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.Mac's slow death

Somebody call the ambulance, because .Mac is dying...and Google is the assassin (with a little help from his sidekick Firefox). Now I've been using .Mac since it was free and called "iTools." I was initially lured in by the convenience of iDisk, the mac.com email address and so on. Web bookmark and contact syncing are also super-convenient, and as time passed I made use of some of the other .Mac services, like iCal publishing and so on. Everything was fine. Not free anymore, but fine. Then Google introduced (free) Gmail with oodles more storage than .Mac offers, calendars and so on. To make a long story short, I'm about to give .Mac the boot for good. After the jump, a breakdown of why.


Exhibit A: .Mac mail vs. Gmail

Storage

Currently, .Mac offers me 1GB of storage to be allocated between my mac.com email address and my online storage, iDisk. As I have things set up, 120MB has been set aside for mail with the rest made available to iDisk. Google offers me 2GB of storage space to divvy up between mail and storage (more on that later). I'm not one to let idle messages loiter in my inbox once I've read and processed them, so the issue of space isn't that pressing. Still, I occasionally get photos from my far-flung family members and friends. These can chew up space quickly. So, Google offers me twice the storage space, and it's free. Google wins round one.

Spam

I get lots of spam in my inbox. Gmail does an excellent job of sending it directly to its own spam folder, where I never, ever have to look (it's automatically purged after 30 days). Apple's Mail had been doing a spectacular job, but over the last year or so more and more unwanted messages were seeping through. Today, I continue to get barraged with Viagra ads via Mail. I understand that the tactics of spammers can change over time, but Gmail seems to be able to keep up without a problem.

Frustrated by Mail's failings in the spam department, I set up a spare G3 iMac I had sitting around to be a spam filter for the Macs I routinely work with (iMac and Powerbook at home, plus iMac at work) by following this tutorial at MacMerc. Through the magic of IMAP and SpamSieve, I've got a decent system that neutralizes most of the incoming spam. Perhaps you've noticed the catch, however: Not everyone has a spare computer sitting around. Plus, I had to purchase SpamSieve (I'm not really complaining, it's a great piece of software, but $25US doesn't compare to "free."). Of course, if you only have 1 Mac in your lineup, you won't need the spare machine to act as a filter. But I know that many of us have at least a computer at home and one at work.

Like I said, Google's free Gmail offers killer spam filtering "out of the box." Google wins round 2.

Rules and filtering

As a recovering Entourage user (See? Now you have a reason not to hate me), I'm a real rules junkie. With Entourage, I had all of my destination folders and filtering rules set up just so. It was so easy: create a rule, create a folder to capture the filtered result. Folders make sense. The Finder uses folders. I have folders in my desk and on my bookshelf. I like folders.

Apple's Mail uses Mailboxes. I don't like the mailboxes, and I've never been able to get the rules to work just the way I want. Switching to IMAP helped reduce the "clutter" of mailboxes all over the place, but I'm still not in love. Gmail lets me create and assign labels so easily that it's almost silly. In an instant, I have "From Home" or "Work" or a dozen others ready to go, and they pretty much work like my old Entourage rules did. And it gets even more intricate than that.

I'm one of those annoying people who is a real proponent of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD). Now, you can easily set up a nice GTD system with Apple's Mail as described here with the help of MailTags and Mail Act-On from InDev. Or, just install the (free) GTDGmail Firefox extension. Since I'm already using Gmail, this one is a no-brainer. However, the Mail solution is really just as easy (and not very expensive), so we'll call this one a draw. No clear winner.

Exhibit B: Synchronicity

How ultra-convenient is bookmark and contact synchronization? I love it. No more, "Umm, now what was that url again.." moments. Or, you're at the cafe and you need to contact Lynne, but you left your Palm at home. No problem, you can find her info online. It sure sounds great. In theory. The fact is, my .Mac synchronization hasn't worked properly in many months. Particularly my Safari bookmarks are not in sync at all between my laptop, iMac at home and iMac at work. I've tried resetting all of them, each in turn, sent in help requests and so on. I even removed all machines from my sync schedule and reintroduced them one at a time, setting my home iMac as the "master." No go, it simply won't work.

However, and I'll bet you know where this is going, the Google Browser Sync extension for Firefox has worked beautifully since day one across my three Macs and my Ubuntu PC laptop that I use as my "screwin' around" machine. Cost: Free. Winner: Google/Firefox (Sorry, Safari).

As for contacts, once I moved everyone to my Gmail address book from Apple's Address Book (a three step process with the help of the freeware AddressBookToCSV), synchronization of this data was no longer necessary, as it lived online. In all fairness, this may be working perfectly well for you, so we'll call it a tie.

Exhibit C: Online storage

Sorry, .Mac team, you aren't competitive in this department at all. With the help of the (free and open source) gDisk, I have a drag-and-drop desktop solution that allows me to use my Gmail account as online storage. That gives me 2GB to divvy up between mail and storage (for free) vs. .Mac's 1GB that's shared between iDisk and Mail (for $99US). CLEAR winner: Google. Speaking of online storage...

Exhibit D: Webspace

Finally, .Mac scores a knockdown. Google's Pages pales in comparison to Apple's Homepage and iWeb. Apple's solution is shiny and polished, and the tight iLife integration makes iWeb a real winner. Of course, Pages is free and iLife isn't, but that's like saying the non-working heap of junk you got from the salvage yard was free and the Mercedes Benz wasn't. There is no comparison here. .Mac wins.

Exhibit E: The Calendar


Google responded to Apple's iCal publishing with Gcal, an online calendar system of its own. Both can be viewed online and both offer subscription options to users. Gcal has one distinct advantage over iCal, however, and that's the ability to edit the published calendar. If you want to edit an iCal calendar, you must be sitting at the computer that was used to publish it. That means, if I have my laptop at Borders, I can't edit the iCal calendar I'm looking at with a browser. My Gcal can be edited at anytime by any machine.

What's more, you can use your local copy of iCal to subscribe to your Gcal calendar. Changes made online will show up in iCal, and you can create and subscribe to as many calendars as you like (either your own or any of a number of public calendars). Winner: Gcal.

Conclusion

In my brief roundup, Google won 5:1. I do love Apple, and I say this as someone who wants to see his loved one do well: Please, oh please revamp .Mac. I don't care about new iPods, a new enclosure for the iMac or even iLife '07. Let's make January's Macworld keynote all about .Mac, and really blow the doors off of the thing. I'm talking about the kind of ground-up feature explosion that will make even non-geeks say, "Wow." While I'm very happy with my Google solution, I'd be even happier if I were able to have the same goodness while staying "in the fold." Come on, Cupertino, I know you can do it. Make this blogger happy.

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