Ever since Apple switched its free iTools Web-based service to the subscription-based .Mac, many users have asked themselves: is .Mac worth $100 a year? Last week, the company attempted to sweeten the deal by improving .Mac's storage and bandwidth capacities, introducing new .Mac groups, releasing the Backup 3 backup software, and adding French and German localization to the existing English and Japanese versions.
Storage Catches up to 2003 Levels -- $100 now gets you 1 GB of storage, up from 250 MB; you can allocate how much of that space is used by email and iDisk. This matches similar pricing from online storage services of a couple of years ago, and matches the email storage that Gmail, Yahoo, Spymac, and others began offering last year - sometimes for free.
The new $180 Family Pack offers a total of five accounts and 2 GB of storage; the master account has 1 GB of mail and disk storage, while the other four accounts are assigned 250 MB each.
Along with the increase in storage, monthly throughput has also been increased, according to Jonathan Seff at Macworld. Apple came clean in July that .Mac had a 3 GB limit of file transfers per month for standard account holders, a change from their previous "we're not telling you quite what the limit is" policy (see "Apple Discloses, Limits .Mac Bandwidth Transfers" in TidBITS-789). Popular downloads of Apple-friendly software, for instance, weren't subjected to limits. Now, with 1 GB of storage in a standard account, users are allowed 10 GB of file transfers; if you spend $50 per year for an additional 1 GB of storage, you're entitled to 25 GB of file transfers per month.
Seff notes that Apple, unlike most other service providers, offers no way to know how much bandwidth you've used in a given month and no way to pay for just additional bandwidth.
.Mac Groups -- New to the .Mac lineup is the Groups feature, which provides a virtual location for you and friends or family to keep in contact. Members of a group can share a single email address to send messages to everyone within the group, share files using iDisks (the contents of the group's folder within the new Groups folder is shared among all members of the group), maintain a group calendar via iCal, and post Web pages containing photos and movies.
Apple's Groups FAQ points out that membership in groups isn't limited to .Mac members, though non-members must sign up for at least a free trial membership. However, after the trial period ends, they can keep their .Mac ID and continue to access the group. People with expired .Mac accounts and trial accounts can similarly join groups using their IDs.
Be aware that creating a new group consumes 100 MB of your shared storage for use on the iDisk, and joining one or more groups also consumes a total of 100 MB. If you create or join groups, you'll end up with less storage space available for your personal use.
Backup 3 -- Apple's Backup application has so far been a fairly weak tool that some people found helpful for backing up small amounts of data, but it didn't compare to more full-featured backup applications such as Retrospect. However, version 3.0 is a significant improvement, making the program worthy of consideration.
Backup 3 has been given a new interface focused around "plans," which are essentially backup scripts. A number of plan templates are included, such as options for backing up iLife data to CD or DVD on a regular basis and a plan for backing up music purchased from the iTunes Music Store (because if you lose your only copy of an iTMS track, it's gone; you can't request a new copy without paying for it). Better yet, Backup now supports incremental backups, which can copy only files that have changed since the last backup.
You still need a full .Mac account to use Backup. However, trial accounts can back up as much as 100 MB of data to test the software. Backup 3 requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or Mac OS X 10.4.2 or later, and is a 4.3 MB download (look for the link on the .Mac home page).