The .Mac Tax

by Chuck Toporek


Okay, let's get one thing straight here: I am a paid .Mac member, so I have every right to bitch and complain. In fact, I've been a .Mac member so long that I remember when it used to be called iTools. And like most .Mac members (and long-time Mac users), I remember that fateful day in 2002 when Steve Jobs announced at Macworld New York that the iTools service would be renamed .Mac, and that it would no longer be free. But, hey, you'd be getting all this great stuff to go along with it.




That was then, this is now.




According to Macworld magazine, there were roughly 2.4 million iTools users when Apple made the switch to .Mac. Granted, a lot of those 2.4 million "people" were probably like me, folks who registered multiple iTools accounts for various reasons. (I'll admit, I had three iTools accounts, one each for my wife and I, and another that I used strictly for extra iDisk storage.) And according to Steve Jobs' keynote address at Macworld San Francisco last week, there are now over 1 million paid .Mac members. (Keep in mind that Apple switched iTools to .Mac back in July 2002, and they're just now up to 1 million paid .Mac members. Even if half of the iTools members had two accounts, that still means it's taken Apple 3.5 years to get to the million-member mark.)




So the question of "Why has it taken Apple so long to reach 1 million paid .Mac members?" comes to mind. Well, the first reason would be the cost of the service; $99 per year. When you take a free service and suddenly put a price tag on it, people will jump ship, and in this case, people jumped ship in droves.




Before I wrote Inside .Mac, I asked a lot of paid .Mac members what they were using the service for, and the majority of those people said email and iDisk storage. So, at the time, they were paying $99/year for 15 MB of IMAP email space (with a 3 MB/message maximum size), and 100 MB of iDisk storage space. That's a lot to cough up annually for just a couple things you would normally get for free with your ISP. One obvious way around the email storage issue was to set your client to use POP instead of IMAP, but that takes away the "email anywhere" feature.




As I tried to point out in my .Mac book, there's a lot more to .Mac than meets the eye. At the time the book was printed, email and iDisk space were the same, but you also got Virex for virus protection, Apple's own Backup application for backing up your data, the online HomePage tools, and the iLife applications iMovie and iPhoto just started to have built-in integration with .Mac.




Also, if you looked in the folders on your iDisk, you'd find a folder called FreePlay Music, which included hundreds of music tracks which you could use, for free, in your iMovies. To me, the FreePlay Music tracks alone were worth the price of the .Mac membership. But now they're gone, and so is Virex. In fact, Virex 7.5 was so brutal on the system that Apple quickly withdrew it as a benefit application, and now when you look at what you get with .Mac, you won't even see Virex listed anymore.




So, just what am I getting for my hundred-bucks-a-year? According to Apple's site, this is what you get with a .Mac membership:




  • Publishing with iWeb (requires iLife '06).

  • iDisk storage of up to 1 GB of space that's shared between your iDisk and .Mac email account.

  • Groups (and each .Mac Group you create takes up a minimum of 30 MB of storage space from your iDisk!)

  • Sync (built into Mac OS X Tiger's System Preferences)

  • Member Benefits, such as discounts on select software and free samples from the GarageBand Jam Packs.

  • Access to Apple's online Learning Center, some of which is available without a .Mac membership, and some just for members.

  • Photocasting (requires iPhoto 6, found in iLife '06)

  • Backup 3, Apple's own backup application which you can use to backup data to your iDisk, to your hard drive or an external disk, or to CD or DVD.

  • Mail, available as IMAP or POP (default is IMAP), and shares storage space with your iDisk.






There's also a .Mac Family Pack, which lets you set up and manage up to five .Mac accounts, but we won't cover that here. Instead, I'm choosing to focus on the single-user .Mac membership.






When you think about it, .Mac costs you more than just the seemingly $99/year membership fee. Let's see, I paid $2000 for hardware, $99/year for .Mac, $79/year for "upgrades" to iLife so I can use the .Mac features, and now .Mac has been bound into the OS, so I'm paying, on average, about $129/year for OS upgrades as well. Forgetting the price of the hardware, at the base level, .Mac is costing me -- roughly -- $300 per year! Now, American Express has a trademarked slogan, "Membership Has Its Privileges," but so far with my .Mac membership, I'm not really seeing those "privileges."




When things like the FreePlay Music get unceremoniously dropped, when Virex starts uncontrollably running processes on my system and brings it to its knees, and when the online HomePage tools suck so much that Apple realizes they need to come up with another solution (iWeb), and then charges you for that solution, there's a problem!




I already have a Google Gmail account that gives me, what, 2.5 GB(!) of email storage space for free, and there are lots of online storage sites that offer way more storage for less or free (if you don't mind bloated ads being served up in your face).




So what's the .Mac Advantage?




From what I can tell, the only .Mac Advantage (and granted, this is a big one) is tighter integration with iLife and the OS. And while that integration with Mac OS X is nice to have, it makes me more dependent upon the OS and the iLife applications (iMovie, iPhoto, and now GarageBand and iWeb) than ever before. And at the very base level of just the cost of a .Mac membership and yearly "upgrades" to iLife, I really find myself asking if it's worth paying $179 a year for.




