Apple, set .Mac free! - Macenstein

Apple, set .Mac free!

When Apple first launched OS X, they were in the unique position of being able to build an entire operating system from scratch. The ability to free themselves from legacy code and obsolete technologies allowed them to start fresh with one of the most solid and feature complete “Version 1.0’s” of any OS.

As OS X has matured, it has become more and more apparent that Apple is running out of real “must-have” features that need to be added. This is of course a testament to how well thought out the previous versions were, but at the same time it has put Apple in the position of having to convince customers that they can’t live without the next version of OS X – something even the infamously charismatic Mr. Jobs had a little trouble doing at last year’s WWDC. Of course, the same holds true for any software, be it Mac OS, Microsoft Word, or Adobe Photoshop. As software becomes more refined, there just isn’t all that much to tinker with.

Unfortunately, Apple has chosen to address this inevitable fact of software maturity by putting an unwelcome twist on Adobe’s latest tactics used in their CS Design Suite updates. Upon reaching version 9 of most of their products, Adobe realized there were no real flagship features left to add to the suite. They therefore decided to make up a feature, and began pushing the bundle’s new “unified interfaces” and “seamless integration” between all its applications as the reason to upgrade.

Apple took the same tactic a couple versions back with their iLife suite, allowing iMovie to browse the iTunes and iPhoto libraries, and adding instant iDVD export. This was all well and good, and actually made more sense than Adobe’s approach, as iLife is geared toward the home users who sometimes don’t even know where their photos and movies get stored on their machines, let alone how to import them.

But 2 years ago, Apple turned this idea of seamless integration into somewhat of a Red Herring when it began to slowly introduce cool new features into its iLife suite which can only work if you also subscribe to Apple’s $99 a year .Mac service.

The .Mac service had been coming under fire as a somewhat questionable value since the majority of its big features (e-mail, web storage) were being given away free by a number of companies, all of which allowed for for more generous storage and fewer restrictions. When Apple began to add .Mac export from iWeb and .Mac’s photocasting to iPhoto, suddenly .Mac seemed like a better value.

But then came iLife ’08

iLife was similar to OS X in that it started out largely feature complete. Aside from yearly speed increases, iPhoto remained for the most part unchanged year to year, and we were lucky if iDVD got a couple new themes. Again, this is because Apple did such a great job with these apps from the beginning, but it once again seemed they had painted themselves into a corner.

When iLife ’08 came along Apple decided to see just how far they could push the .Mac integration as a selling point, and to many people (those who do not use .Mac) it was a little sad. Along with the standard “better performance”, it seemed the major reasons to upgrade to iLife ’08 was the new .Mac iPhoto features. iMovie ’08, for all it’s polish, actually took away features many had come to depend on, and iDVD once again languished. The big news was iPhoto’s new .Mac Web Gallery, which, while admittedly very cool, doesn’t do all that much for non-.Mac users. iLife ’08’s other big update was to iWeb, which truth be told, is almost useless to the average home user without .Mac. All this .Mac tying in is made all the more annoying to a .Mac-less Mac user by the fact that there are now .Mac buttons embedded into the iLife app’s interfaces, taunting you with their hidden potential.

And then came Leopard

Apple posted their list of the300 new features in Leopard, and while only 5 or so directly rely on .Mac, a couple are kind of major. Along with the usual .Mac syncing abilities (Dashboard Widget Settings, Dock Items, System Preferences, and Notes), comes the “Back to My Mac” feature, which allows you to access and control your Leopard-based Mac from anywhere (with a .Mac subscription). That’s pretty damn cool, but again, only really useful to a select few.

Set .Mac free

So between iLife and Leopard, some of the coolest features Apple has been able to come up with recently rely on .Mac to work. Unfortunately, while you must pay $129 for Leopard and $79 for iLife, you also have to pay $99 a year for .Mac in order to get the most out of either. I have no access to .Mac subscription figures, but I just can’t imagine that nearly enough people subscribe to .Mac for it to warrant Apple devoting so much time and effort to it. I fear that the vast majority of .Mac’s potential is going unrealized because of a lack of access.

