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  • Are You Ready to Ditch .Mac?

    June 3rd, 2008

    When Apple introduced a free set of Internet services several years ago, dubbed iTools, I jumped at the chance to have a genuine mac.com email address. When it morphed into a $99 commercial service, dubbed .Mac, I’m sure many of the early adopters opted out, and I was quite frankly the fence.

    But I still have my membership and will probably renew it for another year, but still I wonder why I should bother, because it doesn’t give me a whole lot of value for the money.

    Sure, using .Mac’s sync services works nicely, so my contacts, email accounts and Safari bookmarks are kept uniform between my desktop and note-book Macs. Some of the other applications I use also take advantage of Sync Services to provide a similar level of consistency.

    To me, however, the most important element remains that email address. It’s not that I couldn’t live without it, but it serves the useful purpose of providing an external backup address, in case our Web servers go down and take along our email capabilities with it. At least there’s a method to my madness.

    On Monday, however, I began to regret that decision. For several hours, .Mac email was partly or completely offline. Sometimes I could retrieve the messages via the Webmail interface; other times even that didn’t work, and the error messages made no sense. At no time did I see any announcements about a service outage, though I readily concede some of you might have.

    If this was a one-time occurrence, no problem. Things happen. For example, one of the datacenters at The Planet, a large hosting provider that handles one of our Web servers, had a fire several days ago in one of its huge power systems, knocking thousands of customers offline. No, we weren’t affected, since the server we use is in another one of The Planet’s facilities, but things happen, and you can see where outages may occur.

    However, .Mac doesn’t depend on a single server farm in a single location, so you’d think there would be sufficient redundancy to handle the load if one of the datacenters has a problem of one sort or another. Surely, Apple cares if you can’t get the service you paid for over a period of hours on end, but there’s no official Service Level Agreement (SLA) that guarantees you a specific level of uptime, as there would be with a conventional Web host.

    In contrast, if you subscribe to one of the paid versions of Google Apps, the SLA is the industry-standard 99.9%, although most of these agreements have sufficient wiggle room to get the service provider off the hook except in the most extreme cases.

    However, if Apple wants to expand and improve upon .Mac, reliability has to be job number one. It doesn’t matter what sort of glitzy features they provide if you can’t depend on the service being online when you really need it.

    At the same time, Steve Jobs admits that .Mac hasn’t been given the proper level of attention in recent years, which signals, to me at least, that he wants to change things rather drastically.

    What sort of changes would that entail? Well, beyond the assurance of industrial-strength reliability, certainly your email and general file storage ought to be increased. I mean, Gmail is free, yet you get over 6GB of storage. If you opt for the paid version of Google Apps, at $50 per year for each user, the storage increases to 25GB, and that’s strictly for your mailbox. Even with the gratis version of Google Apps, there is a calendar, instant messaging client, and a set of productivity apps that are reasonably compatible with Microsoft Office.

    So should there be a return to free for Apple? Well, I suppose you’d have to put up with inline ads to pay the bills, just as you do with Gmail’s Web interface (the ads are optional in the paid versions of Google Apps). However, I wonder if Mac users would accept that level of compromise.

    But even if Apple wanted to continue to charge you annual fees, $99 is way too much for what’s being offered. Right now, even $49 might be a stretch, but I think the estimated one to two million members would increase manyfold as a result. There really ought to be some enterprise-level features as well, such as push email, along with collaboration features to make .Mac a low-cost alternative to Microsoft Exchange.

    Yes, I realize that Exchange support is coming in the next iteration of the iPhone firmware, and that lots of businesses demand it as the condition for buying iPhones in large quantities. Apple made a good business decision there, and certainly Microsoft is doing well too, courtesy of whatever license fees they earn, and the fact that they’ll sell lots of costly Exchange Server licenses too.

    It’s also a sure thing that there are many small businesses who don’t want to invest in their own email servers, or pay large fees for hosted Exchange servers elsewhere. Certainly this is ripe territory for Apple to mine if they decide to go after this market.