If .Mac is going to be so tightly bound into the iLife apps and the OS, then a .Mac membership should be bundled in with one of them. Well, at least that's my opinion. Right now, iLife costs $79 per year with no incremental upgrade cost (which really chaps my hide, but I'll complain about that one later). Why can't Apple charge $129/year for a version of iLife that includes a .Mac membership? Or why can't Apple charge $159 for an OS upgrade (the last two system upgrades for Panther and Tiger were $129 each) that includes a .Mac membership? Doing either one of those would greatly increase member retention and add a bunch of new members to the service.




Granted, I can see where this might be an accounting nightmare for someone at Apple if they have to split hairs to push funds over to the .Mac team, but still, it's simple enough math that my 9-year-old nephew could figure it out and make it happen.




The way I look at it, I'm being taxed to the tune of $100/year by Apple to have a .Mac account, and that's not really fair. I've been a faithful Mac user for years, and I believe in supporting and evangelizing the platform just as much as many of the other Mac faithful out there, but this to me just seems wrong. .Mac offered more in the way of services and "freebies" to its members in the early days than it does now. If things like "Publishing to the Web" and "Photocasting" are listed as member benefits -- and are only available by purchasing the latest copy of iLife -- then those really aren't "benefits"; they're add-ons that cost me a fee.




Do I feel like I'm getting my $99.95/year out of .Mac? Nope, I don't. Will I renew again next Fall? Most likely; mainly because all of my friends have been reaching me at my mac.com email address since I registered the account name with my iTools account long ago. I don't want to give up that address, but I don't think I should have to pay $100/year for it when I'm already buying a new copy of the OS and iLife annually.




Apple should put an end to the .Mac Tax and just roll it into the OS or iLife. It makes more sense that way. Well, at least that's my opinion; what say you?




Should Apple roll an annual .Mac membership fee into iLife or future upgrades to the Mac OS X operating system?


59 Comments

skipc
2006-01-20 10:21:41
.Mac
Back when I was a "Helper" —vDog—on the Apple iBook Support Forum, Apple required that we maintain a public email address, but would not provide us a free .Mac account for said purposes. That after providing hours+ per week of "Free" online support to it's Support Forums. Kind of cheap, I thought. They did send us a free Apple ball point pen, unfortunately mine was not left handed....skip
jlz113
2006-01-20 10:25:48
.Mac webmail
I like you, also was one of the original members back in the day when it was free. Now...also like you, I continue to pay the "tax" but only because I like my easy to use and consisent-through-the-years email address. My biggest .Mac complaint is that the webmail interface does not offer "filters" (rules). Apple has a lot of potential with .Mac, but like the lack of filters, misses out on offering serveral basic services that could make all of the .Mac users much more appreciative of this "tax."
tflight
2006-01-20 10:34:39
I propose a ".Mac Pro" subscription
I think Apple should offer .Mac Pro (http://www.timflight.com/apple-software-expense/) account where you get .Mac, iLife, iWork, QuickTime Pro, and all OS updates during your subscription year. Make it like $199. I'll buy.
invalidname
2006-01-20 10:36:27
Yes - include a year of .Mac with iLife
You're absolutely right - the tight coupling of iLife with .Mac makes each worth remarkably less without the other. And .Mac is the red-headed stepchild in this arrangement, with its services not even comparable to some free rivals (GMail for mail, MySpace for web space, pretty much any photo-processor for hosting pictures, etc.). I think many of those one million users are just there out of inertia - my family has three years of the kids' pictures up on .Mac, and until someone offers a simple and compelling migration tool (which would NOT be hard, hint hint), we'll probably stay just to keep the grandparents off our case. Still, .Mac is probably the least valuable $100 purchase I make each year.
jeremy4321
2006-01-20 10:47:20
Bundled with iLife
It would be nice if it was bundled with iLife if many of the features are bound to iLife. However, That would raise the cost and kind of dilute the value of the web based stuff. I'm thinking that many mac users have an email address and possibly web storage elsewhere. So paying a tax on top of an iPhoto update also seems heavy handed.
I think there could be a lot more to .mac - more of a community possibly. The learning center seems okay, but come on, once you have a halfway decent knowledge of the OS, it's pretty useless.
I wish they would offer more free stuff...I wonder if they could start offering MS Plus package like stuff more - kind of like the Jam packs they currently offer but more. They could offer basic games that are not currently on the mac - such as solitaire - I had to shell out money to get a decent version of solitaire for the mac because I was tired of booting up windows in a virtual pc to play it...what's up with that. So maybe lots of fun little games that can only be for .mac users.
The problem is that if they offer it there, why not offer it to all of their users in the Mac OS. It's a fine line to walk I suppose. I'm just considering ditching it next year if I'm not using more of the features this time next year.
markgrimes
2006-01-20 11:02:31
.Mac is low-power for a high-price
Call me crazy but...


.Mac is a total ripoff. The premium you pay for 1-click capabilities is upsurd. What amazes me more is the number of technically competent people in the OSX community that actually use it -- not just an account to work with the SDK, but actually use it for their email and website.


Compare that to the cost of TextDrive (http://www.textdrive.com/) . $12/montb, same disk space, host databases, multiple domains and ssh access where you can run anything from php apps to ruby on rails. Add a StrongSpace (http://www.strongspace.com/) 4 gig account for $8/month and for $20 a month you have 5 gigs of storage on SCSI disks (versioned with rsync/ssh capabilities on StrongSpace) with all the trimmings. It's no wonder people choose hosting elsewhere. Not to mention you can stick up Subversion, Instiki, lighttpd and each TextDrive account has an iCal WebDav capability.


