What’s Wrong With .Mac and How to Fix It

by James R. Stoup Jun 23, 2005

When looking over Apple’s .Mac service I always come to the same conclusion: “Cool features, good implementation but for $100 it’s just not worth it.”

And that’s a really big problem. Because iDisk has the chance to be so much more and if Apple doesn’t get a move on it then Google is going to come in and snatch up this glowing opportunity. But I will leave Google and their ambitions for another article. Instead lets focus on what .Mac does well, where it could improve and whether or not any of that will ever happen.

The Good

Mail, address book & Sync:  This is a nice way to keep everything organized. If you find that you need to regularly update/sync information from between your Macs then this feature is very helpful.  The tight integration allows you to never be without the phone number of your aunt’s neighbor’s partner’s favorite hairdresser.

Support, learning center:  Useful for people who are new to Mac and need some help getting around. The problem with this feature is that it becomes less useful over time. Since Macs don’t really have that many problems you aren’t going to visit this section much. Plus, once you figure out how to solve those issues that do crop up hopefully you will remember the solution and not need to go back.

The Bad

Homepage, iCards:  Nice idea but worth $100? Not hardly. There are plenty of free alternatives out there and given a choice most people would be more than happy to go with the non-Apple stuff and save that wad of cash for something more useful.

And The Ugly

Bookmarks:  Useless. Well, for me at least it’s useless. Maybe you get quite a lot of mileage out of this feature but not me.

iDisk, backup:  This is actually a great idea. You pay to have a remote server that you can store lots of important files on for recovery later. Plus, it has Apple’s polish and integration, which makes it even slicker. In fact, everything is going along smoothly until you see the just how much storage your $100 has purchased: 256 MB. My reaction was something along the lines of “what the heck?” You see, I can go out to CompUSA and get a 160 GB hard drive for $100. Kind of makes that 256 MB look really pitiful in comparison. How could you actually pay for that kind of service? 256 MB? Damn, why not just carry USB jump drive around? I am sure you could get one for under $100.

The biggest problem with .Mac is that Apple offers no compelling reason to buy it. I use gmail for all of my email needs and it has 2 GB of storage (quite a bit more than .Mac’s 1/4 GB) oh, and did I mention its free? Same thing goes for homepage, icards, the learning center and the support pages. They are nice, but I can get the same features from other sites for free. So, when one boils away everything that can be had elsewhere for no cost, one is left with the realization that .Mac just isn’t worth the price. In fact, if you pay$100 for .Mac then Apple is raping you something fierce.

But what could they do to fix this problem? Well, here is what I would do:

Mail:  Take a look at gmail and then Applefy it. Bump the storage up to 5 GB, throw the gauntlet down and proclaim to the world that .Mac users have the biggest mailbox period.

IDisk:  Every .Mac user now has 100 GB worth of storage to play with. With hard drive prices as low as they are there is no reason why $100 won’t buy you at least 50 GB of server space. But let’s assume for a moment that Apple is going to be generous so we will stick with 100 GB.

Specials: Being a .Mac customer entitles you to special sales from Apple. They post (not email because that would be too close to spam) hot deals on a member only page which you can shop from.

Eye Candy:  Desktop patterns, screen savers, widgets, etc. These are nifty little things that you get free just for being a loyal customer.

Discount: Automatic 5% discount off every purchase at the Apple store.

TKS: The kitchen sink. By that I mean all of that other crap that Apple bundles with .Mac, it works ok now so there is no reason not to bring it back.

If Apple were to try something along these lines then .Mac sales would improve drastically. People would suddenly have a reason to purchase their product. As it stands now .Mac is a cobbled together pack of marginally attractive features interspersed with completely useless crap and ultimately hamstrung by its unbelievably miniscule storage space. Here’s hoping Apple wakes up and does something to improve this potentially useful service.


  • Hmmm.

    The features I find most useful in .Mac are:
    1) iCal syncing - great for me and my wife to share calendars

    2) iDisk backup. I backup my most important files to it. Like 90% of the population, I don’t keep an offsite copy of my backups - I should no better than anyone - so that’s why I use the iDisk. What good is a 100Gb HDD backup if it gets wiped out in the same fire as your computer? Is 256Mb enough? Yes because anything more than that would take too long to upload.

