.Mac Needs to Be Radically Retooled

by Hadley Stern Aug 17, 2006

When Steve Jobs announced Time Machine at the recent WWDC keynote one could sense that he was excited about something. After all, at first blush Time Machine is nothing but a back-up piece of software, much like the aptly named current Apple backup offering, Backup. The first thought that flashed through my mind was, “holy crap, Apple is finally going to get it. Steve and Co. will get that Gmail is giving 1gb away for free, Yahoo too, and, oh yeah, there is AOL’s recent 5GB for free annoucement. Apple is going to offer virtual backup space the same size as the hardrive you ordered.”

I was wrong. Time Machine lets you go back to files in your past. A very cool and sexy feature (and the interface don’t hurt either). Until you start thinking about disk space. If you start saving multiple versions of that photoshop file you could get in trouble. Quick. But this piece isn’t about the pitfalls of having access to previous versions. No, this is about the pitfalls of .Mac.

.Mac is a dinosaur of an offering that has been completely overshadowed by the web 2.0 offering both in terms of technology and features. Want to manage your family’s photos? I suggest Flickr, not .Mac. Creating album web pages is a pain with .Mac compared to Flickr. Want to allow your relatives to order photos in .Mac? Can’t. Want a way to quickly tag photos and make albums? Use Flickr. And, as far as I know it doesn’t limit how many photos you store.

Another .Mac offering is email. I think enough has been written about this, but suffice it to say Gmail’s free email offering smokes .Mac. So what does that leave? Not a hell of a lot.

Which is why I got so excited about Time Machine. When Steve showed that only 3% of people actively backup, I thought Apple is going to solve this! It hasn’t. So Apple you want to be bold, and make .Mac something worthwhile? Here is what you need to do.

First of all make .Mac free. Forever. No iTools switcharoo five years down the line, please.

Second, fill it with outrageously good features. When I buy a Mac I want a virtual disk housed by Apple that matches my hardrive size. Free. I want to be able to use that to backup my machine using Time Machine. Free. Now that would be a feature.

Third, port stuff to the web. If the whole web 2.0 thing teaches us anything it is that the web is the primary operating system of choice. People watch videos in YouTube, not Quicktime. We use Gmail for email, and manage our photos with Flickr. Create tools that integrate with the OS, yes, but whose primary interaction is the web. The homepage builder in .Mac is a good start, except that it has an old paradigm of building web pages. We don’t build web sites anymore, we build spaces online using wikis and blogs. iWeb is an excellent example of something that should have been web-based from the start.

.Mac as a distinct product should disappear, replaced by a suite of innovative web-based applications. Be bold with .Mac Apple. Stop thinking about how to milk users for every $99. .Mac membership when customers buy a Mac and yes, think different. Otherwise .Mac will soon be left in the dust by the Flickrs, Gmails, Pandos, and Youtubes of the world.


  • For my $69 I think .Mac provides a decent value. Mainly the syncing feature and integration with iPhoto and iWeb. Of course, FREE would be even better, or at least Apple could lower the retail price to $69 so I don’t have to order from Amazon when I renew each time.  The main feature I’d like to see added is the ability to allow family members to purchase photos and books. iWeb can also use more templates.

    GerberG8TR had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 4
  • WOW….

    I Really want to be a .Mac members. But the thought of virtual space same like my hard drives offered FREE its impossible. Apple will be broke if they do that i guess.
    Still for people in ASIA like me, having .Mac for $69 is quite expensive, and the fact that iChat can only use by Mac user is useless here since in my Campus Mac user is only 2people including me as far as i know. Damn you Apple in Malaysia, no advertisement at all, and the price is freakingly expensive compared to Singapore.
    iChat compatible with Yahoo Messanger or others!! That’s wat i’ve been waiting for.

    S-E-P-T-A had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 14
  • Tie .Mac subscription in with buying Leopard. Time Machine allows backup to an external disk, or Server… I think .Mac is a good server!

    Backup can tie very neatly into iSync, too. eg: If you backup your email to .Mac, it might as well be accessible via .Mac mail, right? So if I have 2 computers connected to my .Mac account… the emails could be entirely synced! (Not just account details and address book).

