A little over a week ago, I went out and picked up a 15″ MacBook Pro using the new Penryn processor. In a word – SWEET! I’ll have more to say about that later. But, for now, I wanted to take a look at dot-mac, or .MAC. It is the online service Apple offers with their systems. They charge $99 per year for this service and I was extended a $30 discount on that because I was buying a Mac.

I was told that I could buy the .Mac account, go home and use the free trial and, if I don’t like it, just return the box within 2 weeks if unopened. So, I have this little box sitting here on my desk – unopened – and I have been using the free trial account.

Is this service worth it?

What Comes With .Mac?

First off, let’s look at what comes with a .Mac account…

  • Web Gallery. Basically, this is like Flickr except that you can interface with it directly from inside iLife 08. So, you can throw your photos up into your web gallery and share with your friends and family.
  • Web Hosting. If you are using iWeb, you can work directly with the web hosting space provided by Apple. This is convenient for beginners to web design who are using iWeb.
  • IMAP Mail. If you are using the mac.com email address, you can connect to it over IMAP as well as log into your account over the web. The web interface very closely resembles the interface of the Apple Mail client.
  • Back to My Mac. The idea here is to be able to remotely control your Mac from anywhere. Problem is that I couldn’t get it to work. FAIL.
  • Sync. This will keep your address book, calendar (in iCal) as well as preferences and settings in synch among multiple Macs. It is automatic.
  • iDisk. This is 10GB of online storage that you can access directly from your Finder. Works just like another drive on your computer except that it’s online.
  • Groups. Set up a group website and use group email, if you have a need for such a thing.

OK, there you go. Now, as I said, when I tried Back To My Mac, it didn’t work. I can screen share with ease when I am on my home network. When I was in a remote location, it could not connect. I have read that there are known issues with Back to My Mac in Leopard. I could probably wrestle with it and get it to work, but this is certainly not one of those Apple “it just works” things. It doesn’t work.

So, at the full price of $99 per year, this is going to cost $8.25. At the price I get because I bought a Mac, it is going to run me $5.75 per month. Is this worth it?

My Views and Free Alternatives

I personally have little use for a web gallery. Besides, I can use Flickr to host my photos on the web and use the free Flickr Uploader to easily upload my photos directly from my Mac. Sure, I can’t do it from inside iPhoto, but seriously, does this really matter? Plus, if I’m that much of a stickler for integrated uploads, I could use Google’s Picasa. It does the same thing for free.

Web hosting….well, I’m a web publisher and this means I already have serious web hosting at my disposal. And for people who are not “in the biz”, you can probably find better web hosts out there than Apple. This is not to say that Apple’s hosting is not good, but it’s main selling point is access from iWeb. I don’t use iWeb and anybody serious about their website probably shouldn’t use iWeb either.

IMAP Mail. The thing about this is that it only works with mac.com email address. I do not want to use a mac.com email address. I use Google’s Gmail, which allows me to bring in email easily from my own domains and also provides free POP3 and IMAP access. So, basically, Gmail makes this offering by Apple a mute point.

Back To My Mac. Again, it didn’t even work for me. Besides, LogMeIn.com has remote desktop for Mac available for free. Pretty soon they will have the Pro accounts available for Mac. Now, LogMeIn Pro accounts will cost more in proportion to features than .Mac, but LogMeIn works flawlessly (I’ve tried it) and you can do the remote desktop itself (no file transfer) for free.

Sync does work fine. But, ever heard of Plaxo? You can do the same thing using Plaxo plus you can also use Plaxo to sync with more than just your Macs. Plaxo is a lot more powerful and it, too, is free.

iDisk is nice because it is integrated with Finder. That said, there are alternatives. For example, XDrive is currently offering 5 GB of free online file storage as well as a new desktop client (based on Adobe Air) which will provide local drag-and-drop access to your file space. LifeHack.org has an article which lists 90 different online file storage services. As you can CLEARLY see, Apple does not have a monopoly on this one and, while it is convenient to have it integrated into the Finder, I don’t know if it is convenient enough to spend $99 for it.

Groups. Well, ever heard of Google Groups? You can do all that for free.

Final Word

After evaluating .Mac for my free trial period, I see nothing here that would justify spending $69 or $99 on this for a year. The offering is actually rather weak when put up against the competition which is easily available online through other companies. .Mac strikes me as another way for Apple to make money and generate a recurring revenue for the company. Nothing more.

If you new to computers, perhaps .Mac might be a good fit for your lifestyle. For anybody who knows their way around the Internet, I recommend to skip .Mac.

Guess I’m going to be making a trip to the Apple Store and return this thing.