An Important Message for .Mac Customers

.MacIt probably doesn’t need to be said, but yesterday’s announced upgrades to Apple’s perpetually anemic .Mac service left me, and probably many others, pretty disappointed. Surely, this level of underwhelming, incremental improvement can’t be the most serious response to the changing world of online services that the company could muster. Can it? If so, it’s pathetic.

But! Such is life under the reign of Steven P. Jobs. Which is to say, he can’t provide magic and wonder at every single product announcement, can he? Sometimes all he has to work with is his infamous skill for making sizzle look like steak. Usually, it’s a trick that’s less transparent than this.


Mail Bomb

I’ve been waiting for a meaningful upgrade to .Mac forever, and I suppose I’m resigned to waiting longer. But I have to say, this announcement left me deflated. I was busy consoling myself with reassurances that life will in fact go on — regardless of what feature set .Mac offers — when I received a promotional email from Apple trumpeting the upgrades. It runs several paragraphs, and suggests that a copywriter spent a good deal of time attempting to put a positive spin on the news.

Apple Promotional Email

It occurred to me then that I could have saved them a lot of time and written a more succinct and accurate announcement.

Apple Promotional Email, Proposed Revision
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  1. lol, I thought your rewritten letter was a little harsh, but then again, I don’t use .Mac so I haven’t been awaiting an update forever!

    Love your site Khoi!

  2. You couldn’t have said it better.

    I think it’s shocking how much potential .Mac has and how little it’s actually doing. I appreciate the extra storage, but they only really upgraded it as a necessary component of iLife 08.

  3. I feel ya. It really does suck, and every year I pony up more cash in the hope that THIS year they’ll finally do something with it. Ugh.

  4. Here here! I signed up for .Mac once because of the syncing, but I just couldn’t justify paying $99 a year to sync. Now, I can at least sync my newsreader (NNW) and browser (Google Browser Sync) even if my calendar and address book get left behind.

    I had seriously hoped they would offer a free version of .Mac, but I guess it’s not in the cards. If there are 1.7 million people who all paid $70-100, then I can’t completely blame them, but they’ve either got to make .mac awesome or set it free. This life in limbo isn’t going to cut it.

  5. If my non-work email wasn’t tied to a @mac.com address, I’d move to a better service in the blink of an eye. Alas, I cannot, so Apple continues to coerce me into paying for something. I’m just not sure what that something is anymore.

  6. Yes I wasn’t that impressed with the service so never signed up. Looks like a wise choice.
    I use icalx.com to sync calendars. I believe this way you can also sync with Google Calendar. I back up my address book regularly (can’t find a free online sync service here). Amazon S3 also gives you space to back things up at a fraction of the cost. If .Mac wasn’t integrated into the OS then I’m sure people would realise it isn’t that great. That said for noobs it probably does the job well for not too much cash.

  7. Khoi,

    I ask this question, not to sound disrespectful in anyway since I am a .Mac member as well and a bit disappointed by the updates as well…

    But…

    I sat down the other day and actually tried to think of ways that it could be so much better and I really couldn’t come up with anything. Do you have any specific ideas on exactly what they could do to .mac to meat your expectations?

    At the end of the day I kind of just realized to myself that I’m paying $100 a year for a cool email address that has incredible spam filtering that I never have to think about… and that’s about the extent of it. I’m OK with that for now, but of course I’d love it if that $100 got me more… I just couldn’t think of any creative ideas on what that “more” could be.

  8. I wish the space increase would happen now so I could just have the extra storage NOW. I don’t like this waiting and periods of interrupted service while they are upgrading. :P

  9. Joshua – look through Khoi’s archives or do a search, he’s documented his desires for .Mac quite well.

    As for a cool email address — true perhaps, but gmail does the same thing for free. Granted, it’s not @mac.com at the end but $100 is a bit steep for that I feel.

  10. There isn’t anything truly compelling about the service – there never has been. When it was free it was neat but now it’s just something to throw your money away on. But for “mom and pop” it just might be perfect.

    As far as sync goes – I can live without duplicate bookmarks.

  11. I’m with Joshua: I hear a lot of people saying they want more from .Mac but very little in terms of concrete desires: what exactly should .Mac provide in terms of additional services and functionality?

    I don’t really need the email address or even synch (I only own one Mac), but the iDisk is worth $100/year to me now that it offers 10 gigabytes of storage. That’s a lot more than the 4 gigs I had with Strongspace for $200/year (I cancelled my Strongspace account as soon as Apple came out with the news).

