The iCloudBook

Andy Ihnatko [writing in MacWorld]( suggest that iCloud is more than just a replacement for MobileMe.

> It’s so very clear to me now that just as Superman is the living ideal of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, the 11” [MacBook] Air is the tangible ideal of iCloud. You grab it when you leave the office and that’s it. No syncing, no updating, no need to trust that you’ll find WiFi when you get to where you’re going: iCloud kept your iCloudBook’s files up-to-date as you were updating them on your iMac so you’re already good.

MobileMe Wants to Be [mostly] Free

... Apple sells the service for $99 per year, or $69 for the first year with the purchase of a Mac or qualifying iOS device. For that, the MobileMe subscriber gets services like IMAP e-mail, data syncing, photo and website hosting, an interminably slow iDisk, a questionable Backup, and Find My iPhone. They also get 20 GB of storage and 200 GB of monthly bandwidth. There’s also a MobileMe Family Pack for $149, providing more e-mail addresses, storage, and bandwidth.

In comparison, Google offers free e-mail, data syncing, photo hosting, along with a free office suite, and free Android device location. ... Microsoft provides 25 GB of storage, along with free e-mail and other similar services, all for free. See where this is going? Apparently Apple doesn’t. Apple just recently  introduced Find My iPhone for free, but it basically had to because of what the competition is offering.

I think that Charles Jade has a point about MobileMe not being a compelling solution at $99 when compared to free but capable services from Google and Microsoft.  But I think his conclusion that Apple should use MobileMe as a loss leader to drive iOS device and Mac hardware sales is flawed.

I think that MobileMe's value proposition is that all it's services are well integrated with the FREE software that comes pre-installed on every Mac (or the integration services available from an iPhone or iPad).  Steve Jobs alluded to it in his speech during the Apple Q4 earnings call in October.   MacStories's  Federico Viticci has a good analysis of that.

Flickr provides unlimited photo accounts — Flickr Pro — for $24.95/year.  My favorite online backup service, Backblaze, provisions unlimited storage accounts for $5/month or $50/year.  Online storage is not too expensive.  To consumers it might seem that they are really paying $99/year for iDisk since Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts are free. I would agree. And $99/year is a lot to pay for 20GB.

But Lev Grossman, writing for TIME about the early days of Internet music sums up my conclusions about how MobileMe can compete.

It turns out that there is something that can compete with free: easy

Seamless and easy integration with the OS is MobileMe's value proposition.  I don't have any facts about the adoption rate of Find My iPhone but I would wager that it's use has increased since it became free.  I think Apple gave away Find My iPhone to bring attention to MobileMe — very few of my Windows colleagues had ever heard about it — and as a way to test the waters and measure consumer adoption for what they are really planning.  Apple has completed building a large data center in North Carolina and there is a quite a bit of speculative coverage about what that data center is North Carolina will be used for.

What if MobileMe came in two versions?  A low cost (US $20-$30/year) or "light" version and a "pro" (US $50-$99) version.

The light version of iDisk would offer similar storage and syncing capabilities to Dropbox — 2GB.  You would also use the iDisk storage for iPhoto and iMove galleries and address for iWeb hosting.  The email and calendar account would be limited to one user with 1GB of storage (separate to the iDisk storage). Apple could offer it free for one year with the purchase of a new Mac, iPhone or iPad.

When the year ends Apple could provide easy renewal (auto-renewal) and an option to upgrade to the "pro" version.  The pro version should have features that meet or exceed ( shared storage and multiple accounts ) the free services being offered by Google and Microsoft.  I think this would give Mac — and iOS device owners especially — a taste of what is possible and hook them into the Apple eco-system.

I'm not an analyst and I'm often wrong about a lot of things but I think what I suggest is quite possible and doable.

ShareTool - remote access for any Mac application or service that uses Bonjour

When my MobileMe account came up for renewal, I let it expire. I did not need it. I had found cheaper and better alternatives.

When Apple's $99 MobileMe service was released I was quick to register. With MobileMe I could access my mail, contacts, and calendar information in the “cloud” and keep everything in sync across my Macs, my iPod Touch (not iPhone for me as yet), and the web automatically. I could upload my photos to a web gallery and invite my friends and family to view my photo slideshow and download their favorites. iDisk allowed me to store and share files online and access them from another Mac, or from my iPod Touch or from a web browser on any computer. With iDisk Sync, I could keep a copy of my iDisk files on my local hard drive for offline editing and when I reconnected my changes would automatically sync back to my iDisk.