    At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with having the simple Web site builders, online greeting cards, and all the rest of the .Mac goodies for consumers. Indeed, ntegration with iLife and other Mac apps is a good thing, and this double-focus will only help .Mac come into its own.

    But, as I said early on, regardless of what Apple does, I just want the thing to work.



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    17 Responses to “Are You Ready to Ditch .Mac?”

    1. Dan Willis says:

      I think you’re forgetting the #1 reason people still have .mac accounts – you need them to use iChat’s video feature. That’s something I use almost every day. Quite frankly, I don’t use much of the rest of .mac, but iChat I can’t live without.

    2. Skype has decent video. And it’s free for computer to computer calls.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Dan Decker says:

      @ Dan Willis, Sorry but you are wrong. iChat video does not require .Mac. The video calls work just fine between free AIM accounts as well, personal experience has bore this out.
      As to the point of the article, I’m really tired of hearing people deride .Mac as not being worth it. If that’s the case, then drop the subscription. I personally enjoy the fact that it allows my wife to publish a website that has pictures and videos of the kids. There are worse things to do with $8.25/mo.

    4. Adam says:

      Yes, video does work with an AIM account. Since so many of my friends had my AIM info before iChat came out, I don’t use my .Mac account and I video chat all the time. Also—independent of .Mac—you can use the Leopard iChat software to control “share screen” another Mac over an AIM connection. I troubleshoot for most everyone I know and this is a very handy component of iChat. The other day I was trying to explain iTunes library management to a visual learner. I requested to share their Mac, they gave me permission, and I did what they would needed, they watched, then they did it while I watched. Very useful feature.

      What is the most used feature of .Mac for me (besides email)? Back to My Mac, hands down. For me the ability to manipulate the Mac at my house from my office without configuring anything is more than worth $8.25/mo. I do this 3-5 times a week to launch tasks that I want to have done when I get home. It only takes me a minute or two each time, but it is very handy!

      Adam

    5. Sponge says:

      My only question is, will I able to keep my current mac.com email address? People know I use Macs, and when I tell them my address it’s easy for them to remember. MobileMe.com is silly and potentially hard to remember, and Me.com is just silly. Here’s hoping we can keep using mac.com.

    6. Mario says:

      I like .Mac for the sync features, the email (aliases) and the iDisk for transporting or keeping backups of documents. I also like the fact that it doesn’t have advertisements for junk products. That reason alone is worth the money. If I make a website on .Mac it’s only my content that’s featured, and people viewing it don’t have to be bothered by stupid ads.

    7. Carl says:

      I just looked and I have been a dotmac subscriber since January 2000. Yesterday was the second time, I think, that I couldn’t get my mail for a period of time. The first time, I think it was an hour. Yesterday, it was spotty, but pretty much down for 3 or 4 hours. Not bad for 8 years.
      For $100, I host my business website, my wifes business website and have a fully integrated method of backing up key documents and keychains. Never had a problem about bandwidth and visitors, and when I need to, I can just mount the iDisk and drag and drop files. No FTP required. I can add video and web galleries painlessly through iMovie and iPhoto and it produces fast, professional looking sites for business and personal use.
      It is painless, and no computer is reading my email so it can serve up ads.

      Anyway, I came here to say that articles questioning .Mac reliability seem a bit disingenuous, and then questioning the cost seems almost ridiculous. It’s one of the least expensive items I ever deal with, and helps me generate business. To me, it really costs nothing. I spend more on coffee.

    8. Rob says:

      Why oh why are you people paying $99? You can routinely find .mac for $69 or $79 on Amazon. Granted that’s still pricey, but it’s less than $99!

    9. David says:

      When I see Me.com all I can think of is Microsoft and what might have been the most unreliable OS of all time.

      As for .Mac I renewed last year expecting improvements. We got more storage and Back to my Mac, which I find works really well for me. Sync remains my most valued feature. .Mac costs less than 30 cents a day. Reading articles complaining about the cost of .Mac costs me more than that.