    I do use iWeb when I’m too lazy to create a new photo gallery, and my siblings and I use iChat to keep in touch. There are other solutions for all that stuff but inertia is powerful; it’s not worth the hassle of cancelling.

  12. I would have loved to see .Mac go free. Imagine the lock that Apple would get on the entire “sharing” space if they had opened it up to non-subscribers? Imagine the number of teens that don’t have 100 dollars per year?

    I don’t think they should build a social network (maybe they should?) but, perhaps an always free version with the ability to upgrade. Like Flickr Pro.

    I really want to use .Mac. I just can’t justify it when there are better alternatives for less money.

  13. Joshua and Brad: As Naz said, I’ve mentioned specific frustrations with and suggestions for changes to .Mac before. Here are some of those comments. There are plenty more ideas too that would make .Mac helpful. How about getting it to sync wireless with iPhone? Or how about a dynamic DNS service? Others can fill in the blanks further, I’m sure. My point is: if we can’t imagine more Web services than what .Mac is offering today, then we’re not being creative enough.

    Mostly, I keep renewing every year because the synching functionality, while imperfect, works for my needs. Being able to sync calendars across multiple Macs, iPods, iPhone etc. is really helpful. I just wish it cost less.

  14. If Apple’s not careful they are going to end up with a significantly sized group of ex-.Mac users who will talk scores of people out of signing up.

    Some services have people who proudly proclaim, “I’m have been an XY users since day one!” But .Mac, not .Mac has a vocal contingent of ex-users who humbly say, “Hi, my name is Steve and I’m a Apple addict. I have been .Mac sober for 2-years.”

  15. I’ve read the suggestions but honestly they don’t seem revolutionary or even (to me) all that useful. I can’t get over the feeling that .Mac is a solution searching for problems. There are a few things it does well that some of us depend on (synch, offsite backup and file sharing via iDisk), but it’s hard for me to think of anything new .Mac could offer that would cause a lot of people to say, “oh, I NEED that!”

    It seems everyone feels there is untapped potential in .Mac, but in reality most of that potential is icing on the cake, little things that’ll make life a little easier and sweeter for some users, rather than big things that will turn it into the proverbial killer app. I hope I’m wrong, though!

  16. Hey I’d be intrested in knowing or hearing about what types of features you were hoping for?

    I have no .Mac account, but one of my big hang ups is that it doesn’t support php.

  17. I wasn’t so impressed with the “Design by M.Dell” iMacs either, I’m still quite happy with my all-white beauty.

  18. For syncing address books, I use SyncTogether. It does calendars too, though I haven’t tried that. Like all of MarkSpace’s products, I find it’s user experience flat: from the virtualyl non-existant trial to the bulky appearance and gauche interaction. Still, it actually works and at $50 its much cheaper than an annual .Mac subscription.

  19. I agree w Khoi. This racket is getting a bit old.

    However, for those of us who aren’t ready to relinquish our .Mac services quite yet, may I remind you all that Amazon sells this package for under $80. Still high, but not as bad.

    http://tinyurl.com/2ey3ms

  20. Nick: I remember looking at that. But it doesn’t sync easily between two Macs that are not on the same network, am I right? For instance, I regularly sync calendars between work and home with .Mac. From what I remember that wasn’t possible with MarkSpace’s SyncTogether.

  21. The new web gallery looks great in screenshots, but when I try to load it on any of my Windows browsers (besides Safari of course) it takes forever and you see this “loading” icon. It doesn’t load each thumbnail in a gallery like every other site with photos, it has to load them all. They’ve made ajax work like Flash.

    The worst is the iWeb blogs. I have a few friends that are so loyal to Apple they won’t get typepad. Using Pages or iBlog whatever to generate their blogs, it’s terrible. No HTML text – 2000px of image text, for every post. URLs from hell. Even Microsoft gets this stuff, their MSN spaces blogs aren’t great, but there’s no image text!

  22. While there could/shoulve have been more done for .Mac, you missed a couple of improvements they made. First, .Mac now does server side spam filtering. For those of us using iPhones, this is a huge deal.

    Second, the Web Gallery feature is a nice improvement, albeit one that requires you to purchase iLife ’08.

    And others are right, the real improvements are coming with Leopard – Back to My Mac looks to be very impressive and useful.

    I still think Apple should offer more storage (come on – Flickr will give you unlimited storage for $24.95/year). And the biggest needed feature is push .Mac email for iPhone. If Yahoo! can offer free push email to the iPhone, why the hell can’t Apple for $99/year?

