When Apple unveiled its four iTools in January, maybe you wanted to be the first on your block to have your own mac.com e-mail address or set up 20MB of free storage space. But if your Mac happened to use a version of the Mac OS older than the brand-spanking-new Mac OS 9, you were probably disappointed to learn you'd be left out in the cold.
As it turns out, users of previous versions of the Mac OS don't have to be left on the outside looking in. Despite Apple's claims that iTools will only work with Mac OS 9, there are ways to set up your computer so that even those running System 7.6.1 can tap into the new Internet features.
At least two Web sites -- www.acts.org/itoolstrick and homepage.mac.com/misve -- have posted instructions on how to sign up for iTools without using Mac OS 9. There's even an iTools Installer patch online that lets you access almost all of the features that OS 9 users get.
By using the patch to install iTools and signing up for iTools, you can use Apple's Web page building, e-mail, and disk storage features (though you can't access other members' public folders). You can submit Web site reviews and suggestions to iReview and customize your own iCards. The only feature entirely unavailable to non-OS 9 users is the Web security tool, KidSafe.
Still unclear is whether you can run iTools from PCs running Microsoft Windows. Apple says no, but Windows 98 users who set up an iTools account as if they were running an older version of the Mac OS can get mac.com e-mail addresses and submit their own iReviews. But the biggest coup would be if you could access iDisk through a PC. That would allow people to transfer documents more easily across platforms -- an especially useful feature for users who switch between Macs and PCs at home and at the office.
So why would Apple insist Mac users need the latest OS to run iTools? The cynical answer is that it wanted to give people added incentive to upgrade to OS 9. While that probably entered into Apple's thinking, there's also a more benign explanation. Apple clearly plans to roll out more iTools, with future features heavily dependent on OS 9 and, further down the road, OS X. Perhaps Apple decided it was better to tell users with older operating systems that they were shut out now, rather than lock them out of iTools later.