    Same goes for all my files - it’s not just backing up to .Mac, it’s giving me full access to all my files and applications on ANY MAC I LOG INTO, ANYWHERE. My desktop just has to sync with .Mac and it’s all happening.

    Now THAT would be cool. And talk about not caring if your (insured) Mac got run over by a bus… just log in to the replacement and keep going. You don’t even have to click “restore”.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 228
  • I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been used to the whole ‘free’ concept on the internet for a few years now, but I’d never ever pay £69+ for some internet storage space, a fancy @mac.com e-mail address - even if it is owned by Apple and done all fancy.

    However, I wouldn’t mind a .mac e-mail address with features similar to Gmail provided those features were superior to gmail.

    If Apple were to release a free .mac service, they could very easily only allow it to be used by Apple Mac users by simply submitting the computers serial number when registering.

    I’ve looked into the .Mac service plenty of times and while it does seem appealing, Hadley is right in that there are plenty of free and probably better alternatives available on the web.

    Aaron Wright had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 104
  • You listed 2 of .macs 25+ features and yes, you can go to 10 websites to register, and log on everytime to replicate about 90% of the features of .mac but only about 50% of the user interface ... .Mac is not for everyone but it’s a lot more than you think it is.


    jbelkin had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 41
  • Good post. I actually think that making .Mac free would bring MORE revenue to Apple.

    I posted about that a while back:

    John Koetsier had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 2
  • What you are really talking about, Greg Alexander, is an online offering of a Mac OSX Server account for each Mac client machine sold physically.
    This would automatically synchronize your home directory to Apple’s server (included in OSX Server for MacBooks) - this, of course, includes email; and just imagine the services for the equivalent of .Mac Family Accounts (or Entreprise Group accounts) : shared everything (address books, calendars, LDAP servers, etc.)

    Of course, then there’s the bandwidth problem ...

    Anyone else offer low-priced OSX Server hosting services ?

    Rup had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 6
  • I’ve read that “review” and I’ve used the 2 month trial of .Mac.  The idea that all criticism of .Mac is uneducated and misinformed is absurd on its face, particularly when the criticisms are factually accurate.  You do only get 1 GB of space.  You do have to pay at least $79 a year.  You can do what .Mac does easier and cheaper elsewhere.  That’s all true. 

    And just because some Mac-heads are more than happy to plunk down money to Apple for what they can do for free somewhere else, doesn’t mean that others are uneducated because they’d rather see Apple be more competitive.

    I did toy with the idea of getting a full .Mac account, which is why I signed up for the trial.  The single-click publishing from iWeb was the one and only compelling reason.  I am paying about that much for one of my domains, so the actual cost wouldn’t be any more than I pay now.

    But I’ve decided against it for a couple of reasons.  The main one being that I would be giving up a substantial amount of storage space, ease of use, my domain name, etc.

    Also, I have not once been compelled to use any of the other supposed 25+ features.  I use an extension in Firefox to sync bookmarks, and on all of my machines, not just my Macs.  I can access my Google calendar from anywhere without needing iCal.  Ditto my gmail account, which alone provides more storage than a .Mac account.  And with cheap harddrives, the backup features is slow and pointless.

    But the other, probably more important reason, is that I don’t like the way Apple ties functionality to an additional paid service.  iWeb with a .Mac account is absurdly easy to use.  iWeb without a .Mac account is absurdly difficult, unwieldy and proprietary.

    Likewise with other features of the Mac that require a .Mac account.  “Yes, you can have this functionality that should be built into the OS, but first fork over an extra $100 a year, chump.”