    When you add everything together that .Mac will provide in October
    - Back to my Mac
    - Syncing of Email accts, bookmarks, calendars, contacts, widgets, preferences, dock items, keychains, notes
    - 10GB of storage
    - Domain support
    - Web Gallery

    … it starts to look a bit more worth the money. Of course, I’d still like to see stuff like PHP/MySQL support, but I doubt Apple will ever offer something that complex.

  23. I can’t speak for all .Mac customers, but personally, I’d be fine if they just halved the price. All I use it for is Sync and Backup (to iDisk); those are the things it does well.

    For everything else — email, photo sharing, groups?, iCards? —аthere are better (and usually free) alternatives out there.

    Sync and Backup are just useful enough for me to fork over the $100. That doesn’t stop me from cursing about it, though.

  24. I’ve been a .Mac user since it was free, and I continue to pay the annual fee even though I too am disappointed in, and surprised at, the lack of progress on .Mac application development. I have some very specific updates that I’d like to see, including this one:

    .Mac-branded version of Google Office (or Apple’s own solution) that integrate text/basic formatting with iWork. In other words, create a file in Pages, and within the Pages inspector, choose to sync it with .Mac. The text and basic formatting (bold, italics, etc.) are synced. Online, you’d only have the ability to edit text, while offline you can edit text and control presentation. The online version supports collaboration. Etc. Etc. Same would be true for Numbers and Keynote.

    Then iWork would function much like a .Mac email account with Mail and .Mac Sync. You can access your mail from multiple computers with Mail.app or a browser, and you get almost exactly the same thing on all of them. Wouldn’t the be great for iWork apps as well?

  25. Khoi: It will sync over the internet, I believe, though I don’t use it that way. SyncTogether isn’t entirely peer-to-peer, there is one machine that all the others sync through and so your clients need to sync to that one. I’m guessing work won’t let you run a server, so you’d need to have it on your home network and then have a stable way of contacting it, e.g. dyndns. On the local network, it just uses rendezvous for everything.

  26. Oh, and Back to my Mac is essentially a dynamic DNS service. Using it, you will be able to access your files over AFP or Samba, as well as anything else the Mac is currently sharing.

  27. To expand on that, Back To My Mac is wide-area Bonjour (dynamic DNS + domain service discovery). See here. The new Airport Extreme base stations support it, so if you’re behind one of those (or something else that supports wide-area Bonjour), Back To My Mac will even work for Leopard boxes behind a NAT router.

  28. I too, am an old .Mac hand from the free-as-in-beer iTools (ah, blissЁ) days. Heck, I even signed the ‘Keep iTools Free’ petition and wrote to Steven P. Jobs to bellyache back in, when was it — 2002?

    I keep it for the ease of syncing (which I don’t do all that often), ease of integration with such as GarageSale (tho’ FTP or GS’s own servers would no doubt suffice), but mainly for IMAP email. Love that I can pick it up anywhere in a desktop or (at a push) webmail flavour.

    I still think Apple should have a free .Mac email service and bolt on the rest, which was my POV back in ’02 and still is today.

    Still. Apple hasn’t added much to the service since then, so why even look at the pricing structure, eh?

  29. I think, for most people, what they don’t want necessarily is more features, it’s just that the features that .Mac provides aren’t even close to value-for-money. Make .Mac cheaper, and there’d be a lot of happier users out there. As it is—mostly because of the lack of alternatives to the syncing—people use it because they want the features, but aren’t happy about how much they cost, especially when the vast majority of the features can be found elsewhere for free.

    In other words, you pay $100 for syncing. iDisk, Mail, the e-mail address, .Mac homepage, etc, etc, are all trivially replaceable.

  30. @Joshua and other feature request naysayers…

    A list of potential features:
    1. 2-way syncing of iCal/Address Book and the web calendar and address book.
    2. Feature parity of the online address book and Address Book.app
    3. iTunes anywhere… let me upload some of my music and play it where I want.
    4. push IMAP, from what I understand, I can only get that on Yahoo Mail and an iPhone.
    5. Way more space. Bingodisk offers that much space for $20/year.
    6. Comments support for photo gallery and blog
    7. Merging of photo gallery and blog
    8. Plaxo style address updating/social-networking to keep addresses up to date if both people are .mac members.
    9. Speed

    And that is what I can just think of off the top of my head. I really think they should get a lot tighter with Google and have them backend most of the services. Google interfaces are so-so, but their backend technology is phenomenally good.

  31. With Apple’s new found fondness for google, why can’t they swing some sort of deal to give away that was the “old” .mac ( 1gb ) free to all mac owners?

    There is a lot of good things that could come from that kind of partnership. Google calendar syncing with ical, IMAP support under gmail, the phantom gDisk is actually an idisk?

