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.Mac – Worth the price?

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 10, 2006
(Issue 2445, The Artist In You)

With its .Mac initiative – offering Web hosting, photo and file storage, Webmail, chat and a home page for one low price – Apple seems to be trying to make work what Microsoft hasn't gotten to work with MSN/Windows Live yet. At least, not well.

Of course, there is no recognized .mac domain. It's really And even that simply redirects you to Apple's Web site. (Although users' sites are hosted on

The .Mac is more than simply a portal – it's Apple's attempt to create an online Macintosh users' community – to take elements of the popular Yahoo and MySpace sites and incorporate them into a slick online portal that integrates into the Mac desktop.

And to an extent, it succeeds.

But here's the drawback – actually two drawbacks:

  • It only works with Macintosh computers
  • You have to pay to use it (although there is a 60-day free trial period)

While I can see Apple supporting the small but passionate Mac user base with a Mac-friendly online portal environment, it's harder to see why Mac users would be willing to pay for it – especially when Yahoo, MySpace, Friendster and so many others offer similar services absolutely free.

And while the $99.95 per year subscription for a basic membership is less than $10 a month, it's still pretty pricey for something that is free so many other places.

Having used iDisk at work, I will say that if you have a Mac with OSX, using .Mac is an unbelievably easy experience. It is fully integrated into your Mac environment. iDisk replaces FTP for transferring files, and it's like simply dragging a file from your hard drive to an external drive. Which, in a way, it is. Subscribers get a unified e-mail/chat identity with a address – a certain cachet, I suppose, for hardcore Mac fans who want to let everyone know they're not a lowly Windows user. And, of course, it's an integrated environment for e-mail and chat. There are also .Mac "groups" – basically bulletin boards built around one passion or another, with conversation areas, file areas and calendars. Again, kind of like MySpace.

Paying the .Mac subscription fee does get you an online environment without ads all over the place (or anywhere on your own pages). But folks who use a Mac simply because they like it better might not be so gung-ho to fork out $100 a year for what they can get free at Yahoo.

Microsoft's answer

While .Mac has been out for over a year now (the end user license agreement hasn't been updated or edited since December 2005, anyway), Microsoft has been doing a soft roll-out for its MSN portal replacement, it's Windows Live online communities.

Windows Live combines many of the same features as .Mac does: e-mail, chat, photos, blog.

And like .Mac will only work if you have a mac, Windows Live seems to only work correctly (small stuff like the ability to upload photos from your hard drive to your Windows Live profile) with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. I had to approve the installation of a photo uploader ActiveX tool before I could upload photos – something I wouldn't even be able to do with Netscape, Firefox or Opera. (Or any browser on a Mac or Linux machine.)

As with .Mac, using IE7 with Windows XP and Windows Live is a pretty seamless experience. Both .Mac and Windows Live seem to be trying to blur the boundary between your personal computer and the Internet.

Yahoo, MySpace still king

But while Windows Live is free, I already have a fancied-up profile on I have more than 1,200 "friends" on MySpace, and counting, and more than 400 San Diego area bands on my favorites list. I have about 12 photos up on there, and meet new people nearly every day.

If that's not enough (and it's really quite more than enough, frankly), I have a profile on Yahoo. Actually, as diffuse as Yahoo is, I seem to have at least two profiles: One under their online community, and another on

And while both MySpace and Yahoo are advertising driven and thus place ads on my Web pages, the up side is that there is no fee for me to maintain these profiles.

Both are decidedly low-tech graphically, and neither integrates with my Mac or Windows box the way .Mac and Windows Live do, respectively.

But they're easy to navigate, easy to set up and use. And most importantly, they both have millions and millions of users, making them real online communities where I can go to find people to hang out with and interests to share. E-mail, chat and groups are built into both services, meaning not only do their large user bases make using them more rewarding, but they're just as easy to use as .Mac or Windows Live, even if not as pretty.