This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2010-10-08 at 4:28 p.m.
The permanent URL for this article is: http://tidbits.com/article/11656
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He's Leaving Home(Page) - Bye, Bye!

by Michael E. Cohen

Friday morning, at 9 o'clock as my day began, Apple sent me a note that I hoped would say more. It starts,

Over a year ago, we retired the .Mac HomePage application for publishing new pages, but allowed previously published pages to remain viewable on the web. On November 8, 2010, we will discontinue online viewing of photos, movies, and files shared using .Mac HomePage.

This email caused me some consternation. When Apple announced in April 2009 that the HomePage Web application was being discontinued, the company said, "Any pages you've already published will remain live at their current web address for as long as you like" (see ".Mac HomePage Web Application To Be Discontinued [1]," 10 April 2009).

Now, it seems, "as long as you like" actually means "for a few hundred days." Although the latest letter certainly reneges on Apple's previous promise, that is not what concerned me - other than, of course, what it implies about Apple's general trustworthiness.

No, what concerned me is exactly what that letter means to me in very practical terms.

A bit of personal history: I have been a user of MobileMe since it was called "iTools," back in the long-long-ago before-times, when Mac OS 9 still walked the Earth. In the years between then and now, I have created many Web pages, mostly by hand (and mostly using various versions of BBEdit [2], if you must know), which I stored and served from my iDisk's Sites directory. Although I tried out Apple's HomePage Web application in order to see what it could (and couldn't) do, for the most part I stuck with my hand-tooled page-creation method.

However - and this is where the confusion kicks in - pages that I have created by hand and serve from my iDisk's site directory all have URLs that begin http://homepage.mac.com/lymond/. (Why "lymond"? Long story; see Dorothy Dunnett [3] for more about that fictional character.) In other words, the Web address of an HTML file in my Sites directory on my iDisk is http://homepage.mac.com/lymond/somefile.html.

In some cases, I have pages that present images stored in my iDisk's Pictures folder. In those cases, my HTML code refers to the image file names with relative URLs, such as this one for a cartoon I drew a few years ago: ../Pictures/out_of_the_box.jpg. To parse this path for non-HTML coders, this means "go up from the Sites directory one level, and then drop into the Pictures directory to find the file out_of_the_box.jpg."

[image link] [4]

So, what does all of this mean in terms of the soon-to-be-an-ex-parrot [5] HomePage service?

Does it mean:

  1. Only those pages created with the HomePage Web application itself are, like the Snark, going to silently steal away come 8 November 2010, and that handcrafted pages in the Sites directory will survive? This is a possibility that makes a certain amount of sense: all of the HomePage-created pages include links and references to various support files - scripts, stylesheets, and graphics - stored elsewhere on Apple's servers. If those support files go away, the HomePage pages, while still living in the iDisk's Site's folder, will, at best, be ugly and, at worst, be so unviewable that your Web browser will shudder in disgust and simply not show anything worth looking at.

  2. The relative positions of iDisk directories, such as the Pictures and Movies directories, to the Sites directory will no longer be valid, and so the relative addressing technique that I used will no longer work? That is also a possibility: what you see in your iDisk on your computer does not necessarily match the actual directory layout on Apple's servers. If so, then my handcrafted pages will survive, but links to media in other iDisk folders won't work. Annoying, but something I can live with and fix.

  3. Does it mean that Web addresses of the form http://homepage.mac.com/lymond/somefile.html will no longer work? If that's the case, it means my handcrafted pages are not just merely, but really most sincerely, dead. This is what I fear the most, and this is what the email from Apple, and its accompanying FAQ, did not explain for me. At least, not this morning at 9 AM.

But things move rapidly in the online world: in the same email Friday morning, Apple concluded with the following statement, "We apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause. For more information, please read this FAQ," linked, when I received it, to Apple's FAQ from last year on the imminent demise of HomePage. However, even as I was drafting this article, Apple updated the FAQ.

Apple's new FAQ on the topic now provides the answer to my questions, and it seems to suggest that question 2, above, and my proposed answer is the correct one. To quote the new, revised FAQ [6]:

Content within the Sites folder of your iDisk will still be available for viewing on the web and can still be edited with an HTML editor. However, any website content stored in the Pictures, Movies, or Public folders of your iDisk will be unavailable in your web pages after November 8, 2010 (although a folder called Pictures within the Sites folder would continue to work). If your web pages reference content from any of those folders, you will need to move the content to your Sites folder and update your HTML accordingly.

And there you have it. If you have handcrafted pages in your Sites folder, no worries (at least until Apple changes the rules again): your site will go on. But, if any of those pages link to media in your Movies or Pictures folders (as a few of my pages do, and as the picture in this article did until I moved it into the new /Sites/Pictures folder that I just created), those pages will no longer show the linked media.

So, if you are one of the few, the proud, the elderly, who still have Web sites at a homepage.mac.com address, you may have to do some site editing and file moving, but your site will not go away. However, if you have been relying upon the kindness of Apple to maintain your old HomePage-created pages following the demise of the HomePage service, you have a month before those pages go into the Dark.

I think I can guess what some of you will be doing over the next few weeks.

[1]: http://db.tidbits.com/article/10201
[2]: http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/
[3]: http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/bibs/dunnett.html
[4]: http://db.tidbits.com/resources/2010-10/out_of_the_box.jpg
[5]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npjOSLCR2hE
[6]: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2049