  32. sync? backup? no thanks. i was an original user and had the service for 2 years back when i was enamored with 1-click photo album from iphoto. but not at 100/year. no more. i canceled. and you should too. send apple a message. but be warned. canceling .mac is difficult. they don’t want to let you go.

  33. So Apple has 1.7 million .Mac users? No doubt these people are well-heeled, educated, industrious. So: Sell ads, lower the price of the service, and grow the business. Apple’s .mac is competing with all kinds of FREE internet services. That’s why it’s treading water. That direct cost to the consumer must come down.

    Sell ads like ‘The Deck’, of course. Class act. Wouldn’t an advertiser pay a premium to reach the upscale Mac user with NO competitive ads in sight? Sure.

    But there’s one more thing…

    Open the service up beyond Apple. Wouldn’t Google love to sell some premium service that just works better on the scale of a smaller community? Maybe stuff they have already, but that they can’t bust out of the morass of services they offer already?

    What about all these internet backup services out there? Wouldn’t one of them want to work through .Mac for a completely transparent offsite backup experience integrated to Macs? What I’m saying is, .Mac would house an interface, directory and means of accessing files, but the data would REALLY be elsewhere, not in your .Mac account. Let’s face it, 10 Gigs ain’t enough, and the online backup biz will adress that (and it already is beginning to) much faster than Apple.

    Just thinking out loud about these types of services, and haven’t worked them through or anything. But then again, has Apple thought them through? My point is just that .Mac shoud be a lot more open source in nature. They have a critical mass of users. Lots of vendors would want to offer them something, for a piece of the action. Apple should encourage this. Apple should say: ‘Hey, want an icon on the iPhone home screen? Show us an idea that advances .Mac and you’ll have our attention.”

    Good to see how many people have done some thinking about this. I like the idea of a FREE level of service, to get people used to using it. Fine idea. I like iTunes anywhere, too.

  34. Sync OS X Address Book with all your other email clients by using Plaxo. A PC friend of mine turned me onto this program awhile back. I don’t have a .Mac account. If you get your friends to use it then everytime anyone updates their information it updates your book. The Plaxo icon sits in your menu bar.

    http://preview.plaxo.com/downloads/mac

  35. Gotta chime in here, as I feel bad for the much maligned .Mac…

    Two years ago, I signed up for an account – Not necessarily needed at the time, but thought I’d give it a go. I synced all my mail accounts, mail rules, prefs, bookmarks etc, and set up a 3am sync routine… I then forgot about it completely. Didn’t so much as set my .mac email account up.

    3 weeks later, my Powerbook died badly. Very badly.

    I replaced it immediately, but crap – everything gone – my bookmarks, my endless mail rules, everything. I then remembered I’d synced all that stuff a few weeks back. I grabbed Backup, launched and within 20 minutes was back working with all new machine n a near identical state to my previous one.

    The fact that 20 minutes after unpacking my replacement laptop, I could continue work was worth well over $99. It was worth hundreds of dollars.

    Now, with the disk space increase, I’m backing up my mail messages too… the only thing I lost (well, only a couple of weeks since my last archive)

    To me, $99 is worth that alone.

    —-
    (Yes, I know I should have a daily clone of my drive, etc, etc – but in *that* perfect world, my old machine wouldn’t have died anyway!)

  36. For the record, you can purchase a one-year subscription to .Mac (even a renewal) at any Apple Store for about $70, a savings of $30 compared to renewing online with a credit card.

    I’ve renewed my subscription this way the past few years (the tiny box comes with a code that you enter online, similar to an iTunes Gift Card), and I’ve been very happy with it.

    I happily use iWeb however, so I may get more out of .Mac than most people.

  37. I was one of the people who gave up on .Mac the moment it replaced iTools. Then I got a free account through work and started using Sync. My account is due for renewal soon and I was going to let it lapse, but the increased storage/bandwidth and promised or rumored improvements have convinced me to fork over the cash for another year. Back to my Mac, provided it’s truly secure, sounds great.

    My only advice for people who do decide to pay for .Mac is to stay far away from the current version of Backup. Far too many reports have reached the web of people who cannot restore from their Backup archives. A buggy backup program is worse than no backup at all.

  38. Hi, I read the older post about ideas for .Mac that Khoi posted, and this entry, and most of the comments.

    “I don’t like it much, but I renew anyway hoping for something to be different *sigh*” – seems to be a common comment.

    It’s simple: the same actions beget the same results. Or, more rudely: “The definition of insanity/stupidity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

    You who have said this should all immediately write Apple scathing letters iterating your complaints and dissatisfaction with the service, then follow up by canceling your accounts, en masse.