With .Mac you are clearly paying an excessive premium for doing things you could otherwise do with rsync, launchd and anacron to keep your Mac in sync.


Clearly, .Mac is aimed at the non-geek, cannot program the VCR population... I don't know why geeks are flocking to it, if they are. I was hosted there for a couple years (admitedly) and then decided the value of iDisk and syncing was not worth 4x more money for static web content hosting. There are far better solutions out there for those that need more power for significantly cheaper. Granted it's not 1-click publish, but I would imagine people that are reading this feed are not my [grand]parents which the .Mac service was clearly aimed at.


The only people I can justify .Mac for are the computer illiterate to be honest. Unfortunately Apple is in the business of making money, so they indundate you with .Mac hooks across the OS and iLife. I tried iLife 06, it's great if you are on .Mac, but otherwise... meh. I gladly switched to Aperture and left iLife for my wife and her .Mac account which is more her speed. She doesn't care about the fact she can't host a full-flavor weblog on her .Mac account or have any interest in being a control freak with DNS hosting, fine-grain Mail control (spamassassin, etc), or use web application / ajax, etc.


The justification falls solely on is no-effort syncing setup and idisk really worth the inflated cost. The rest of the services clearly are barebone to say the least.

daddydoodaa
2006-01-20 11:19:39
I'm cool with .mac
If you're renewing your account, then it's worth it to you. Your money talks. In fact, you're making money right now complaining about .mac.


You don't need iLife 06 in order to use .mac. You don't need Homepage to create your web pages in .mac. You don't even need a Mac to access your iDisk...


Besides iLife, other applications can use .mac. In addition to iLife apps, I use StickyBrain, ComicLife, and Quicken off the top of my head. These are non-Apple apps.


.mac is worth the $8.25 a month for me - or 27˘ a day...


If it's no-go with you, then simply don't renew. Put your money where your column is.


But then what would you write about at next renewal time?

macrat
2006-01-20 11:30:38
e-mail & web space
Apparently markgrimes will freak out, but I buy .Mac just for the e-mail address and the web space. I don't care about the tools integration stuff.


Years past I ran my own server and recently I decided I just don't want to have to mess with it anymore. Nor do I want to deal with a co-lo.


$99/yr to avoid being a server admin or home ISP bandwidth limitations is a small price to pay.

harpoonflyby
2006-01-20 11:40:55
yes
i totally agree with every word he said (for once). Dot mac should be about $49.99/yr, all other things being equal. They should figure out how to give it away for free one year trial for iPod buyers to lure them into the platform (maybe include something like "ipod syncing with windows"). Then when that clever little plan starts rolling people over to OSX hardware, then they can give us a break with on the premium price of dot mac. They need to put more thought into the service it could be SO much more.
sergiocastaneda
2006-01-20 11:42:32
I couldn't agree more
It's nice to know I'm not the only one unhappy with .Mac and keeps making the same $99 purchase every year just for the email mainly.


I was about to email Apple the other day after they released iWeb. Since it's a replacement for Homepage I thought "great!, another feature that goes and the price stays". Turns out you can still access Homepage, it was just buried in the site, but who knows for how long.


I wish iWeb was a free download for .Mac users and that iLife could be purchased at a discount. Also, why doesn't Mail sync the Junk mail rules between computers?

chuckdude
2006-01-20 11:50:04
re: I'm cool with .mac
Responses:



  • Um, just how am I making money by complaining about .Mac right now? Please tell me, because my pockets aren't jingling with change.

  • Right, I know I don't need iLife '06 to use .Mac, I know there are other applications out there that hook into .Mac, but those still require...let me see...a .Mac account to use those features.

  • Yes, .Mac is "worth" it to me, I just think it's overpriced. What's wrong with saying that? And it's that cost that could be a deciding factor should I choose not to renew next Fall.

  • Thanks for telling me where to put my money.

  • What would I "write about at next renewal time"? Hmmm...perhaps why I didn't renew my .Mac account. Or maybe I'll complain more about why .Mac is overpriced, etc. Does it matter?


chuckdude
2006-01-20 11:53:43
re: yes
Heh! Glad we can finally agree on something. :^)


All good thoughts there; thanks for responding.

chuckdude
2006-01-20 12:02:16
re: iWeb
I agree with you that iWeb should've been one of those .Mac Member Benefits we supposedly get. I think that would've gone a long way to making .Mac members happy.


One thing I am a little cheesed about with iWeb, though, is that it doesn't mesh with the existing HomePage system -- at all. What iWeb is missing is a way for you to import your existing .Mac HomePage pages, and then republish them through iWeb, keeping the same page counts, etc. I think this was a HUGE oversight by the iWeb and .Mac teams.


As far as your comment about not being able to sync Mail's Junk rules between computers, I believe you can do that if you're running Tiger. If you go to System Preferences -> .Mac -> Sync, there's an option there at the bottom for "Mail Rules, Signatures, and Smart Mailboxes". Then if you go to the Advanced tab, you should be able to add another computer to the list that you want to sync between. I haven't done this myself, so I can't say for sure whether this works or not, but give it a try and see if it works.


