Editorial: .Mac adds more bang for the buck
By Peter Cohen, firstname.lastname@example.org
First of all, I'd like to thank the dozens of newsletter subscribers who took the time to respond to last week's editorial, "The Real World," in which I talked about my son's school's decision to switch from Macs to PCs. Your feedback ranged from similarly disheartening stories as mine to some great Mac success stories. I'm culling through your letters now and hope to have a followup posted to the Macworld Editor's Notes weblog sometime next week. If you missed it, you can still read it online as part of last week's MacCentral Week in Review retrospective -- and if you have anything else to add, I heartily encourage you to drop me a line.
This week Apple news was punctuated with a surprise improvement to .Mac, Apple's subscription-based online service. .Mac provides users with e-mail, Web access, the ability to backup and store files online along with other handy features. At a time when many subscribers' accounts are up for renewal, Apple more than doubled the service's basic storage capacity from 100MB to 250MB. Apple also gave users the ability to adjust that 250MB between their e-mail and iDisk as they wish -- thus removing a previous 15MB limit on e-mail directories that .Mac users had to pay extra for to overcome. Other changes were made too -- you can read about them in MacCentral's coverage.
All told, it's a fair upgrade to Apple's service that provide even more bang for the hundred bucks the service still costs annually, and it helps make .Mac more competitive with other e-mail and Web page hosting services that cost less. But at a time when other services like Google's still-in-testing Gmail offer 1GB for free, some Mac users don't see the value. Most of the complaining I've seen seems to come from people who look at .Mac as an e-mail service and little more.
.Mac packs a surprisingly broad range of features into a single service, with e-mail, Web page hosting, online file storage, backup, calendar, contact and bookmark synchronization and other features. And while you can get similar functionality by paying fees to commercial or shareware developers or through other online services, nothing integrates with the Mac OS X user experience as well as .Mac does. Hopefully Apple can continue to bolster the value of .Mac by improving the system's basic services. But we need more than just server space -- we need the ability to do more with what we're uploading. Our Macs are the hubs of our digital lifestyles, remember?
To that end, I'd recommend that Apple take a closer look at social networking Web sites, which have just exploded in popularity over the past few years -- sites like Orkut, Multiply and Friendster have enabled people to create virtual online communities. Flickr, a photo management and sharing site, is a great example of this. My friend pitched it to me this way: "Imagine if Apple's .Mac photo sharing -- nice and easy, right? -- was mixed with social software, blogging functions, and more features than you could shake a stick at."
It's a online extension of the digital hub concept that makes a lot of sense, and one enterprising developer named Fraser Speirs has even created an iPhoto plug-in for it. I'd love to see Apple own something like this, perhaps expanding its scope to also include digital movies and GarageBand tracks. I've had my account up for a couple of days and didn't have any problems getting files to it or linking them to my own personal Weblog. (Flickr's definitely hit a chord with Mac enthusiasts -- its Macintosh group is one of the service's most popular.)
One area where Apple definitely needs to continue to improve is in .Mac customer service. No service is ever totally without interruption, and .Mac is no exception. Even though .Mac maintains a support Web page with the current system status for all of its major components listed, it's not always accurate -- we received several e-mails from readers this past week who experienced mail-related service interruptions, and now I'm starting to wonder if this migration to larger disk size might have had some bearing. While the service came back online, substantive answers took far too long.
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This story, "MacCentral Week in Review" was originally published by PCWorld.