    They will either wake up, and change .Mac to get you all back. Or they’ll discontinue the service. Either way you’re not stuck paying for something you don’t like.

    How about I make you an offer you can’t refuse: I’ll provide you with a service you don’t like, but I’ll do it for $50 a year instead of $99. Almost HALF OFF!

    Seems silly now, doesn’t it?

  39. I was seriously considering finally buying my first Apple since the old, old, OLD one… but not now. I don’t like paying for something I don’t like… no matter what the cost.

  40. I couldn’t even finish reading this article or the comments.

    I’m STUNNED that people still feel like .Mac is overpriced. Before Tuesday, I would have agreed. But when they announced a ten-fold increase in storage space and an easy to use photo album collaboration tool, that was the answer I was looking for. I wanted a better value for the price I was paying, and they are now providing that.

    If any other service offers the combination of features and ease of use as .Mac, I’d love to hear about them.

    And here’s looking forward to the “Back to Mac” feature coming in Leopard!

  41. True. I really *hate* .Mac email because it lacks spam filtering. I have my .Mac address forwarded to Gmail so I can take advantage of their spam filter. The iDisk is so horribly slow that it’s useless (I use a 1 TB Buffalo Terastation on my home network). Their web server is useless since it doesn’t support PHP so I can’t run software like WordPress or Drupal; I use a Dreamhost account instead. Flickr is still much better than .Mac’s photo gallery.

    The only thing I use my .Mac account for is syncing my macs.

  42. The thing that bothers me most about .mac is that the truly useful utilities (comparatively that is) like Backup should be part of OSX to begin with.

    $100 a year per account is highway robbery. I’ve migrated everything to Google services (free, free and oh yeah, free – not to mention *better*) and what they can’t offer I can find for free in the OpenSource community.

    I love Apple but .Mac is a rip off.

  43. I don’t think .Mac is great, but I disagree with most people on this. As (a small handful of) people said before me, web gallery (photos and videos), email, cross-Mac syncing, and 10 gigs of space is worth $100 a year.

    Easily.

  44. .Mac is horrible, you know, i can sync addresses with such and such a service, sync bookmarks with another, sync spreadsheets with another, sync photo’s with another, have my email with another, my websites on another,

    gee, i can’t think of a single reason why i would want all my backing up and email and photo galleries and websites and work, and family projects and syncing of huge amounts of info on one simple site and 10 gigs of space and 20 megs of email transfer, with a click of a button on one site and all integrated…..and all simple..

    i sure wouldn’t want that kind of convenience for $100….. i think i will pay $25 each for 8 services, and sign up for free for another 8 more websites and passwords to replace what i have here… ya, that’s the ticket…

    geesh….

    i read through the list of what you would like too and what is missing is a respect for what you do get… similar to when you think of a child complaining about their dinner because they didn’t get peas, while their neighbors starve…

    thank god for easy websites, for my work, for my family.. thank god for 20 meg email attachments, thank god for 10 gigs of space…

    just plain old thank Steve Jobs…. if i had to use the “alternative” i’d rather dig ditches for a living…. and that is from the most sincerest place i can come from… be thankful for what we are given for a very low cost… i think Apple should throw it in for free for a year for every new mac purchase too… but i think they would get too much business that way…. because like you’ve figured out, they will figure it just is too invaluable to actually get rid of while we complain about what it lacks…

    Jon.

  45. Why does everyone pay $99 for it, when you get .Mac from Amazon for $69. I just buy the boxed .Mac from Amazon each year and simply enter the number in the appropriate box within my account page on .mac.

  46. I think what we’ve determined here is that like most products on the market, not everything is one-size-fits-all.

    Apple doesn’t have a gun to anyone’s head. If you can find a better deal than .Mac elsewhere, go with it. If you’re not satisfied paying $70 or $100 for .Mac, don’t buy it.

    As for me, I have no problem paying $70 a year for .Mac. And apparently there are about 1.7 million other people who thought it was worth the money. It’s not like Apple is misleading people about what’s offered, are they?

  47. “As for me, I have no problem paying $70 a year for .Mac.”

    But you aren’t paying $70.00 a year for .Mac.

    This year you’re paying $149.00 for it – at least to get the new features. To me, this is the worst part of the non upgrade upgrade that Apple just introduced. To take advantage of it after paying $500 for .Mac over the past few years, I have to spend an additional $79.00.

    When are they going to give us a break? I just bought a 17″ MacBook Pro last week…but I don’t qualify for upgrade pricing to iLife. Apple really takes us for granted.