-- Chuck

daddydoodaa
2006-01-20 12:09:09
re: I'm cool with .mac
"Um, just how am I making money by complaining about .Mac right now? Please tell me, because my pockets aren't jingling with change."


Look at the hits and responses you're getting. It's more than a lot of other blogs on O'Reilly Network. I assume you're getting paid something. If you were just writing about Anyold webhosting service you wouldn't get the response you're getting.


It just seems this is another ".mac ain't worth it" column, like we've seen on the MacWorld Forums, DealMac Forums, etc....you're a better writer than that. Seriously.

DaveLentz
2006-01-20 12:44:45
parting was such a pain ...
I was a faithful .Mac member, until last fall when I was coming to grips with just how tightly I was bound to it. I had a full .Mac membership, and my wife had an email-only membership. Since we both lacked full .Mac memberships, I couldn't use the Sync facilities, and I couln't see paying $159 for a Family membership when only two would be using it (still -- that was better than two individual memberships). Plus, this was during that period of distinct unfriendliness in what it took to upgrade from a single membership to a family membership. I looked around at what I wanted to do with my .Mac privileges and decided that I could do them just as well with (insert your own free email facility with POP support and lots of mail storage) email addresses and open source or very inexpensive synchronization tools (e.g., MySync, SynCal, etc).


So I decided to cut the umbilical cord. There were two things that were most painful:


1) I used the .Mac bandwidth, placing my movie clips from my web site (hosted primarily from my house, with higher-bandwidth items being served from the .Mac pages) onto the .Mac iDisk because my local bandwith is so miserable (144K iDSL).


2) to promote my Mac ownership, I used my .Mac email address quite frequently as a contact address when dealing with my banks, brokers, employers, subscriptions, and anyplace else I though ought to have a heads-up that I was a Mac user. Of course, I kept no records of which web sites I had left the mac.com email address with.


Most of the email adress updates were easy to ferret out and update, but it was a substantial amount of time and effort to do so. Updating my local apache served web site to bring all the iDisk-hosted files back home was but the work of an afternoon. And it turns out I don't have enough hits to my web site (I knew this :-() to make the bandwidth loss an issue.


What could Apple have done to keep my business?


a) offer a sliding scale based on the number of users in a "Family" dot-Mac account, with it sliding both on numbers of individuals and the length of time they have been members. Over time, the setup costs of a .Mac account should be amortized to zero -- members should be rewarded, not squeezed, by their willingness to lock themselves in with Apple.


b) expand the definition of "Family" to be individuals not necessarily operating out of the same subnet (as I believe it is today) -- this would allow Families with kids in college to participate, or with members of an extended nuclear family living in separate households (i.e., parents or grown children -- people who would be either less inclined or less able to purchase .Mac subscriptions in the first place).

chuckdude
2006-01-20 12:58:23
re: I'm cool with .mac
Well, I'm not really saying that .Mac isn't worth it. It is worth something; it's just that I'm not sure that it's worth $100/year on top of paying for new versions of iLife every year to work with .Mac.


If Apple brings back the FreePlay Music stuff, I promise to quit bitching. :^) I really used that a lot for iMovies, and GarageBand users could use those as background audio tracks for Podcasts.


And thanks for saying that I'm a better writer than that. I'd like to think that I do more than just bitch and complain here. I'll try to make my next blog something more worthwhile.

chuckdude
2006-01-20 13:03:33
re: e-mail & web space
Well, as long as you're paying for your .Mac membership, you should take a look at Backup 3. Unless you have some other solution you're using for backing up your data, it's a pretty good application.


I always wondered why Apple didn't offer a "Backup Lite" and bundle that with the OS. That way, users would at least be able to backup their data to a CD or DVD. I know Backup is available as part of a Trial .Mac membership, but with that, you can only backup to your iDisk, and if you don't purchase a .Mac membership, your data is stuck out there. Seems kinda pointless.


But seriously, if you're paying for .Mac, take advantage of what's there for you.

chuckdude
2006-01-20 13:13:58
re: ".Mac Pro"
I like this idea a lot.


The only app-suite I'd question the worthiness of, though, is iWork. Sorry, but iWork '06 isn't worth spending $79 on all over again. The upgrades to Keynote and Pages, while nice, don't really justify that expense again this year (in my opinion). I could see paying a $29 upgrade fee for iWork '06, but not a full-on $79 without something else added to the application suite. (What happened to Numbers? Did that get squashed in the Microsoft Office for Mac negotiations?)


-- Chuck

MPaul
2006-01-20 13:22:10
Upgrade annually at $69
Well I always just buy a dotMac box from Amazon each year for $69 and use that to upgrade with. Similarly I usually buy the annual OS upgrades for $99 instead of $129.


Apple incurs real costs for offering these services and it should both recover these costs and make significant but reasonable profit so that it can continue to grow and offer improvements.


Apple probably knows that given the number of Mac users, the ad model probably will not bring in the revenue it requires to sustain it on those revenue streams alone.


Although I agree its expensive, I don't really mind paying the $69 upgrade fee. I probably don't use all its services either, but I can tell you that I am happy with the service. I have a free GMail account and you know what, I never use it. But I use my dotMac account regularly.


