The Enigma That Is .Mac
Completing the Tiger Internet access suite is .Mac—Apple’s $100 subscription-based Mac add on. Apple has had a reasonably difficult time selling .Mac as being a necessary part of Mac OS X. Apple has integrated the operating system with some of its features (as we’ll see shortly) but hasn’t done a good job of convincing users that they need it. In Tiger, the integration is tighter than before, but its still debatable as to whether it is a must-have product for Mac users.
Part of Apple’s problem is that .Mac is not well defined. If you don’t subscribe to the service, yet use a Mac on a daily basis, you’re probably not feeling like there’s anything missing from your operating system (except perhaps Windowshades, tabbed Finder windows, System Sounds, and so on...). Apple itself doesn’t seem to know what .Mac is, other than a renewable revenue stream.
The easiest way to define .Mac is to enumerate the features it offers:
Network storage (iDisk)—The .Mac iDisk offers 250MB of network-accessible storage. Using your iDisk, you can access your files from other machines or even share them with friends. Based on the lightweight WebDAV protocol (which runs over HTTP), iDisk is fast, cross-platform, and less susceptible to network issues such as firewalls.
Synchronization services—.Mac, in conjunction with iSync, provides a means for all your Macs to share the same bookmarks, Contacts, Keychains, Mail accounts, and calendars. Instead of maintaining two sets of bookmarks/etc on your desktop and laptop, a single global set is maintained and synchronized through .Mac.
Network-based Mac OS X information—A .Mac account can hold information that you normally access through applications on your computer and make it available to you through a network connection wherever you are. Calendars, Contacts, and Bookmarks are currently available with additional "access it anywhere" services in development. The .Mac screensaver (discussed shortly) even allows you to view slideshows stored on remote users’ iDisks.
.Mac email—Apple-hosted email services, including a nice web interface, are included as part of the subscription. Additional accounts with a smaller quota can be added to a .Mac account for a small fee.
Exclusive software—Although not earth-shattering, Apple is currently offering two pieces of .Mac members only software: Virex (virus protection) and Apple’s own Backup (personal document backups). These pieces of software are actually a good value if you need the functionality they offer. (See Chapter 29, "Maintaining a Healthy System," for more information on Backup.) If you were, for example, planning to buy a Virus protection package for $50 already, that’s half the cost of a .Mac subscription.
Family-oriented Web services—The .Mac website makes it easy to create custom websites—either using files from your iDisk, or simply by exporting them from within iPhoto. Users can also send iCards created with your own or professionally photographed images.
Training—Basic Macintosh tutorials and training materials are available online for common family/consumer activities such as using iTunes, creating web pages, and so on. These features are definitely geared toward beginners.
Software discounts—Special software discounts are offered for select packages, such as children’s games. Again, this feature of Mac.com is offered primarily for the benefit of home users. Power users expecting to find a 50% discount on DOOM 3 are going to be sorely disappointed (prove me wrong Apple, please).
Because describing how to use a website (http://www.mac.com) is not the purpose of this book (and the information contained on the site is variable in nature), we won’t attempt to document the features that you access through your web browser. Instead, we’ll look at how .Mac’s Tiger-integrated features are used then take a brief walkthrough of the web services so that you can make the decision of whether you want to join the .Mac club.
Setting Up .Mac Service
To set up your .Mac services, open the System Preferences application and click the .Mac pane. Your screen should resemble Figure 3.74.
Your choices are limited: Either enter your existing .Mac member name and password, or click the Sign Up button to create a new account. If signing up for the first time, your web browser is launched, and you are taken to the http://www.mac.com signup page. Keep in mind that you don’t need to commit to a full account immediately. You can apply for a 60-day free trial and try the members-only features (except for the exclusive software) before you buy.
Figure 3.74 ConFigure or create .Mac services in the .Mac preferences pane.
If you already have a .Mac account, enter your information in the appropriate fields, and then press Enter. The system will verify your account and display a Password Valid message—assuming that it is.
Using the iDisk
The Apple iDisk is really just a WebDAV share that your system automatically knows how to connect to without additional information. If you’re used to working with AppleShare, NFS, or CIFS servers and you connect to network resources regularly, there are few surprises. iDisk requires a network connection and is barely usable on dial-in lines. Cable or DSL should be considered the minimum tolerable network requirement for making a connection.
iDisk does have one feature that sets it apart from a normal network share—the capability to keep a local copy of its contents that are synchronized automatically when you connect to the Internet. This means that you always have an up-to-date offline copy of the files in case you don’t have Internet access.
From the perspective of the end user, iDisk synchronization is entirely transparent—your iDisk appears like any other disk whether working with the contents online or using the local copy. As you make changes to the files, they are noted and automatically uploaded to the .Mac server in the background. You can also choose to manually synchronize files if you want.
iDisk Storage Space and Settings
You can customize how your iDisk works and view a quick status of how much space is available by clicking the iDisk button within the .Mac system preferences pane. The pane shown in Figure 3.75 is displayed.
