Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

.Mac—a missed opportunity

A post on oreillynet got me thinking about .Mac, Apple’s online thingy for mac users. Apple recently updated it, and while the updates are nice enough, I think Apple is missing an opportunity.

I don’t know how many people use .Mac. I get the impression that not many do. It seems overpriced for what you get. So what do you get? An e-mail address and web mail. Online photo galleries and web pages. Remote backup, storage and (for some apps) syncing. Apple just increased the available storage from one gig to ten, and added some other features—”groups” (sort of like Yahoo Groups or Google Groups), domain-name hosting, and upgrades to the existing features (the photo album is pretty slick).

All this for the not-very-low cost of $100/yr. Apple is competing with two other alternatives here: free and generic.

There are free groups, free photo hosts, free mail services, free blog hosts, and so on. Of course, these are all ad-supported. And they’re good: Gmail’s webmail is considered by some to be the best mail client out there—web-based or local. It’s hard to compete with free, especially when it’s as good as it is. Admittedly, a lot of people get a little creeped out by having their data mined by Google, and putting their entire digital lives in Google’s hands.

On the generic side, for the price of a .Mac subscription or less, you can get a web-hosting account that gives you access to a Unix shell, more storage space (at Dreamhost, which notoriously oversells, I’m getting something like 250 GB of storage, of which I barely use 1%), web-based management tools, and access to the whole panoply of web-side apps, like WordPress, Drupal, Gallery, and so on. So it is possible to duplicate most or all of what .Mac does using open-source software that gives you more control and potentially broader functionality. Not everyone wants that level of control or needs all those features, but there are a lot of WordPress and Movable Type blogs out there, a lot of bulletin-boards and community sites, and so on. Clearly it’s not a small market, and I’d bet it’s a lot bigger than .Mac.

So, given that .Mac is not free and does not offer the same level of functionality as the other options, what does it offer? I see two things: All the templates for information hosted on .Mac look great (although the underlying HTML can be scary), and it has good integration with the client. Pretty much what you’d expect from Apple.

.Mac has been around in some form since the Internet first caught fire, and at that time, the kinds of things that regular folks would want to do online were not well-established. .Mac (originally “iTools”) was speculative in that sense. Some things, like photo galleries, turned out to be correct. (Although even there, flickr has shown us how photographs can be the nexus for communities, in a way .Mac can’t approximate.) Others, like remote backup, haven’t really panned out yet because A) the service doesn’t offer a meaningful amount of storage, and B) most of us don’t have a sufficiently fast upstream connection to make it practical. .Mac has changed and expanded its services, but hasn’t always kept pace with trends in Internet usage.

The recent updates to .Mac seem nice, but do not tempt me. What would tempt me would be if Apple offered the same slick client-side integration, but tied into a more generic hosting service—one where I can install a WordPress blog or a Drupal CMS.

8 Comments

  1. Agree in full. .Mac isn’t meant for people who are particularly savvy (as your analysis suggests). I often thin that anyone with a @mac.com email address is just about in the same level of new to computing as the old @aol.com is.

    There’s nothing wrong with that level of expertise in knowing about and using Web services, but just not for the likes of us.

  2. Agree overall that Apple could do much more with .Mac. BTW, Apple said there are 1.7M .Mac subscriptions.

    Why would I pay extra to use .Mac when there’s so many other choices? It would be because:
    1. I don’t want to look at random ads.
    2. I trust them with my data, both in securing it and not improperly using it.
    3. I can count on them being around for a long time.
    4. I want simplicity in setup, security and primary use with my Mac, iPhone, and AppleTV (soon), but also some access from other non-Apple Internet-connected tools.
    5. As one who appreciates Apple, I like having a mac.com address.

    I like what they’ve done with Web Gallery. And I’m leaning toward get a subscription (at $70) when the coming Leopard feature of using .Mac to get to my home network/computers from anywhere arrives.