However, when my subscription for MobileMe came up for renewal I let it lapse. Why? I've been using the Google Mail service since it launched in 2004 and with Snow Leopard I am able to sync my Gmail to, my Google Calendar to iCal, and my Google Contacts to AddressBook. I can access these services from any computer with a web browser (I prefer Google Chrome), any Mac on which I have an account, and from my iPod Touch (and iPhone if I had one). All for FREE!

But what about MobileMe's Gallery feature? I've had a Flickr Pro account for a few years. For just $24.95/year, Flickr provides me with unlimited uploads and storage for high-resolution original images and high-definition video. With a free Flickr account, you can upload 2 videos and 100MB worth of photos each calendar month. I can create slideshows, edit my photos, share with friends and family, or link my photos back to my blog. Don't try any of that with MobileMe.

While MobileMe provides 20GB of storage that space is used for all your email, calendar, address book, photos, and files. With my photos hosted on Flick, and my email,calendar and address book safely stored on Google's super reliable "cloud", I found that I did not need much online file storage. I started using Dropbox. Dropbox allows me to sync my files online and across multiple computers (Mac, Linux and Windows) - automatically. The free version provides 2GB of online storage, which is quite sufficient for my needs. Sharing files is simple and Dropbox provides access to my files via any web browser and my iPod Touch. Oh, and it also provides interactive photo galleries.

So, yes, I let my MobileMe account expire. And I did not miss it. My wallet felt a little heavier too. I had saved about $75.

Then a few months later I was working on my brother-in-laws Mac and needed access to files on my Mac mini. Of course, the very files I needed would not be on my Dropbox account. I had no way to access my Mac mini. It was then that I realized how useful MobielMe's "Back to My Mac" feature is.

Back to My Mac puts any Mac OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard Mac you use within easy reach. MobileMe finds your remote Mac computers over the Internet and displays them in the Finder on the Mac you’re using. With Back to My Mac Screen Sharing, you can control your remote Mac as though you’re sitting in front of it.

Fortunately my brother-in-law lives near my home but Back to My Mac would have been more convenient than driving back home, copying the files to the Dropbox folder, and driving back to my brother-in-law's home. I did not like that. I had to find a solution. A few weeks later I discovered an application from YazSoft called ShareTool. ShareTool lets you access all of the Bonjour services on your home network from anywhere. This includes iTunes Music Sharing, Screen Sharing, File Sharing, printing, and more. In effect with ShareTool I can remotely access any Mac service on my home network as though I was physically on the home network.

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Once installed, ShareTool presents the user with two choices of operation - Connect or Share. The Share options configures a Mac to provide services over the Internet while the Connect options allows the remote Mac to connect to that share node. Click the Share button and ShareTool automatically configures your router and the current Mac with the proper network settings. To connect to a remote host over the Internet from your other Mac you'll need information about the Internet address address and port that the remote ShareTool host is using. Don't worry about writing this down as ShareTool contains a feature that will email this information to you when you setup the "Share". Simply copy that information from the email into the other ShareTool and start working.

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Screen shot 2009-12-24 at 11.38.20 AM.png ShareTool provides a number of other features to make accessing your Mac over the Internet both easy and secure. You can specify exactly which Bonjour services are available including, iTunes Music Sharing, iPhoto Picture, sharing, Apple File Sharing, Windows file sharing, Screen Sharing, SSH, printing or any other service running on the remote Mac that uses the Bonjour service. I have my HD TiVo set to share files with my Mac via Bonjour. From work I am able to pull up one of my recorded TV shows and watch it during my lunch hour. I'm the paranoid type and allow access to my computer over the open Internet can be scary, so I am happy that ShareTool encrypts it communication using AES-128 bit encryption and uses a unique and randomly generate key each time a connection is created. ShareTool can also be used over a VPN and provides an audit feature so I can see exactly which users are using the service.

When sharing my network I configured ShareTool to send an email with the connection information, automatically update an external DNS service, and auto launch iTunes and iPhoto. From the comfort of my desk I can listen to my entire iTunes library over the Internet. How sweet it is. When connecting to my home network from work ShareTools will show me my home network just as though I was sitting at home. I can see all my Macs in the Finder, connect to them, open and edit files, move, create or delete folder - pretty anything I could do while at home. I am able to connect to my Time Capsule over the Internet and setup Time Machine to use the remote Time Capsule for backup.

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I am still playing around with ShareTool but I have not discovered any limitations to what I can do over the Internet. The trial copy of ShareTools limits each session to just 15 minutes but this is enough time to discover the true potential of this awesome tool. ShareTool is just $20 for a single license but you can get a discount when additional licenses are purchased.