    3) Backup software (Yes, I use it because it’s the only one I’ve found that handles open files well. And you have to be with .Mac to get the backup to disk feature) How much would it cost me to buy a backup software that handles open files? Maybe even more than $100.

    4) An email address plus 5 aliases. And mac.com to boot - that strokes the ego! smile

    I can get all of those from other sources (and some of it for free)but when you add it up and the fact it’s all in one place, maybe for me the $100 is worth it.

    I strongly disagree with you belief that they should increase the email storage to 5Gb.  We shouldn’t encourage laziness in keeping email boxes tidy.

    I do agree tho on the Homepage stuff. I find it terribly slow and the photo upload doesn’t work properly all the time eg I’ve had to recreate pages and all photos disappeared once for a while. A nice easy to use CMS would be a good feature to add to Homepage.

    Also, the iDisk backup isn’t 100% unreliable also. For example, just after Tiger release, it didn’t work at all. Seems 10.4.1 or .2 fixed that.

    You also make the mistake of saying each component costs $100. eg “...how much storage your $100 has purchased: 256 MB…”  For me, I found 4 features that make it worth it. So in simple terms, my 256Mb costs me $25. Searching Google, prices start at $27 for a 256Mb USB drive. So $25 is reasonable - especially given that it’s a remote backup

    So, for me, I’m happy with the value I get for my $100 but totally agreee some things need some serious improvement

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • I’m a happy .Mac customer. And if you don’t find bookmarks being sync’s useful you must have missed the point on this feature.

    I absolutely love having all my bookmarks sync’d between work and home. And with the advent of Tiger, I can now sync my RSS feeds like Applematters across multiple machines.

    Or, if I find an interesting article at work and don’t have time to read it, I can just bookmark, sync and then read it at home or vice versa.

    If you work from home, it might not be so great a feature, but even then there can be advantages (like easily finding links to show people away from your computer).

    Or what about if you want to reinstall your system for some reason? I do this often out of hobby and it’s great being able to simply turn on .Mac and there’s a bunch of my essential stuff. A few less things to worry about in reinstalling.

    So for me, there are 5 features I use on a daily basis, equating to $20 each. That’s worth it.

    donovan had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 19
  • Man you didn’t even get into the Family Pack feature. $179 for five .mac accounts. AND THE SAME 250 MEGS STORAGE!

    I left last year (paying US $400 a year with 1 gig of space), got a webhost with a domain for $90 a year for 2gigs of space. Unlimied email accounts, ftp etc… Use free Galerie to upload photo albums through iPhoto no less. On and on how irrelevant .mac is to mac users.

    Apple is nuts. Again a great idea that languishes for corporate lack of interest. I bet a nickle .mac will be shut down with 2 yrs.

    mozart11 had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 35
  • iDisk isn’t mean to be the Hard Drive to End All Hard Drives™. 250 MB might seem a bit low for $100/year, but the one major thing you never pay extra for is bandwidth. You can sync, move, upload and download as many files as you need and you never pay an extra dime for your bandwidth. The iDisk is meant to store those documents you need at work on the way out the door, or those new songs a friend recorded, and then effortlessly (read: EFFORTLESSLY) sync then between two or 20 of your Macs. No usb keys, no firewire cables, no extra thought as to which file is the most recent and where. Everyone keeps bringing up Gmail but Gmail doesn’t offer IMAP service, which is a painfully incredible value to those who need it. Webmail and POPmail can take a long walk off a short bridge; I got over deleting 5 copies of brand new messages from email apps across 5 computers roughly about 5 years ago.. and web interfaces? Don’t even get me started - they’re about as clunky and cumbersome as Windows. Yes, even our beloved Google’s.

    For $8/month you get effortless file syncing, fantastic IMAP email service (with features like aliases I have yet to see implemented as well) and a wealth of other “don’t need to think or blink about it” web and file hosting services. .Mac isn’t aimed at people who need 10 terabytes of storage with a dynamic flux capacitor and on-demand file reomgrification. It’s aimed at doing a few specific things with an absolute minimum of effort, if any at all. You need to store your entire life’s hard drive contents online? Go use streamload for that.