The solution to this problem is simple. Apple should make .Mac a free service.

Now yes, you might say, and Apple should make MacBooks free too. No, I don’t mean free in a “hippie” way, I mean free in a “we already paid for this” sort of way. If I pay nearly $200 every 16 months to stay current with the latest Apple OS and iLife updates, why do I need to spend another $100 per year to be able to use them?

Right now .Mac is best known for its ability to effortlessly sync bookmarks, preferences, and mail between computers. But to the majority of Mac users, .Mac seems designed to needlessly sync your wallet with Apple’s. Webmail and (relatively small) online storage are hardly a selling point these days. As I said before, Google (and others) have free webmail and online storage (larger amounts than Apple offers). You just can’t charge for that anymore.

I realize Apple has some legitimate expenses in running .Mac. I’m not sure how many people use the online backup feature, but there are real bandwidth costs there to be sure. However, I doubt more than a handful of people would raise a fuss if Apple decided to throw a couple Google ads on the .Mac webmail and backup pages if it meant the service would be free.

There’s no technical or financial reason why Apple cannot do this, and it would allow any user who bought Apple’s software to access all the features they paid for. Anyone buying iLife should be able to create and share an iPhoto Web Gallery or an iWeb web page, and anyone who buys Leopard should be able to use the “Back to My Mac” feature. Going forward, the big selling features of both iLife and the Mac OS will continue to be largely web-based in nature. If Apple simply linked a free .Mac service to their customer’s Apple IDs (the ones they already use with iTunes) they would add a great deal of value to their software, and encourage more people to purchase the yearly iLife/OS updates.

The final plea

Steve Jobs jokes that Microsoft sells too many confusing versions of Windows, but that every Leopard user gets the “Ultimate” version of OS X. I would argue that the “Ultimate” version of Leopard costs $129 plus $99 a year for .Mac.

Similarly, Apple loves to flaunt that its OS doesn’t ship with the bloatware and trial software that Windows does. Yet with useless .Mac icons adorning the iLife apps, and .Mac features tauted on the sides of Leopard’s packaging, Apple is pushing its own software with these irremovable “billboards”. The least Apple could do would be to have these icons appear only on .Mac subscriber’s copies of iLife.

So Apple, please, if anyone there has enough free time to have read this (and shame on you if you do), please figure out a way to make .Mac’s key features free to Mac users. You owe it to your loyal customers who shelled out their hard earned cash for these yearly updates, and by adding this extra value, you will cause even more customers to do so going forward.

14 Responses to “Apple, set .Mac free!”
  1. Iraê says:

    I really must agree with most of this. But I think you’re not making much of a big deal with apple’s cost with .Mac. Gmail’s IMAP is only debuting and before that there was not a cheep or free IMAP solution out there, or a good webDAV server, for example. .Mac mostly is about of great speed and great quality for services that the average user don’t even know how to setup.

    I think that a .Mac Lite must make it’s way to the public with the less costly things. Back to my Mac, for instance, is only a damn simple DynDNS, something apple could afford to offer free. Apple is not google, selling software once a year is not a neat business model to set .Mac free. They make realy cheep software. Windows, MS Office and Adobe Suite are the ones who are only based on software. Apple sells Hardware, that’s the truth.

    If they don’t want a .Mac Lite I think they could let you set it up by yourself. Like, Why not .Mac or Advanced for back to my Mac whith a built-in DynDNS Client? They do this with iCal. You can have a WebDav server and share you’re calendar and now you can have you’re own CalDAV server too. You can have Flickr + iPhoto via Flickr Export, Why not iWeb + your webhost?

  2. Luis says:

    I also agree with most of it, my idea in the past is that Apple should give away some features and sell the other. One example is the “” email address, Google is doing it and its working for them, hard to say why Apple can’t do it especially if you are a Mac owner. Online back up is ok to rent, space for a web site ok to sell, knowledge base, common, that should be free.

    My hosting charges are like $60 a year, I don’t see why Apple is still charging $99. I guess that if you add every single feature together makes sense and is relatively cheap but I stand on a free version and paid for version. My two cents.