Figure 3.75 ConFigure your iDisk and view the space available.
At the top of the pane is the amount of storage currently in use and the total available. You can buy additional iDisk storage space by clicking the Buy More button. Additional iDisk space is sold, like .Mac, on a subscription basis.
Here you can also turn synchronization on and off and choose where it should happen automatically or be performed manually. If you do not start Syncing, the iDisk will only be accessible over the Internet; You cannot work with the contents without an active network connection.
Also in the iDisk pane are controls for determining how your public folder is accessed. The iDisk public folder is a special directory on the iDisk that can be read by other Mac OS X users without needing your .Mac login information. You can use the Public folder as a place to exchange files with a few people, or perhaps release a new piece of software you’ve written to the world.
To keep things under your control, Apple provides the option of choosing whether other users (that is, not you) have read-only or read-write access to your folder, and whether the folder should be password protected. If you choose to password protect the folder, you are prompted to set a new password; do not use your .Mac password. This is a password that you give out to your friends so that they can connect to your Public folder.
Accessing and Synchronizing Your iDisk
After entering the membership information needed to connect to your iDisk, you can immediately start using the service by opening a Finder window and then clicking the iDisk icon in the sidebar or by choosing Go, iDisk, My iDisk from the Finder menu (Shift-Command-I). After a few seconds, the iDisk icon (a blue orb) appears on your desktop and/or in your Finder Sidebar.
If this is the first time that you’ve used your iDisk (and you haven’t configured it otherwise), Tiger prompts you to synchronize the entire contents of your iDisk before going any further. If you intend to keep the disk synchronized, allowing the initial synchronization is a good idea. It might take a while at first, but subsequent syncs will only need to copy the data that has changed, if any.
You can force synchronization at any time by clicking the chasing arrow (circular arrows) icon to the right of the iDisk icon in the Finder. If you’ve chosen to have your Mac automatically synchronize the iDisk, you can tell when the synchronization is in progress by watching the icon to the right of the iDisk in your Finder window; it spins while synchronizing.
Open the iDisk like you would any other disk. If you clicked the iDisk icon in the Finder shortcut bar, the Finder window refreshes to show its contents. If you mounted it from the Go menu, you can double-click the iDisk icon on the desktop.
An iDisk contains nine folders:
Backup—If you’ve used the Apple Backup utility, this folder contains the data that has been stored. It is created and maintained automatically.
Documents—Your personal storage space for stuff; no one has access to these files but you.
Library—Data storage for applications such as iSync. Again, these files are maintained automatically and probably shouldn’t be touched.
Movies—A place to store your (webified) Movie files. Movies placed in this location are available for use within the .Mac HomePage website builder utility.
Music—A place for you to store your music files. With the advent of the Apple Music Store, I’d venture a guess that Apple will be adding the capability to download song purchases to this folder in the future.
Pictures—Like Music and Movies, Pictures provides a content-specific place for you to drop your image files. Images placed in the Pictures folder are available within HomePage and the Apple’s iCard builder.
Public—Your online folder that can be opened to the public. Files stored here can be accessed (if you choose) by friends, or anyone in the world.
Sites—The files for your Apple-hosted mac.com website are stored in the Sites folder. Files placed here are accessible via the URL http://homepage.mac.com/<mac.com username>/<filename>.
Software—Apple’s collection of freeware and demo Mac software and music. If you need a quick software fix, this is where you can find it.
Work with iDisk as you would a hard drive or network share, but be aware that copying files to or from the iDisk takes time. If you are configured to maintain a local copy of the iDisk, transfers will be nearly instantaneous, but the actual transfer occurring in the background might take minutes or hours, depending on the quality of your connection.
Accessing Other User’s iDisks
To access other Users iDisks (if you have multiple .Mac accounts, for example) choose Go, iDisk, Other User’s iDisk from the Finder menu. You are prompted for the user’s membership name and password, as seen in Figure 3.76
To mount another user’s Public folder, choose Go, iDisk, Other User’s Public Folder. In this case, you are prompted for the member name, but you do not need to supply a password unless one has been set by the owner of the remote iDisk account.
Figure 3.76 Mount another user’s iDisk.
iDisks are the cornerstone of the .Mac service and are what make most of the other services possible. Without, for example, a central storage place to keep other sync information, there would be no means of synchronizing multiple computers on different networks.
Syncing Your Tiger Application Information
Throughout this (and other chapters), we’ve identified how to turn on .Mac synchronization for various pieces of information—Safari Bookmarks, Mail accounts, and so on. All of this is configured through the Sync pane within the .Mac system preference pane, as shown in Figure 3.77.