I pay $75 to play a round of golf here in Tampa, now in the winter and I walk (I love to walk). DotMac is cheap by comparison. I still play golf, because I love it and I can afford it. Apple knows that just as the golf courses do, so don't expect it to get cheaper.

chuckdude
2006-01-20 13:27:25
re: .Mac webmail
I totally agree with your comment about how .Mac's webmail service lacks filters or rules. My ISP (Speakeasy (http://www.speakeasy.net) ) has a webmail service that has filtering...why can't .Mac?


-- Chuck

markgrimes
2006-01-20 15:40:54
e-mail & web space
You can get hosting without using your own machine or putting a box in a co-lo. No different then .Mac is a shared solution, everyone else offers it too. The difference is tha capabilities which Apple attempts to convince you are unique. They are not unique at all, they are just packaged well behind one-click buttons, abusive hooks in the OS and iLife. For some that is worth the premium rate... why pay $50 a year for Gmail and $4 web hosting when you can spend twice that for less service and more esoteric applications like Virex and Backup 3 -- again Backup 3 is a skin thrown over spareImage layouts, if you look under the hood it is hideously constructed, makes you want to discover SuperDuper!, rsync, unison, and even the ugly sister named Retrospect.
chuckdude
2006-01-20 15:59:41
re: e-mail & web space
Right, but putting a box in a co-lo means you have to have a spare box to house off-site, as well as the knowledge of how to manage a remote machine. That's far beyond the capabilities of most point-and-click Mac users. Sure, they could learn that if they had the inclination (and time), so yeah, for them, the price of a .Mac subscription is probably well worth it. And they get to keep their Mac at home instead of off-site somewhere.


As for the backup solutions you mention:


* SuperDuper!: Never tried it.
* rsync: +1
* Unison: Never tried it.
* Retrospect: Please excuse me while I go scrub my brain
again so I can try and forget the pain and hurt that
damned application caused me.


-- Chuck

markgrimes
2006-01-20 16:09:12
re: e-mail & web space
SuperDuper! is more fit for cloning, but seems to have great fanfare. I don't clone so I stick with rsync for syncing one set of data to firewire drive and another set to strongspace.


Unison is one I carry the torch for others that I value the information they provide (http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/) -- some of them swear by it.


I have just never ventured outside of rsync, it seems to do the job I need exceptionally well.


The trick to simulating Backup 3 behavior (laptop is sleeping, misses backup schedule, wake laptop up hours later, and it reminds you with dialog to start the job) is to use Anacron+launchd (http://members.cox.net/18james/anacron-tiger.html) Most worthwhile if you are a mobile user trying to keep your data in order.

AltOpt
2006-01-20 16:49:51
20% is OK
Keep in mind that .mac sign up is AFAIK only available to Macintosh users. Apple sells 5 million Macintoshes annually (only just, and only recently). Assuming a 1:1 Mac-to-owner ratio, which is a tenuous assumption, that means a 20% sign up rate.


I was a .mac subscriber for 3 years after the iTools switch. I stopped subscribing in October 2005.


IMHO .mac has suffered from lack of direction since launch, and made worse by the introduction of other cheap online services. These services don’t compete directly with .mac, but chip away at the .mac “advantage”. GMail in particular revealed that the 100MB (at the time) of .mac was hugely lacking. Google’s server side spam filtering trumps Apple’s strategy of adding spam filtering to Mail.app.


In the early years, we used to get software for free or discounted e.g. iBlog, Contribute, DropStuff, and some games, although that dried up after a while.


.mac should not have included unrelated rag-tag stuff like backup, email, virus scanning and syncing services. I mean, backup should be a no-joke thing, and for it to fail if you chose not to pay for an email address? That makes the backup service a dubious proposition.


And email itself is a different service from the others and the pricing structure does not suit it. Someone who desires a boutique @mac.com email address, should be allowed to pay a fee (e.g. $50–70) for 3–5 years of pure email access, instead of a lumpsum $100 annually for it.


The “custom postcards” thing was a real favourite of mine and I loved sending them out—complete with the Apple postmark. However it was a real bluff: the functionality is begging to be added to iPhoto, and does not need that online disk space. In fact, copying the photo to the iDisk, and then sending the “postcard” via a web interface is just adding BS complexity.


The iDisk functionality is poorly done IMHO. The idea of an automatically refreshed iDisk is appealing, but it didn’t work all that well. iDisk file access/manipulation was glacial, and updates bogged down my computer. Save/Open dialog boxes would embarrassingly pause before opening. All which meant it was best left unused.


The Address Book syncing services are wonderful, and I do miss them. But then how often do I use them. A cleverer approach would be for groups of people to be able to share each other’s address book, instead of using LDAP which is a little techy.


I think that the iWeb integration is the first real clever (in terms of financially beneficial to consumers) use of .mac. $100 (or $70 from Amazon), for annual hosting of sites (+galleries, blog, podcasting, RSS feed) is quite appealing for those creative people who do not want to know about HTML/CSS/domain names etc.


Keeping in mind that iWeb is installed on all new Macs, I expect it to be the killer app. i.e. slightly increased adoption of .mac for this feature alone.


Photocasting is also a clever thing which requires .mac, although it remains to be seen how often people will launch iPhoto (Version 6 is still a tad too slow for frequent usage. I’ll have to reserve judgement until I have a faster Mac.) Filmloop which Guy Kawasaki is touting looks good on paper.


