This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2002-07-22 at 12:00 p.m.
The permanent URL for this article is: http://tidbits.com/article/6883
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iTools Morphs into .Mac; Users Squawk

by Adam C. Engst

By far the most controversial announcement during Steve Jobs's Macworld Expo keynote was Apple's move to turn its free iTools service into the fee-based .Mac (pronounced "dot-Mac"). Although iTools has amassed 2.2 million users since its launch at the start of 2000 (see "iSay, Apple's iStrategy Is iMpressive" in TidBITS-512), Apple has struggled slightly to find the right mix of features, dropping the iReview Web site reviews and the KidSafe service that selected sites appropriate for children, and most recently, surreptitiously implementing bandwidth limits on HomePage-based Web sites (see "iTools HomePage Bandwidth Limitations" in TidBITS-634). Nonetheless, the free Mac.com email addresses, 20 MB of iDisk space, and HomePage Web page hosting have proven extremely popular.

<http://db.tidbits.com/article/05763>
<http://db.tidbits.com/article/06851>

If you visit Apple's Web site now, though, you'll see no trace of iTools. It has been replaced with .Mac, a new service from Apple that offers some of the same features as iTools for a $100 annual fee; a one-year discount of $50 is available for current users who sign up before 30-Sep-02. (Apple also offers a 60-day free .Mac trial, which includes the same features of iTools plus Apple's Backup software, mentioned below.) The name change was undoubtedly done partly to help Apple distinguish the fee-based .Mac from the free iTools; it's also a play on Microsoft's .Net Web services initiative because .Mac is delivering a set of consumer-oriented Web services today.

<http://www.mac.com/>
<http://www.microsoft.com/net/>

If you do nothing, your iTools account will be deactivated on 30-Sep-02, and any data you have stored in your iDisk or on your Mac.com email account will be deleted (so make sure to download anything you don't want to lose to your hard disk).

What's New in .Mac -- Apple realized that just charging for the features available in iTools wouldn't be popular, so they attempted to sweeten the deal by extending what .Mac can do. Changes include the following; make sure to read the .Mac FAQ as well.

<http://www.mac.com/1/mac_faq.html>

<http://www.mac.com/1/idiskutility_download.html>

<http://www.mac.com/1/hpnewfeatures.html>

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What's Coming in .Mac -- Although some people will likely find the selection of features in .Mac compelling right now, Apple has also announced additional features that should make the deal even better once Mac OS X 10.2 comes out on 24-Aug-02. With the new iCal, you'll be able to publish your calendars to .Mac and subscribe to other people's calendars, which will be helpful; you'll also be able to publish calendars to any WebDAV server.

<http://www.mac.com/1/mac_newfeatures.html>

More interesting will be shared screen saver slide shows - publish your photos to your iDisk and your friends and family can subscribe to your photos within their Mac OS X Screen Saver. This feature will go a long way toward providing the basic functionality of the Ceiva stand-alone picture frame - a neat device that requires a regular subscription fee and has one of the least usable Web interfaces I've ever had the misfortune to use.

<http://www.ceiva.com/>

Consternation and Controversy -- Many Mac users are furious about the switch from the free iTools to the fee-based .Mac. Many people simply didn't use iTools heavily enough to justify the added expense - the Mac.com email address was nice, but not worth $100 per year. Others are bothered by the fact that much of the value of .Mac seems to be in Backup and Virex, but people who are at all serious about backup and anti-virus software probably already own equivalent software that may be significantly more capable, as certainly is the case with Dantz's Retrospect backup applications. Plus, .Mac doesn't come with any Internet access, whereas most Internet connections from standard ISPs like EarthLink already include multiple email addresses and Web space, making the decision to pay yet again for these features more difficult. And finally, people feel let down because Apple initially made a big deal about how iTools was free and was intended to be a part of the overall Macintosh experience. Discussions on this topic have been raging on TidBITS Talk.

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As with Apple's recent bandwidth limitations on HomePage-based Web sites, most people appear to agree that it's reasonable for Apple to want to recoup the costs of running the iTools service and even turn a profit. Steve Jobs even did well at introducing the unpopular news - he basically just pointed out that many of the other free Internet services are now either charging or have gone out of business because they didn't have viable business models. But Apple may have picked the wrong inducements to the 2.2 million existing customers. A 60-day grace period and a half-price discount for the first year are better than nothing, but a better move would have been to keep the Mac.com forwarding addresses available for free for current users. That would ensure that Mac.com email addresses would continue to help promote the advantages of the Macintosh out on the Internet at large while significantly reducing the bandwidth and disk space requirements of the service.

Another concern is that .Mac features are built into Mac OS X itself and into applications like iPhoto. It doesn't look good if high-profile functionality like having the iDisk be available from a Finder menu or HomePage publishing of Web photo albums simply doesn't work if you're not a .Mac member. It's poor user interface, and a poor user experience.

But what's your opinion? We're running a poll on our home page that asks about your plans regarding .Mac usage - let us know what you think. Also, since Apple has 60 days to reconsider these policies, I strongly encourage everyone who has an opinion on this topic to send Apple feedback. Keep it reasonable and acknowledge that Apple must run a viable business in your feedback (whining about how everything should always be free won't do any good at all). If we're lucky, Apple will moderate their position and at least keep free email forwarding for existing users.

<http://www.tidbits.com/>
<http://www.apple.com/feedback/mac/pm.html>