    10. carl says:

      well, i broke down and bought .mac about two months ago and have felt a nagging sense of regret ever since. as a backup? well, i use jungle disk feel like i’ve got unlimited backup for virtually nothing (granted, i don’t have a lot of data; but i’ll soon reach the .mac limit). e-mail addresses? well, they’re like an opinion (or some part of the body): everybody’s got one. iweb? too many limitations and i say that as someone who’s got a very basic website (and i don’t write code or work w/computers for a living) (switched to rapidweaver and am keeping it moving). b/c i don’t have a second mac (yet), i don’t sync. and while i can see, of course, how valuable it is to sync — $99 a year? anyway, if the rumors are correct and .mac goes “free” in july, then i’ll definitely ask for at least some of my money back (which is about as likely as george bush sending scott mcclellan a christmas card … but it worked for the iphone folks so it could happen).

      as for people “complaining” about the cost of .mac — look, something is valued at whatever you’re willing to pay for it. but one can’t be surprised that, in our culture, people will always compare the cost of a product and its value (to them). i’m no luddite, but i’m no computer geek either; and if i see .mac’s limitations i’m not surprised that others do. apparently, even apple feels that .mac’s “value” has not kept up with .mac’s price.

    11. Dana Sutton says:

      Am I the only person alive who actually likes .Mac? a.) I’m not too crazy about the legal theory that if you use an e-mail address supplied by the people you work for, your e-mail is their property. .Mac gives me a handy alternative. b.) I want to be able to have off-site storage for what I laughingly thing of as my misson-critical data, which fits comfortably within the .Mac limit, and I want this uploading to be done as prescheduled uploads in the background. .Mac allows this in a reasonably hassle-free way. Add these two things together, and I think I’m getting my money’s worth. Yes, occasionally .Mac or its mail servers go down, but so do everybody else’s.

    12. bc says:

      If this rumor pans out, it’s good news. I’ve always thought .mac was overpriced and its value has steadily decreased as free options multiplied. If they keep it paid, it should come free with purchase of AppleCare, iLife, or paid versions of OSX.

    13. BDJ says:

      I’ve been using .Mac since its inception. It is not worth the $99 a year I pay for it. Now usually I don’t let myself get strung along like this, but I really don’t want to change my e-mail address.

      Every year I hold out hope that Apple will do something drastic to this lame service that even Steve Jobs has a narrow interest in.

      My current subscription is over in 2 months. If nothing is introduced next week, I’m done. I’ve paid $700 over the past 7 years for a .Mac e-mail address and several features thrown at me. .Mac basically hasn’t been updated since 2001. We have a few more web page templates than we started with, but that’s about it. Oh, and Back to My Mac which no one including MacWorld can seem to get to work.

    14. Dave says:

      Why oh why are you people paying $99? You can routinely find .mac for $69 or $79 on Amazon. Granted that’s still pricey, but it’s less than $99!

      That’s exactly what I do.

      I don’t use all of the .Mac services, but with what I do use and having mac.com email addresses makes it worth it to me.

    15. gopher says:

      I think you’re forgetting the #1 reason people still have .mac accounts – you need them to use iChat’s video feature. That’s something I use almost every day. Quite frankly, I don’t use much of the rest of .mac, but iChat I can’t live without.

      Apple allows you to keep your .Mac account name, and videochat capability without having to pay for .Mac. Also AIM accounts can use it if both users are using the proper versions of AOL and iChat.

    16. Avinator says:

      I signed up for .mac the great storage and sharing capability. The other day I tried to uplload 2 gig of pix and files.. I was shoked on how long it took… So.. no more uoloading for me and no more .mac for me next year.. I can publish my photos on flickr…;) and use Bens Crush FTP on my mini to share anything I want to share…cheers !

    17. Well, look at it this way. There’s always hope that MobileMe will offer better upload speeds. That assumes, of course, that your ISP isn’t the limiting factor. Did you consider that?

      Peace,
      Gene

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