Figure 3.77 Choose the services you want to sync.
Obviously you’ll need to have Bookmarks, Calendars, and such on one of your computers before you start syncing them. After you have them, select the Synchronize with .Mac check box and choose whether you’d like to sync automatically or manually. Finally, check off the services that you want to synchronize.
.Mac uses iSync to perform the synchronization process. If you don’t already iSync added to your menu bar, click Show Status in Menu Bar to add the iSync menu extra. You can manually start a sync through the menu extra or by clicking the Sync Now button in the .Mac sync settings pane. For more information on iSync, refer to Chapter 2.
Managing Synchronized Machines and Data
As you enable .Mac syncing on your computers, they are automatically registered with .Mac. iSync keeps everything in order, but if you want to manage your machine registrations (remove computers that are no longer active, reset sync data, disable machines that should no longer sync), this can be managed through the Advanced .Mac preference pane, shown in Figure 3.78.
Figure 3.78 Control the machines registered to sync with your .Mac account.
To unregister a computer that is registered with your account, select it in the list, and then click the Unregister button.
To complete reset all synchronization information, click Reset Sync Data. This will let you choose what information (information from your local computer or .Mac account) will be used as the basis for future synchronization.
Configuring the .Mac Screensaver
Trying to fit a .Mac topic area within Mac OS X Unleashed is difficult. What applications should be included under .Mac, and which stand alone? In Chapter 2, we discussed iSync, iCal, and Address Book; in this chapter, we covered Safari and Mail. The determination of what falls under .Mac has boiled down to "what Tiger software wouldn’t work at all if .Mac didn’t exist?" iDisk is one component, and the second (perhaps unlikely) feature is a screensaver.
The .Mac screensaver enables a user to view slideshows that they (or someone else) have created and saved to their .Mac accounts.
To use the screensaver, open the Desktop and Screen Saver System Preferences pane. Choose .Mac from the list of available Screen Savers and then click the Configure button. A dialog appears, as shown in Figure 3.79, that contains all slideshows that you’ve subscribed to.
Figure 3.79 Create a slideshow that any Internet-connected Mac can view.
To add a new show, enter the name of the .Mac account (such as robynness) in the .Mac membership name field, choose the display options you want used during the presentation, and then click OK. The next time your screensaver is activated, you see the photographs you added to .Mac with iPhoto.
To remove or disable subscriptions, you must click Configure again, select the slideshow, and then press your Delete key, or use the Selected check box to simply disable it.
Using .Mac Web Services
The final .Mac features we’ll look at are the web services. Accessed with a web browser through http://www.mac.com, these features are aimed at families and those on-the-go types who frequently have to access the Internet or send email through computers that aren’t their own.
The HomePage website builder, shown in Figure 3.80, allows anyone to create web pages without any knowledge of HTML. Simply copy images and movies to your iDisk (in the appropriate folders, of course), choose a HomePage template, and then add your own narrative content.
Figure 3.80 Use the HomePage builder to create instant websites.
Apple provides templates for photo albums, resumes, iMovies, and more. If you’re an advanced user, you can always add your own content directly to the iDisk Sites folder and create any site you want.
The Apple iCards are a collection of elegant photographs that you can add a message to and forward to your friends, demonstrated in Figure 3.81. Images that you’ve placed in your iDisk Pictures folder are also available for use.
Even if you aren’t exactly thrilled by the idea of sending iCards, you might enjoy looking through the iCard photograph library. Apple’s selection of photographs is excellent.
Access on the Go
Probably the most compelling web service for advanced users is the access to traditionally desktop information while on the go. iSync keeps everything connected so that what you see on your desktop is what you see online, and vice versa. Figure 3.82, for example, shows the Safari Bookmark browser.
Figure 3.81 Create your own iCards to send to friends.
Figure 3.82 The Safari Bookmark browser allows you to access and update bookmarks from anywhere.
Likewise, .Mac email and Address Book entries are also accessed through a web interface and carry the feel of a native Mac application along with them. Figure 3.83 shows the .Mac web-based email.
Figure 3.83 It’s like your Tiger email application—in a web browser.
Because we’ve already covered the iCal web calendars earlier (refer to Chapter 2 for details), there’s very little left to say.
As of the time of this writing, this is .Mac. The direction Apple seems to be heading in is providing ways of taking your data with you. The synchronization of desktop applications with web services is likely to continue to be the focus of future developments. As you’ve seen, and will continue to see throughout the book, certain applications provide support for saving information to .Mac—either through iSync, or as a direct function of the application.
If you’re an enterprising user with your own server, yes, you can probably replicate many, if not all, of these services for free. The benefit of .Mac is that it is already in place, is centralized, and works (at least usually).