I have replaced my .mac use with:
1. a domain name with email forwarding
2. gmail (which I receives email from my domain name).
3. my free webspace from my ISP, with Galerie (free software) for image galleries, and for sending largish files to others (i.e. > 10MB).
4. icalx for sharing iCals.


I do Backups locally, and have never used Apple’s Backup.

kjs
2006-01-21 01:26:08
Separate annual .Mac renewal and iLife upgrade is a big dilemma
I suppose if I could afford to go golfing in Tampa for $75 a round I wouldn't even need to leave a comment here since a few hundred dollars wouldn't make any difference to me, and discussing the value of .Mac would therefore be a theoretical exercise. But since I am a young English teacher living on a budget and paying off student loans I need to think long and hard before spending what little extra spending money I have.


When I bought my iBook G4 in 2004 from the Apple Store in Atlanta I bought a .Mac membership and Chuck's Inside .Mac along with it. At the time it seemed like a great deal. However, now it is 2006 and basically all the features I bought .Mac for exist elsewhere for free and offer even better functionality - see Gmail, Flickr, Dropload.com and Wordpress.com, while other features, like Virex, have been dropped.


The real nexus of this whole discussion to me is iLife '06. I am still using iLife '04 and am tempted to buy iLife '06 for Garageband's podcasting studio and iPhoto's new features and speed, but am seriously considering dropping .Mac this August when my renewal comes up because of the competition's free services. However, dropping .Mac decreases the value of iLife '06. Similarly, renewing .Mac without purchasing iLife '06 decreases the value of .Mac.


Then there's the issue of iLife '07, which of course will offer even better features. With iLife '07 in mind, should I wait another year before upgrading my version of iLife? And if I wait for iLife '07 but let my .Mac account expire and then decide iLife '07 makes it worth purchasing .Mac again I will be annoyed because it will be a pain to get all the things I had on my .Mac account back to the way I like them.


I'll have to think about this long and carefully. It would be an absolute no-brainer for me to buy iLife '06 if it came with a year's subscription to .Mac (though I can't see paying more than $79 for it since, as I mentioned, the competition offers the same services as .Mac, but for free).


I'm really glad to see Chuck Toporek, the guy who wrote the book on .Mac in 2004, add to the conversation and, moreover, state less than two years after Inside .Mac, "Do I feel like I'm getting my $99.95/year out of .Mac? Nope, I don't."

brettcamp
2006-01-21 15:37:30
.mac
I let my subscription lapse after they started charging. I thought about re-upping since I'm losing my university email and web hosting, and iWeb looks tasty.


But, you can get email for free via gmail, which also has much more storage. Some webhosts charge as little for a year of hosting as .mac charges per month, and have simple webpage creation software for free to boot. Or you can use Nvu (free) to create a simple page, or buy RapidWeaver for $35, which is as simple as iWeb but more versatile and offers more templates. So why should I pay even $70 when I can have better email and web hosting with no coding required for a tenth of that price?


Even with all that, I'd probably go for .mac if it cost a third or half of what it does now, or if members received a truly valuable premium, like free upgrades of the OS (Leopard in this case), and iLife as long as you maintain your .mac membership. The purchase of AppleCare should also give you a free .mac membership for the life of the warranty. I'm almost positive that if Apple just offered those premiums with .mac, they'd more than recoup their value via the increased number of .mac members.

MrSteveee
2006-01-21 17:07:26
.Mac is low-power for a high-price
Hmmm...
You may not have noticed, but to do it your way costs
$20 per month X 12 months = $240 per year
while dotmac costs $99 per year.
Your solution sounds much more expensive.
Just a thought....
dseattle
2006-01-21 17:23:23
What do I get?
Take a look around... Take a look at this page... It is absolutely ugly. Besides the poor design, there are SPONSORED BY links and advertisements everywhere. I want is get is NO ADS. Google, MSN/Live, Yahoo have all ads all the time and it is annoying. I get clean design and no ads. That is worth $99/year.
Gordon Meyer
2006-01-21 17:25:30
20% is OK
dotMac accounts aren't just for Mac users, you sign up with any platform. Apple even publishes an iDisk Utility app for Windows XP.


Clearly, tho, the benefits of integration with the OS and iLife are Mac-only.

XMG
2006-01-21 17:57:46
Line in the sand
Apple has been carving services out of .Dot Mac for a while now.


Virex, FreePlay, and the "Member Benefits" 3rd party member discounts seem to be far and few between.


I'm sure the trend to remove serivces from .Dot Mac for the same price will continue. Ironic, seeing how Apple frequently releases new hardware with new features for the same price.


My line in the sand is iLife '06. Like lots of other people I probably kept my .Dot Mac account longer than I should have because having the e-mail address is part of my identity as a Mac users. My friends, family, people at work see my address and know who to talk to about Macs.


Now, Apple is going to charge me another $79 for a service I'm already paying for (iWeb/.Mac).


Apple, do the right thing, offer iLife '06 to .Mac customers for 25% off. Better yet, give .Mac customers 10% off all Apple software and hardware.

mike3k
2006-01-21 18:14:05
iSync & iTunes Music Store
The only thing I absolutely need .Mac for is iSync, since it can only synchronize different computers through .Mac. I have Gmail, I publish my photos through Flickr, and use a web hosting account for all of my websites and my primary email.


