.MAC – Time to Leave

My .Mac subscription expired this week. It finally outlived it’s usefulness so I didn’t renew. It’s almost a good service but just doesn’t justify the cost. Your needs may vary and for some people it would be worth the cost. Here’s what .Mac includes and my impressions of it.

For the $99 yearly subscription (less from other retailers) you get 1GB of storage on Apple’s servers. This space is shared by all .Mac services. The space is split in two and you can allocate the space between email and everything else. You can upgrade at additional cost. To max out at 4GB of space will cost $200/yr.

Mail

.Mac mail is web based email that was upgraded to be web 2.0-ish in the past year. I’m not a big fan of web emails but I found .Mac email to be well designed and responsive. .Mac email supports both POP and IMAP and comes with five aliases that can also be set up. Naturally Mail.app sets up a .Mac mailbox with minimal effort. Email addresses use the mac.com domain.

The mail aliases are a nice feature. You can set up an alias to use in situations that might generate spam. You can then set up a filter to automatically file email sent to the address. If it attracts to much spam you can then delete it. .Mac does prevent alias churn by making you wait a week if all five of your aliases are used and you delete one. Another nice feature is the ability to turn an alias off. Mail will not be delivered when it’s off but if you need it again you can turn it on.

The bottom line is that the email service has some nice features, integrates well with Mail.app and has a nice web interface. The aliases are a nice bonus and it has IMAP support. But many of those features are available from free services or included by ISPs.

Address Book

.Mac includes an address book which can be synced from your Mac’s address book. The address books integrates with the web email. It does not need to be synced with a local address book in the event you want a separate address book for the web.

Sync

Sync serves two purposes. You can sync information from you Mac to the .Mac service for access via the web and you can sync information between multiple Macs.

Bookmarks, calendars (iCal), address book contacts, passwords (keychains), and Mail accounts, rules, signatures and smart mailboxes. You can choose which options to sync, it’s not all or nothing. If bookmarks are synced they can be accessed and used from any browser from a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.

If you have multiple Macs you can set up each one to sync to the same .Mac account in order to keep the data the same on each of them. Syncs can be scheduled to be at certain times or frequencies as well as “always”.

iDisk

iDisk is disk space on the .Mac servers which can be used by various Mac software apps in addition to just being a place to store files. You can also create public iDisk folders which can be accessed over the web. These folders can be password protected.

You also have the ability to have your iDisk on your local Mac and sync it to the .Mac server. In this configuration you’re working with a local disk and get the speed advantage. The iDisk should sync in the background. This is the one .Mac feature I had a problem with. iDisk would have problems when uploading changes, especially with large files. It would frequently fail with an error several times (over several hours) before succeeding. I had these problems with both cable and DSL. Because of this I didn’t use the option to save the iDisk locally but if you use a laptop you probably need it if you use the iDisk.

iDisk works with Backup, iWeb, iPhoto (for Photocasting) and Homepage. There’s also a Windows program that allows iDisk access from a Windows PC.

Backup

Backup is a simple but useful backup program that I’ve already written about in this article.

iWeb

I have a fondness for iWeb in that it’s what got me my first website. There are some great websites done with it that prove it’s possible to build complex and high-traffic websites with it. But these sites usually need more than iWeb has to offer and they aren’t hosted on .Mac. But this article is about .Mac and what .Mac does for iWeb is make it easier to publish a website.

One of the options in iWeb is to publish the site to .Mac. When you do this the website is copied up to .Mac without any further actions required. Once it’s published you’re given the URL that’s needed to access the site.

.Mac makes it easy to use iWeb to quickly publish a personal website or blog. There’s support for RSS feeds, comments, photos, podcasts and movies.

iPhoto

You can publish a “Photocast” from iPhoto to .Mac. You select an album in iPhoto to Photocast and people can subscribe to it to see changes when they are made.

Homepage

Homepage is a simple, template based web page creation tool. It predates iWeb and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it go away now that there’s iWeb. It’s features are pretty limited.

Additional Perks

.Mac may include various benefits at times. In the past (but no more) they offered Virex anti-virus and at the time my subscription ended they were offering various Garage Band Jam Pack Samplers. You can also publish iCal calendars so other .Mac members can view them.

Finally, you can create .Mac groups which is a website structured for use by organization or people interested in a single topic. The groups are template based and allow sharing calendars, photos, files, slide shows and messages.

Summary

Most of the .Mac features are pretty good, but most have free alternatives that are as good or better. But if you want several of the features it may be worth the cost. For example, the photocasting may be a perfect way to share pictures with distant family. The recent (well, less than a year ago) upgrade of mail seems to indicate Apple wants to keep .Mac alive but it could use some enhanced features or a lower cost.