The notMac Challenge

by Matthew Russell

The notMac Challenge is a recent effort that aims to create the incentive for developing a .Mac replacement in exchange for $10,000. From the official website:

Since Apple decided to start charging for dotMac, I've spent $495 to keep some useful files remotely accessible on my iDisk and sync my bookmarks, address book and calendar between computers. While I find these features incredibly useful and convenient, I have no need for any of dotMac's web-based services, and as a result, I don't think I've been getting a good value from Apple. I know that workarounds exist that allow one to take advantage of dotMac's services without a dotMac account, but they require a level of technical proficiency that I just don't have. I've no doubt there are a lot of people like me.

The goal of the notMac Challenge is to create the incentive for someone to make an alternative dotMac solution available for the general public. Since this is something that could benefit a large number of people in the Mac community, I figure what better way to create that incentive than to invite anyone interested to contribute to the reward.

To make the stakes even richer, I'll match every contribution up to a total of $10,000. So, if you contribute $100, I'll double it for a total of $200. Hopefully, in a short amount of time, the prize pool will be large enough to encourage someone out there to liberate the less technically literate of us from the obligation to pay Apple $99 a year.

Sounds neat, doesn't it? It'll be especially interesting to see what kinds of developers step up and how all of the administrivia works out assuming geographically separated developers who don't know one another try to coordinate and manage the work to a schedule. Heck, just doing the "general contracting" for an effort like this could be quite time consuming if enough parties were involved. Still, $10,000 sounds pretty reasonable considering that much of this work could be pieced together with some existing high-quality applications and a relatively minor amount of custom scripting.

Of course, a fixed $10,000 prize doesn't address the recurring cost of web hosting for thousands of potential users, so perhaps that figure is just for the initial development of an out-of-the-box notMac server?

In any event, I wish these folks the best of luck. It's always exciting to root for the underdog.


2006-12-16 12:28:34
I wish them the best of luck.

.Mac is a bundle which I have no need for except synch - in which case it's just not good value for money.

2006-12-16 14:17:18
I think one of the goals is, or should be, for an implementation that doesn't depend on a central server. I'd be quite happy with installing this on my own server for my own private access.
In fact, a large part really just requires is an SVN client-side implementation to replace the dotmac syncing in which case, the server sync will be free (svnserve). In addition, SVN would be an improvement over dotmac because of the history. The web interface could then just be a customized viewsvn(cvs).
2006-12-16 17:20:26
Of course, a fixed $10,000 prize doesn't address the recurring cost of web hosting for thousands of potential users, so perhaps that figure is just for the initial development of an out-of-the-box notMac server?

It doesn't seem to say (from your quote at least) that the service has to be free, or, as another reader posted, centrally hosted. So if someone were to stick together the necessary open source components needed, and bundle it as an installer for anyone with a Linux / UNIX server ISP account (that offers the required software), then in theory that would count as a solution. Similarly if it was an installer for people with their own in-house server, ditto. Furthermore the originator simply said there were parts of .Mac that he/she didn't use and so didn't feel $99 was worthwhile. Presumably if (to make the maths simple) you were to offer the 50% that the originator finds useful (centrally hosted) but were to charge only 50% of the .Mac fee annually, then that too would count as a solution (albeit one with a subscription fee still).

2006-12-16 17:52:23
Good calls on the idea that the solution doesn't have to be centralized. That's a great twist. From reading the "Rules" section of the website, it appears that you're right. As for being free...the source code has to be free, although the licensing scheme wasn't specified:

Winner agrees to immediately make the source code for the winning entry freely available.
Mike McGranahan
2006-12-18 11:01:19
What would be more useful for me would be thorough client and server HOWTOs, including properly customized configuration files. that I can use to provide .Mac-compatible services from my home server, which already runs many of the server applications upon which the .Mac service suite is based.