almost $140 at the present exchange rate). Goodbye .mac.

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  10. I was an iTools user that left when it became commercial. About a year ago I got a free membership from Apple and I’ve been using it ever since.

    I really like it. I think it’s more useful than it’s ever been. I use Backup every day and really like the way it integrates with so many programs. I don’t use iWeb, but RapidWeaver and I don’t need an FTP account. I don’t remember having problems with their email and I really enjoy the authenticated SMTP.

    I like the Groups feature and see how the Learning Center could be very useful for many people.

    Ofcourse, there is always room for improvement. I’m definitely extending my subscription.

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