Isn't a .Mac account needed for iTunes Music Store, unlesss I wanted to use AOL?

AltOpt
2006-01-21 19:49:12
What do I get?
Eh? This does not compute.


Cheaper hosting alternatives which do not force ads onto the site owner are available and plentiful. The banner ads on this and similar sites, are the site owner’s choice. That has nothing to with .mac hosting.


You have a valid point if referring to webmail.mac.com, which does have no ads.

macrat
2006-01-21 21:15:00
Nope
The music store just happens to be aware of existing .Mac and AOL accounts, just as iChat is.


Not required if you want to make a store account.

macrat
2006-01-21 21:17:48
Education discounts
If you are a teacher, you get a faculty discount from Apple's educational web store.
kjs
2006-01-22 05:42:01
Education discounts
Technically, that's only true if you teach at a school in America.


Fortunately, the nice folks at the Apple Store gave me an education discount even though I teach abroad.

FARfetched
2006-01-23 09:12:01
Value proposition doesn't add up
I have to agree. I used iTools back when, mainly as a point of contact for Apple-related stuff, but balked at the $99 price tag of .Mac. I thought at the time, with the extra stuff one got, that it might be worth the price if I'd had broadband access (was dialup at the time). Having a remote backup tool, IMO, is probably worth it.


But now that I have DSL, there are clever little proggies that let you use a Gmail account as a netdrive, giving you over twice the space of an iDisk for backups. As far as I can tell, with Apple slowly removing the cool extras, the only thing $99 gets you over other solutions is one-stop convenience and a prestige mac.com email address.


As configured, I'd probably pay $36-$40 per year for .Mac, but no more than that.

dicklanetcu
2006-01-23 12:34:03
Is .Mac worth it?
I decided to experiment by buy a .Mac subscription this year to see if I was missing something that would make my Mac experience markedly better. The main point of my purchase was specifically to keep my office Mac and home Mac "synchronized". The results are OK but I've decided even with all of the new iLife Apps that $100 is too much and I won't renew next year.


dm8w
2006-01-23 21:36:08
Separate annual .Mac renewal and iLife upgrade is a big dilemma
Agreed. I was just treated to a Mac Mini in December, and because Apple won't offer me an upgrade price for iLife '06, my total buy-in cost to take advantage of something like photcasting would be $180 (or $150 on Amazon, I suppose, thanks for the tip, all) for a .Mac subscription and the requisite iLife upgrade. Now, Apple is kind/savvy enough to offer a free 2 month trial of .Mac, but without iLife '06, I'll only be demoing part of .Mac if I should sign up.
denikun
2006-01-23 23:27:25
.Mac in Tokyo
Just to add to the conversation...
When the first Apple store opened in Japan, the .Mac people came to the Ginza store for an invitation only presentation for .Mac members. The idea was, presumably, to drum up business for the new store. What was completely missing from the proceedings was any acknowledgement that the .Mac people were standing in front of 100+ Mac Faithful who already get it. The guys from California began a salespitch for all of the things you can do with .Mac. Email, Homepage, Back-up, iSync. This was to a room full of people who were invited there because they already had .Mac accounts! Might I also add that these were sophisticated, designer types who may not have spoken English, but should not have been underestimated. After about 45 minutes of this "salespitch" they asked for questions. The very first one was, "Why can't .Sync work with my phone here in Japan?" The room erupted in applause. The team from California were stunned. They were left with lots of mumbles about how the phone companies were the ones in the way and they did not know when it would come to Japan. This was a shocking shortcoming of the .Mac people. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the .Mac operation here in Japan would have known that this was an issue to be addressed, at a time when .Mac was really promoting .Sync. The rest of the evening went the same way. To have come all the way to Japan to make such an underwhelming presentation was disappointing.


I am still a .Mac member for all of the “it just works” reasons. There is no doubt in my mind that there are other ways to get results, but I am paying so that I do not have to learn about computers. I want to focus on the end results that I get with .Mac + iWeb.


Having said that, I am not sure that the people who are behind this division are really motivated to make the most out of it. We all know that the price of Mac products is not going to come down, but what you get out of it should definitely go up. I had a virus scare recently and was really upset to see that Virex had been discontinued without any alternative to replace it. I believe that the .Mac arm are still focusing on “the sell” rather than “the product”. A fancy new box and logo do not change the fact that the .Mac service is looking thin.

ted.pearlman
2006-01-24 00:48:12
Magnanimous
Don't get me wrong. I love everything Apple. But cough up the Kool Aid. Jobs and Co. are out to make every dime they can. Every product and service that Apple has is priced for maximum profit. Period. Don't get fooled into thinking that an enormous publicly traded company is capable of anything else.
Wordman
2006-01-24 10:01:21
Similar feelings
I suggested several other alternatives for how to handle .Mac pricing a couple of weeks ago in a blog entry about one of the features that requires .Mac: http://asteroid.divnull.com/?p=85
tpi314159
2006-01-24 20:27:23
math problems
An interesting piece. Every year at renewal time I ask myself some of the same questions about whether or not .mac is worth it. So far I've always decided it is.


