<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Is Apple's .Mac service worth the annual fee?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I upgraded from iTools for US$49, and I think it was worth that
price. Will I renew for another year in September? That depends on what Apple adds to the service by then (e.g. tighter integration with iLife apps for .Mac members?).
Apple is really good at pricing its products at What The Market Will Bear. For that reason alone, I suspect the question "Is .Mac worth the money?" will still be asked, no matter what services are added or changed.
Here's my .Mac review: (http://tinyurl.com/4nmf
In the beginning, Apple created iTools -- a collection of Internet services that was free to all Mac OS 9 users. The iTools suite featured Web-based e-mail, remote file storage and a Web authoring tool, but included extras like electronic greeting cards and a directory of family-friendly Web sites.
Apple recently expanded and relaunched iTools under a new name: .Mac. The bundle of services has been beefed up to include more e-mail and file storage, new backup and anti-virus software, plus a few extra features available only to OS X users.
Unlike iTools, however, .Mac is a for-profit subscription service. One year's worth of .Mac costs $159 (Canadian) -- a hefty increase from $0.
The individual bits that make up the .Mac service are not revolutionary -- you can get e-mail, Web authoring, anti-virus and backup software elsewhere, and you might even pay less for them.
The difference is Apple's legendary user friendliness and ease of use, and .Mac's tight integration with the Apple operating system.
.Mac takes complicated tasks such as Internet file sharing, Web site creation and data backup, and makes them easy and non-technical:
- "Homepage" creates attractive Web pages without requiring you to have any knowledge of programming or HTML.
- "iDisk" appears on the desktop like any other folder, making remote file storage and retrieval as easy as drag and drop.
- The @mac.com e-mail service can be used on the Web or with Apple's free Mail software. It supports both POP as well as IMAP, so users can also use other e-mail clients.
Apple also uses .Mac features to enhance the power of its own free applications. For example, all Mac users can organize and edit photographs using iPhoto, but .Mac users can do more. iPhoto is ".Mac-aware" and uses Homepage and iDisk to share photos on the Web with the click of a button.
The most useful tool in the .Mac suite is Backup -- new Apple software that makes it easy to protect important personal data. Backup uses preset categories called QuickPicks that locate and group similar files, no matter where they are stored on your hard drive. Backup automatically finds every Word document or Address Book contact with a single click, then copies them to recordable CD, DVD, or iDisk Web storage.
.Mac has other features as well, including iCards (electronic greeting cards) and the ability to Web publish calendars generated by Apple's new iCal calendar software. OS X users can synchronize their Address book and calendar data using .Mac with another new application called iSync.
Is .Mac worth the price? That's a hard question to answer. Despite the dot-com meltdown, many Internet users still expect something for nothing. iTools users who felt betrayed by Apple's move from free to fee say that any price is too high. Many users expressed interest in buying the e-mail service alone, but Apple did not provide that option.
If you compare feature by feature, .Mac looks like a good deal, at least for the first year. Yahoo! offers premium e-mail and Web storage services similar to .Mac's offering for $55 (U.S.) a year. McAfee sells its Virex anti-virus software for $60 (U.S.), and the most popular backup software for the Mac, Dantz Retrospect, retails for $50 (U.S.). These three items alone cost more than a .Mac subscription.
In the end, the success or failure of Apple's .Mac subscription service -- and Microsoft's new MSN 8 service, which has some similar features -- depends on how much consumers are willing to pay for Web services.
Before the switch, there were more than 2.4 million iTools accounts. As of Oct. 1, 180,000 people had signed up to pay for .Mac. Apple called the .Mac launch "a phenomenal success."