    David Chartier had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Actually, I think bookmarks could be quite useful, if the feature actually worked right. I don’t think it’s ever synced correctly for me. It gets some of the bookmarks, but never all of them.

    daver had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 13
  • They need to add another feature. At the present time you can’t a real domain name point to the dot-mac website.

    Apple needs to work a deal with GoDaddy.com or one of the other domain registrars to bundle domain registration with a dot mac account.

    That way you can use your dot mac account for your church website, club website, small business website, etc.

    - Dan Ashley

    Dan Ashley had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1
  • i find .mac very useful and handy.

    the only cons i find is the price and the GB… i have 1GB for my account, but i wish 1-2GB would be incl. in the $100 anual fee…

    i use 90% of the features, and the homepage feature could be a little more advanced in features for building the main menu. also the bandwith once content is up could be better, people report to me that they get 100-200kbit dl speeds, but most have 3mbit dsl lines that support 375mbit dl speeds, so there still room for improvement…

    smokeonit had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I use .Mac for the synchronization of Bookmarks, Addresses, Calendars, Mail accounts, iDisk contents among all my Macs, including the one I use at the office.  I find this incredibly convenient. 

    The 250MB of iDisk space is constraining, and I’d like to see it raised to 500MB or 1GB, but that’s not much of an issue for me.  It forces me to make decisions/prioritize just what I want to save, and that’s find. 

    I’ve observed that whenever the amount of server space is increased, it’s quickly filled, because people feel no need to constrain themselves.  If they want to save years of useless junk online, fine with me, but I already have enough junk on old hard drives at home that I still haven’t gotten around to deleting/cleaning up.  It’s just so much easier to buy a new HD.

    Apple promised some new Widgets for .Mac users that have never showed up.  They’ve also provided some games for periods of time, then removed them, encouraging me to download quickly those items I’ve liked, but it seems a bit cheap to me.  Hard disk storage is so cheap these days, you’d think they’d leave the feebies online indefinitely.

    There are a number of other services/features/software available to .Mac users that others use, but not me.  It’s the synchronization that keeps me paying up each year.  If they drop that, I’d probably drop the service.

    Dave Marsh had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 44
  • Here’s what I would like from .mac

    1. Up the storage to 500 MB, that’s all. E-Mails are not large and you shouldn’t be sending files through email anyway.

    2. Add some advanced features to homepage. Allow the use of your own domain name, add php and mysql support with a nice front end made by apple.

    3. The ability to create iPhoto/Homepage templates with ease. I create the design, and plug in some {insert images here} template code.

    4. Add a junk mail button into webmail. Have the ability to sync that info with your computer at home/work. I use webmail.mac.com when I’m at work because I am on a PC.

    5. Get rid of iCards.

    6. .Mac only articles and features. Get a staff (hire me for this) that evaluates new apps, shows off cool Apple tricks, tech support with an attitude…blog.mac.com or something.

    7. Reward software developers for adopting the .mac sdk. Send them gifts or discount coupons.

    jcontonio had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1
  • my frustration stems from wanting to turn an alias email addy into a “regular” email addy. i used this alias as my primary email addy (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) easy to remember, why didn’t i use that originally?!). i followed the instructions and bought an additional email, only to find out that (because i had the alias) i couldn’t create the new email using the same ID (makes sense). so, i deleted the alias and then tried. nope. still couldn’t. and several emails to customer support (how about phone support for a $100/yr product apple?), all i got was canned responses that didn’t answer my questions, and only offered an “unfortunately…we’re sorry for any inconvience” sentiment. so i’ve lost that email addy, and now i have to go back to all my (predominantly pc/windows colleagues that i rant and rave about apple to) and tell them i lost that addy and there’s nothing aplle can/will do to get it back for me. i am a huge apple fan otherwise, but i do not think i will be renewing my (nor my wife’s) .mac account (oh, i asked about combining them…you can’t; you have to cancel one (ie, lose some portion of your annual membership fee) and start anew with a family account).

    sgardner1970 had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Great article. I don’t agree with everything, but we all use technology differently. With that said, the vast majority of this is spot on.