But to to say that .mac is costing you $300 a year doesn't add up. To add in the entire cost of OS and iLife upgrades completely ignores the fact that you're also getting an upgraded OS and a iLife suite. That $300 is paying for far more than .mac.

chuckdude
2006-01-25 00:18:58
re: math problems
$99.95 (annual .Mac renewal fee)
+$79 (annual cost to upgrade iLife)
+$129 (cost of a Mac OS X system upgrade)
----------------------------------------------
= $307.95


But since the system doesn't rev every year, at a minimum, you're spending $178.95/year to get all the benefits of a .Mac and iLife. And if you want, you could always split the cost of the system over two years, and then your total would come up to $243.45 (local sales tax not included).


Got math problems? See /Applications/Calculator.app for assistance. ;^)

Jim
2006-01-27 21:23:51
I think a more reasonable solution to the situation you describe would be to give a generous discount to .mac subscribers for iLife, and to a lesser extent other Apple software as well.


.Mac by itself is properly priced considering that getting space for a website without ads will cost about the same price, and then you have to add domain name registration on top of that for an additional $35. So why not match the difference and make iLife half price for .Mac subscribers? Sounds fair to me.


Not everyone wants .Mac. Not everyone wants iLife. But for those who want both there should be a package deal.

MacSmiley
2006-01-27 23:09:43
I have to say, when I first got .Mac in 2002, I was ecstatic. My iMac is the first personal home computer in my life, and being able to publish webpages almost immediately was a big rush. Now I have learned some html (I use TacoHTMLedit to tweak my pages), Galerie, and JAlbum, the auto-pages are just for quick no-thinking pages.


However, I still like the fact that things are so well integrated, AND there are no screwed up Google/Yahoo anti-whatever-I-am-or-do ads on my webpages.


On the other hand, we .Mac members do not get the special treatment we deserve, and the value of the service keeps going down, not up, as has been mentioned with the disappearance of various services, discounts, music, etc. from the past.


We don't even get a human customer service rep to deal with things like .Mac webpage folders disappearing into thin cyberspace. I sent .Mac a folder of my photos to replace the lost folder, and they still couldn't restore things the way they were. Their excuse was that I had altered the webpage, but that should not have been a problem. It was not a lost web page, it was a lost folder of photos (thank goodness for real backup). The .Mac team could tell me the names of the folder by file name/date/metadata, etc. right from the webpage, and still they haven't put things right.


I hope Steve Jobs is not too busy these days with Disney to see that pro-.Mac authors are dissing the service. This can not be good.


In the meantime, for those concerned about the so far non-existent Mac virus problem, go download a free copy of clamXav and send the author five bucks for his hard work. At least somebody's going above and beyond the call of duty.





Dear MacSmiley:


I totally agree, I hope Steve Jobs is listening, or that the product managers in charge of .Mac and iLIfe are peaking in here to see what people are saying. They should; we're paying customers.


And if you are listening, please don't look at us as a bunch of people who just want to bitch, whine, and complain, and pass us off as nut-cases. Let us help you make .Mac something better for everyone. I would hope Apple would view this more as an Open Letter than just another whining customer. I wouldn't have written a book on .Mac if I didn't think it was good and worth the hundred bucks a year. It just appears that more attention has been spent on integrating .Mac into the iLife apps and the OS than has been on what .Mac members actually get.


Anyhow, Apple, if you're listening and you want to invite me in for some Kool-Aid, I'd be happy to come down and talk with you about .Mac and some ways that I think it could be better. Then listen to other people here, or to August Trometer over at dotmac.info, or to third-party application developers who are using the DotMac Kit with their apps.


Of course, my one big request for Apple is to turn .Mac into a community, not just a service. There should be a ".Mac Friend Finder" widget that lets me search for other .Mac members by name or their location. Of course, for that to happen, there needs to be some sort of ".Mac Community Center" where members register, fill out info about who they are, what they do, etc., as a way of connecting with other .Mac members. Hell, for all I know, the people one block over could be .Mac members and I'd never know. Give us a way to connect. That's step 1.


Anyhow, please listen to us. We're Mac fans who are spending good, hard-earned cash on Apple's products and services. Let us help you.


-- Chuck
chuckdude@mac.com




Scott Reynolds
2006-01-30 23:49:03
Look for the .Mac subscription package at Amazon. The discount is significant; as I write this, it's $80. I've seen it as low as $67.
givors
2006-02-04 10:23:07
Just buy what you need from the Apple Education store. The products are all substatially cheaper. So far, the police have not burst in upon me to make sure I really am in the field of education. I am. Or if your conscience pangs you then have a teacher or college friend buy your Apple products for you and then offer them a donation that just so happens to equal the exact cost of the product. The Cupertino Police Department is probably not going to be investigating you. The only limitation is how many products you can buy in a year but it is fairly generous.
Ben Gardiner
2006-02-04 17:47:43
Thanks for your article, which clearly shows the advantages and the costs of .Mac, which I could not find anywhere on Apple pages or literature.
Paul Palinkas
2006-02-08 17:40:21
I would use .mac, and maybe even pay a little more for it, if it did everything I needed. I have a domain name, and AFAIK .mac doesn't support them. I also need MySQL support, access to CGI, etc. I can't see paying my domain host, and then paying Apple more on top to duplicate service in order to get to the few nuggets that are valuable to me.
Brian West
2006-02-10 12:34:53
I TOTALLY Agree... roll it with the OS and iLife or make it full hosting with CGI/PHP/MySQL and the ability to use my own domain.


/b