Month: August 2007

.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.

Restaurant review: Stortini

El Gringo, the newest member of the eastside food empire run by the El Chile guys, was recently shut down and reconstructed as Stortini, swapping a sort of Mexican/Southern home-cooking menu for Italian. I’m not sure why they made the change—they seemed to be doing a good business in their previous incarnation. Perhaps the Italian menu lets them lower their unit costs, or perhaps the old menu was too hard for people to pigeonhole.

Regardless of why, Gwen and I are a fan of all the El Chile places, and finally got around to trying Stortini on Saturday night.

We started with an appetizer of calamari and a dinner salad. The calamari was somewhat oily and way, way too salty. Even Gwen, a notorious salt fiend, felt it was way too salty. Enoteca Vespaio does a neat trick of serving its calamari in a paper cone, which soaks up some oil. At Stortini, the calamari was in a bowl, swimming in its oil. Every restaurant serving calamari would do well to copy Vespaio’s trick.

The salad had good ingredients, but was waterlogged with dressing. And every table gets a basket of bread with white-bean paste, which was OK.

We wound up waiting unaccountably long for our pasta dishes. I had rigatoni with meatballs, Gwen had papardelle with portobello and three other kinds of mushrooms in a cream sauce (which our waitress volunteered was her favorite thing on the menu). My dinner was fine: a pretty basic kind of dish, competently prepared, with the whole thing being baked after assembly. I did not try Gwen’s (it had at least one mushroom on my can’t-eat list), but she enjoyed it very much.

Gwen also had a glass of wine. Total tab: $42 plus tip. Service was friendly, and apart from the long wait for the main dishes, prompt. Seating was immediate, in contrast with El Chile a block away, where there was a line out into the street. Final verdict: room for improvement. Since it’s right in the neighborhood, we’ll no doubt be seeing whether it does in fact improve.

Update: On our second visit, Gwen, a friend, and myself each had a Caesar’s salad; I had a penne and sausage dish, Gwen had some kind of ravioli with pesto, and our friend had gnocchi with lamb meatballs. The salads were excellent, and had an unusual lemony dressing. The main dishes arrived in a reasonable amount of time and were also quite good.