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LifeClever: Dot Mac needs more than a paint job

Apple finally revamps .Mac webmail, but does anyone care? » LifeClever

I have to admit, I'm solidly in LifeClever's corner on this one. They write:

The hatred for .Mac is not new in the [sic] amongst the Mac community. For me, .Mac is slowly becoming less and less valuable -- certainly less interesting -- as free services from Google, Flickr, and Delicious duplicate or nullify many of .Mac’s offerings. Of course, some things to like include .Mac’s ability to sync certain system preferences between computers. Still, it doesn’t seem quite worth the hundred bucks a year.

A few years ago, things like WebDAV were a novelty that was awesome but hard to find and setup, even on most shared server accounts -- I have four, and only one currently supports it out of the box -- but it's certainly not enough goods for the average user, even when you look at the other pieces of the .Mac offering. Not for that kind of dough.

I see the most value in .Mac: a) for people who are totally new to Our World, and who want idiot-proof integration between their Mac and the big bad world, and b) people who work on several Macs and can benefit from the hugely useful ability to sync files and settings on user accounts.

Part of the problem, in my opinion is that, in the absence of best-of-breed components, .Mac lacks any kind of meaningful focus. It screams "shovelware," with a "Meh+" lineup of apps and functionality that any power user can find elsewhere in both cheaper and more powerful services (Wordpress, rsync, Gmail, and Google Calendar all come to mind here). And really: how often are you sending out iCards and using the janky Backup? Yeah, me neither.

If it were my company, I'd give away a generic version of .Mac for free, and then make back some of the cash via additional disk and mail space. That's it. It's a customer retention and branding tool, and unless the pieces all were to receive substantial improvements (and constant incremental improvement, like their free competitors), it's cynical to pretend that it's worth $100/year to the garden-variety user.

But what if -- with better integration and more competitive pricing -- I could have .Mac running the day I turn on my new Mac, and then happily discover that I can seamlessly have my Documents and purchased iTunes Library backed up to a secure server every night? No, Apple doesn't want to be in the internet hard drive business, but, obviously, via things like the iTunes Store, they have a strong interest in seeing you love the idea of interacting with them and their servers long after you've made the final payment on that shiny new Mac. Dot Mac is the perfect place to make that happen: be my hub, and do it better than your competitors.

Because I treasure the sync functionality and like iDisk well enough, I doubt I'd cancel anytime soon, but, frankly, I think I'm an edge case. As new Mac consumers mature and begin to explore the wonderful services out there that are improving every week, the .Mac offering starts to look pretty lame.

And it'll take more than AJAX and pixie dust to change that.

Completely off-topic: What's the deal with naming your products Google-unfriendly names like "Mail" and "Backup" and ".Mac"? I've never gotten that.

jhn's picture

People rip on .Mac all...

People rip on .Mac all the time. I used to, too. I recently bought a .Mac account, though, and I love it. I am a multi-Mac user: laptop at school, iMac at home. .Mac is really, really awesome for me.

1) iDisk is really really cool. It keeps a local copy of itself on each computer that you use it with. This is better than box.net or Strongspace, which you can only access over a network. I keep all of my notes, papers and outlines on iDisk.

2) Also, .Mac includes IMAP mail. IMAP allows me to use Mail.app on both machines, and from the web. Full email archive everywhere. No rickety Mail.app here, Gmail there solution.

3)You'd be surprised, but something that works as well as iCal syncing is very hard to duplicate with free services like Google calendar. You can have an iCal that you publish through a free WebDAV account, but then on the other computers, it is read-only. And if you use Google calendar, you can only change it in Google calendar. With iCal syncing, I have read/write through iCal on the laptop and the iMac. And then I can still publish.

4)The other syncing. Address book and Safari. Safari syncing allowed me to quit using Firefox+Google Browser Sync. (The Google Browser Sync has nicer features, and Firefox can be nicely tweaked out. But I am a big fan of the OS X spell check and dictionary panel, which means that Safari still wins.)

5)Web hosting. You don't get a nice domain name, but the iWeb integration is really freaking slick for simple pages.

Anyway, compared with the free web services, sometimes it seems .Mac is not worth it. It probably is to expensive. But iDisk + IMAP + iCal syncing + web hosting still makes it viable.

If an eventual iPhone ever features .Mac syncing, you guys will all be singing its praises. The essential idea of having a server that keeps all of your information, while at the same time hanging on to a local copy, is really, really good. It gives you the advantages of using real applications like iCal and Mail.app while still giving you access to your information over the internet from foreign computers and the like.

(As sweet-ass feature would be allow iTunes to share music with other computers over the real internet if those computers are signed in to the same .Mac account. A kind of automatic VPN between computers on the same account. I mean, I can already stream music to myself using tunneling,etc, but it's way too annoying.)




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