  3. Gotta agree with Mark here. As a Mac tech, I need a .mac email addy and I pretty much like the features of .Mac
    *When renewal time comes, I usually get .Mac for $79 from Amazon also…
    iDisk is where more work is needed. It is blazing-fast using Transmit… slow as a dog using Finder. We’ll see what Leopard holds in store. I assume “Time Machine” will take the place of Apple Backup.

  4. I couldn’t disagree more. The real value of .Mac has got NOTHING to do with the damn email address – there’s countless free email providers out there. What a .Mac sub brings is:

    1) Seamless automatic syncing of address book, calendars and bookmarks between a laptop, two desktops and a cellphone. Prior to .Mac, it was nightmare – “Oh, that address is only on the laptop”, “Oh, I don’t have the humber on my cellphone”. Now it’s irrelevant – anything entered on one is populated to all the others automatically, immediately. And setting up a new system is SO easy – after a clean install, it ‘becomes’ your machine in seconds. These features alone would be worth the money.

    2) Automatic online backup for all three three systems.

    3) Incredibly idiot-proof photo posting for family-style albums. I run five other sites for pro stuff, but nothing is faster or easier than .Mac for popping up photos of a holiday for the parents.

    4) That email works really nicely, and doesn’t feel like webmail.

  5. In fact, you can sync information between a Mac and a cellphone without .Mac. iSync does this without a .Mac subscription (though in my experience, it isn’t perfect). And it strikes me as ridiculous that mac-to-mac syncing should need to go over .Mac. If I had multiple machines I needed to keep in sync, I might cough up for .Mac, but like others, I’d resent it.

    I feel that Apple is reinventing various wheels with its photo galleries, blogs, web pages, etc. I think they’d get more bang for their buck, and appeal to a wider audience, if they built client-side tools to integrate with independent open-source projects and provide some lower-level access. This might sound like the kind of thing that only appeals to geeks—and that might be true. But Apple has a history of doing things that appeal to geeks, who then become effective evangelists for Apple.

  6. Agreed. The only thing I use .Mac for is syncing and as my Apple ID for the iTunes & Apple stores. I really hate .Mac email because their lack of spam filtering makes it useless. I just forward mine to Gmail, which has excellent spam filtering. The iDisk is horribly slow; I use a Buffalo TeraStation 1 TB on my home network for backups. Their web server is useless because it doesn’t support PHP; I use a Dreamhost web hosting account instead. I’ll probably switch to an iSync alternative and cancel my .Mac account.

  7. I love .Mac because it is easy so I use it more.
    I use it to backup important files
    I use it to host an ad free web site. I am sick of web ads and am put off by sites that have them. IMO someone who visits a site should be treated as a guest not a mark.
    I use it for syncing.

    I am not interested in researching and learning alternative ways to do things when I can pay $100 a year to have someone else do much of the work for me. I have other pursuits that require my dwindling brain cells.

    Alternatives are great for those with the energy to pursue the them.

  8. i am a very happy dotmac user. i wouldn’t want to be without it. i admit that my lack of web expertise and net savvy plays a role, but i like having picture galleries, writing a blog, syncing address book, calendars my two computers, photocasting my “recent favourites”, sending documents from my computer at home to my computer at school via idisk, automatically backing up settings and more (i use backup.app a lot -not just to back up to idisk). a couple of years ago they also offered all sorts of free software incentives that i enjoyed, but there hasn’t been anything like that in a while.

    perhaps i _could_ figure out how to do all this with open source tools and use dreamhost service. i would have more control, i would spend more time and get less elegant results. i _could_ use gmail and have my messages scanned for advertiser keywords… instead, i happily choose to pay the 69$ *(i only buy dotmac from amazon when they have it on sale, hasn’t failed me in 3 years) annually. there was an online challenge called notmac, i think that looked for elegant replacements for dotmac, but so far noone has come claimed the prize (http://www.notmacchallenge.com/). i when and if they do, i will certainly consider dropping dotmac.

    that said… i think that every new mac should come with at least 6 month free trial of dotmac. the larger the community, the better it can be. one more thing.. i think dotmac should have an optional, true “member central”, a la facebook or flicker or something. where the dotmac community can reach each other and easily find what other dotmac users are posting and contributing.

    all the best.

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