  3. widgetboy says:

    definitely agree. nicely done article dr. macenstein.

  4. Andreas says:

    Also not to be forgotten: in the time that Microsoft releases one paid upgrade, Apple releases five. Now think about that $129 price tag versus the price of the “ultimate” Vista again… I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, only that OSX isn’t terribly cheap compared to Windows if you consider the fact that you always want to be on top, and buy every release.

  5. Leo says:

    “one of the most solid and feature complete “Version 1.0’s” of any OS. ”

    Wait… WHAT???

    Are you sure? OS X 10.0 was a dog. Really, it seems like you don’t remenber or something. That’s why 10.1 was a free upgrade, it was what 10.0 should have been.

    I agree whit the rest of the post, though.

  6. Ha ha, too true, Leo.
    I remember picking up 10.2 at CompUSA, standing in my first line of Mac Geeks.

    Yes, it was extremely buggy. But most of the core features were there, just not well implemented.

    But good point. Maybe I should have said 10.0.2 was largely feature complete.


    -The Doc

  7. media_lush says:

    excellent idea – may I suggest you make this a facebbook group (assuming you’re a member) – ping me if you do

  8. Michael Long says:

    This is, unfortunately, backwards.

    Given the reported number of individuals who were reported to be torrenting Leopard, I’d say that Apple’s future software revenues might be more assured if they issued a steady stream of free updates, many of which would tie directly into their subscription-based .Mac services.

    It’s a bit harder to steal an online service than it is to rip a DVD…

  9. imajoebob says:

    It’s obvious to me that the real solution is the “Drug Dealer Paradigm.” Buy a Mac, or a qualifying software package, get a free year of ,Mac. A short 60-day taste only shows you what you can do. A full year gets you using it, especially the integrated features, you’re more apt to actually buy it.

    Turning down something new is easy; breaking a habit is nearly impossible.

  10. Kaleberg says:

    Let’s see:
    – $99 / year for .Mac
    – $64.50 / year for OS X upgrades every two years
    – $80-$120 / year for three years of Applecare

    That’s $240 to $280 per year. Maybe they need Applecare Complete which provides Applecare, OS X Upgrades and .Mac. Maybe they could even cut a break on this or offer iWorks or iLife upgrades with it.

  11. Eric says:

    I agree. Why don’t you add a link to Apple’s “report a big” or “report an issue” pages – whatever they are – and then anyone who reads this can easily add their name to that list.

  12. Londan says:

    It’s a nice idea to get .Mac for free, but you skip over the real problem, which is that our beloved Apple has become such a control freak of late. What we really want from Apple is not free services, but open software. The API which handles all the .Mac synchronising is a closed shop. You can only sync with Apple apps and Apple services and they actively discourage developers hooking into it.

    What I’d like is for Apple to open up the API so that my Mac can sync with whatever service I want to, be it .Mac, Google or anyone else. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to buy an iPhone and use it with the cell phone provider of your choice rather than have Apple make that decision for you!

    Still love my Mac, but the real story of Apple and it’s OSX development over the past few years has been a dramatic move away from openness.

  13. Eric,

    while I think .Mac should be free, I would hardly call them charging for it a “bug”.

    You want something like this?

    “Oh yes, Apple, I found a weird bug with your software. Apparently it keeps asking me to PAY for it. Not sure if this happens on your systems or not, but on my Mac Pro it does it consistently. Please fix this.”


    -The Doc

  14. MattZani says:

    Do you get full Web hosting with .mac? aswell as the email, and online back up?

    I’ve always liked the idea of having a Website, and getting my own proper email, instead of a free email.

    But having a quick read, 10Gb of Space wouldnt be enough to backup my iPod, let alone what my MBP (when i buy one) would have, so whats the point? And im going to guess and say the Website hosting will be limited to.

    A free version with just remote access (PSP – PS3 does it free, why not apple?) email and maybe a simple small blog would be enough to make more people upgrade each year.

    Also a Mac Up 2 Date plan would be nice, Full System back up, Warranty, Software upgrades etc. all paid yearly.

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