    For me, I would be happy and continue with .Mac if:

    1. They actually made it a quality product. iDisk is too slow to use. Syncing is embarrassingly buggy in Tiger and really doesn’t work.

    2. Up the disk size. As pointed out, this is the most obvious value comparison. Learn from the brilliance of Google—most people will use a fraction of the space offered to them, so you lose little offering people a lot and make the value proposition much higher. Plus, disk space is dirt cheap.

    BWhaler had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 1
  • mozart11

    The family pack is not 250MB space it is 250MB for Primary and 100MB each for 4 others. This means it is 650MB of storage.

    So it breaks down like this for me.

    $60 250MB primary account
    $30 each for 100MB secondary accounts.

    Better yet, every year Apple offers a deal so my actual cost was $150 for .mac family making it $50 for primary and $25 for each secondary.

    Your hosting example just makes it clear how crazy the author was and how reasonable .Mac really is. As an individual you can get 1GB of storage with WebDAV access for $120/year (if you buy .mac at a discount and add drive space). Sure you got 2GB for $30 less but it is not as integrated into the OS and that is worth something. If you add in the value Apple has given in free software (Virex, iBlog, Backup, PhotoStudio, The Sims, Sims expansion, Marble Blast, WingNuts etc.) and software discounts as well as other incentives and training,  and the premium doesn’t seem like much at all.

    People who think about “fixing” .mac need to remember that it is not the storage space, but the bandwidth that is expensive.

    I’ll give a counter proposal as to how to increase .mac sales.

    First, I’d say that storage could be increased by maybe double but this is something that Apple and all hosting sites will have to do every couple years. Bandwidth gets cheaper each year and as it does Apple should pass that along to it’s members.

    Replace the family pack with a low cost, reduced storage offer and a discounted addon package. There is no reason to pay for 5 accounts if you only need 3 and there is no reason to not allow a family of 7 the same benefits as a family of 5. So at todays storage levels. I’d price it something like this.

    Standard 250MB - $79
    Add On   100MB - $19
    Individual   50MB - $29

    I’d further, Give away 1 year individual accounts to everyone who purchased a new mac and allow them to upgrade/renew to a standard package for $50 anytime during that year.

    As for general improvements to the system.

    Better secure collaboration. Right now you can password websites and your public folder but Apple should make it possible for .Mac to honor application level passwords. To understand what I mean here are a couple examples.

    1) Allow me to authorize users to access and update my Calendars, Address Book etc.

    2) Allow third party developers the same interface so that I could give access to something like Mac Family Tree to certain family members for update.

    3) Filemaker database could be hosted and support user level passwords.

    4) iBlog hosting.

    The list of possibilities is nearly endless.

    Doug Petrosky had this to say on Jun 24, 2005 Posts: 26
  • Thanks for the update. I appreciate it. I may do the family plan then.

    mozart11 had this to say on Jun 25, 2005 Posts: 35
  • If only there were a $8 per month plan.  It’s a lot easier for folks to fork over $8 per month than $100 in one lump sum.  I use .Mac and love it - I feel it’s worth every penny just to have sync capabilities across 3 different Macs.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it was using Outlook from my companies POP based email site and having to track email while on the road, I would never get half of them, let alone having to copy my contacts every time I left town.  For me and my purposes, .Mac has been a godsend and well worth a lousy hundred bucks - and I’ve never used more than 7MB of the online storage for files or anything (a 1GB jump drive does that for me).

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jun 25, 2005 Posts: 112
  • Logic 7 at $1000 offers incredible value. At 1/10th the price, .mac has never seemed like a value to me for what it does. I have renewed every year since iTools days, but what the author says rings true for me. Regardless of the convenience of iDisk, etc., I’m still waiting for .mac to sell me on itself. I have to say, I’ve always had the feeling they’re phoning .mac in.

    cs1 had this to say on Jun 25, 2005 Posts: 1
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