When Apple unveiled its iTools Internet services two-and-a-half years ago, the company touted its free offerings as an opportunity for Mac users to take full advantage of the Internet. Indeed, millions of Mac users have done just that–Apple says that the number of iTools subscribers doubled in the last year to 2.4 million.
Even as the number of iTools subscribers climbed, however, Apple’s Internet services were undergoing changes. The company’s KidSafe Internet filtering software was discontinued, as was iReviews, a Web site review service launched concurrently with iTools that offered some privileges to iTools subscribers.
Now, iTools itself is disappearing, to be replaced September 30 with Apple’s new .Mac service–and this time, if you want any part of what Apple has to offer, you’re going to have to pay.
Mac users who want a mac.com e-mail account or who want to post iPhoto pictures on an Apple-hosted Web page will be charged an $100 annual subscription fee for .Mac services, Apple announced Wednesday. Existing iTools subscribers who sign up for .Mac before September 30 will pay $50 for the first year of service (Apple is also offering a 60-day free trial that offers some of the .Mac services.).
Why did Apple make the move? The company points out other companies that once offered free services such as e-mail accounts and online storage have been forced to start charging subscribers–or have gone out of business altogether–largely because of the dot-com downturn. “The world’s a really different place,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his Wednesday Macworld Expo keynote. “We’re going to reflect that.”
Apple insists .Mac subscribers will get plenty for their membership fee. The revised online service includes several familiar iTools features such as Mac.com e-mail, which includes 15MB of IMAP/POP mail storage; 100MB of iDisk Internet storage now built into the OS X Finder and accessible even from Windows and Linux computers; and the HomePage Web site creation tool. Additions to .Mac include McAfee’s Virex anti-virus software and Backup, an Apple-created tool which lets users archive data to iDisk, CDs, or DVDs.
But Apple expects the capabilities of its .Mac services to increase once OS X 10.2 ships (See ” Jaguar Unleashed: OS X 10.2 Arrives “). The company’s soon-to-be-released iCal calendaring application will allow .Mac subscribers to publish and update calendars to the Web, so that family members and colleagues can keep track of events. Another service, Mac Slides, lets OS X 10.2 users turn sets of photos into dynamic screen savers that others can access; when you make changes to your photo set, everyone’s screen saver gets automatically refreshed.
Whether that’s enough to convince Mac users to pay $100 per year for some services they used to enjoy for free remains to be seen. If the initial reactions in Macworld.com’s forums are any indication, however, Apple has a tough job ahead convincing Mac users that .Mac is worth their time and dollars.