    I do not, however, think that it needs to be free.  If they offered WAY more storage, that would help.  Or if they cut the price to about $30, it would be a more compelling value.  While there are other features for free out there, .Mac does consolidate them and is relatively simple to use.  It’s just not worth $99 a year.  Not by a long shot.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Here is the problem with your scenario—all of the entities you cite in your piece rely on advertising to support their business models. Apple does not. And for the love of God I HOPE THEY NEVER DO!!! I would pay $200 a year for .Mac—because of its ease of use alone. The tired arguments you use apply only to the 1/10 of one-percent of users that call themselves “Geeks”. Normal people want simple, usable and elegant services and .Mac offers that—

    Please—can we talk about something else now. If you do not like .Mac then do not pay for it…please allow the rest of us to “waste” our money as we see fit!

    forejunk had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 1
  • All this talk about whether .Mac should or should not be “free” is missing one major point.  Even if Apple didn’t charge an annual fee for these services, it would not be “free”—you need to buy a copy of OS X or a Mac that comes with OS X to use .Mac at all.  Every time Apple releases a full version upgrade to OS X, we’re paying $129 (or whatever) for that operating system…an operating system which tries awfully hard to integrate .Mac features into the user experience.  There’s Backup, Mail, iChat, iDisk…still more with the iLife apps, iWeb, et cetera.  But having paid over a hundred dollars to get the OS, Apple wants me to pay a further hundred to get the full benefit of the OS I’ve purchased?  Sorry, no.  With this, as with the previously free features in QuickTime now available only in the Pro version, one feels Apple is trying to compensate for low market share by gouging the minority of loyal users.

    If Apple just simply raised the cost of the boxed OS (or a new Mac with OS X installed) by a paltry five dollars (a number pulled out of my hat) and considered a year’s membership with .Mac as part of what you’re buying when you buy the OS, Apple would have a much larger user base for the service and it would still be a revenue source—not “free” but not punitive either.

    RAB had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Um, last time I checked most of the Google services don’t show ads—or if they do, they’re unobtrusive.  Let’s see.

    GMail: okay, ONE ad, but it’s very discreet (just one line of text you can hardly notice).
    Picasaweb: No ads
    Google Calendar: No ads

    Last I checked the Google tools are ridiculously simple to use.  My mom (who once said my green CRT monitor was a “colored-display” monitor because green is a color—yes, I’m that old) has a gmail account.  If she’s a geek, I’ll eat a Mighty Mouse.

    I’m sure Steve Jobs will be happy to get $200 from you, if you want to give it to him; the rest of us poor unfortunate souls will rather spend our money elsewhere.

    MojoJojo had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 14
  • I would pay $200 a year for .Mac—because of its ease of use alone.  Normal people want simple, usable and elegant services and .Mac offers that—

    Would you fork over ANY amount of money just for ease of use alone?  What’s your limit here?  Because I’d imagine that “normal” people have a much lower threshold for anal rape than you do and probably wouldn’t count themselves among those happy to fork over twice as much money to Apple for a services they can get elsewhere for free.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Hmmm, yes very true, .mac does need a serious upgrade, and giving a free account to every mac user would be a great thing, perhaps a with streamlined services as well as a payed version with lots of nice extras.

    But seriously I think the idea of a backup account equal to the size of you hard drive is absolutely nuts at the moment. Can you imagine 100000 users with 250gig to 1 terrabyte drives simultaniously backing up their system? The bandwidth and storage would be astronomical! Somehow I don’t think this will be a free service for quite some time…

    musonica had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 2
  • The problem is very simple. 99.99% of Users in the united states DO NOT HAVE THE UPSTREAM BANDWIDTH to do anything cool with .mac.

    I can tell you something however… Apple has thought about this… How do we get a user to back up their entire drive on the net? Stream large movies? Peer2Peer. Apple plans to build a network where people can share upload bandwidth so that uploading and moving large packets of information around become easier.

    Until then even uploading a 50mb file for back with .mac sync times out, often because a broadband provider like comcast, times out, or people will start using downstream at the same time and have problems with it.

    brainchild2b had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I use many of the Web 2.0 applications, Flickr, Gmail and Blogger.  But I still have a .Mac account because of the Sync feature alone.  It has saved me several times when my drive blew up and when I lost my phone.  All my bookmarks and contacts were safely reloaded just as I had entered them.  I frankly do not want Apple going into the Web business.  They may eventually have to, but if the service is made free (Like it has been in the past).  They will have to deal with all the false accounts and public abuse that happens with such services.  Then there will be less focus on the innovations they do best.  Making incredible hardware!

    BlakeFox had this to say on Aug 17, 2006 Posts: 1
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