This marriage of desktop functionality and network presence is exactly what I want in most applications, and .Mac, for all its deficiencies, is a powerful tool for making that happen. In fact, it’s really the only such available tool at the moment, at least on the Macintosh platform, which presents a kind of quandary.
On the one hand, we’re clearly limited to the functionality that Apple provides, and as their tending of .Mac has shown over the past several years, this service is clearly low on their priority list. On the other hand, any third party developer or group of developers are free to create their own independent service to compete with .Mac and, hopefully, provide a more robust environment for synching innovations. With a concerted effort, it really wouldn’t be that hard to displace .Mac at all.
Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic — though not out of the question — for us to expect the the latter to happen, at least in the short term. The market is probably insufficiently large for anyone but Apple to make money selling net-based synchronization to the minority of computer users that use Macintoshes. Maybe the worst scenario would be that some attempt at an independent or open source synchronization service is made by a community that ultimately splinters, resulting in separate, parallel and not necessarily compatible schemes — in which case users would have to maintain the overhead of at two or three duplicative synchronization services on their machines. No one wants that.
Really, the best solution for everyone, at least in the short term, would be for Apple to just get its act together and pay some attention to .Mac. I’m as sick of complaining about it as you are of hearing my complaints.