Maybe it’s the fact that Rebecca and I are leaving for our trip to San Fransisco in just a few weeks, or maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t have a lot to do this weekend. The result, in any case, was a lot of time spent in front of my computer learning new tricks.
I thought it might be fun to share these. Many of these are going to be Mac specific – but not all! – so hold tight if you’re running Windows. A lot of this is about web services, so there might be something useful here for you too.
Where to start? Gmail. Everybody has Gmail, right? And if you are like me, you have a lot of storage space available there that never gets used, and is unlikely to ever be used. I’ve heard of people using this space to store things other than e-mails, but wasn’t sure how this was done. A simple attachment? On the Mac platform there is a simple but useful program to upload your files to your Gmail account – gDisk. The name is a take off of the iDisk service that Apple offers through its .Mac program. The difference is that .Mac only offers 1GB of storage, and it is available only to paid subscribers. gDisk is free and offers access to a lot more than 1GB. Granted you can’t use these files with a .Mac homepage, but really, who cares?
On Windows, Rebecca is using Gmail Drive to accomplish the same thing. Then again, maybe Google itself will be offering this service in the near future. Even without a Gdrive, .Mac is being bested in the market a lot. Some of my other examples are also free .Mac workarounds. TUAW had a three part series on what’s-up-with-.Mac? on the weekend. You can find the posts here, here and here. More on this at the conclusion.
I’ve got pictures on the side column once again. I tried using Flickr’s feed for that a while back and wound up with some inappropriate stuff. My second attempt involves Picassa Web Albums, which are free to anyone with a Gmail account (which is everybody, right?). I figured out how to add images to a WordPress blog by editing a text widget a while back, but was stumped for a place to host them. Embarrassingly, I had forgotten my password for the FTP space that Shaw Internet provides. I never bothered to dig too hard to get that resolved because I thought I might be able to find a Web service that would host and offer a widget that rotates the pictures. It turns out that particular Web service is not one Google’s Picassa services. It hosts, but the picture does not change automatically. Maybe Rebecca will allow me to use her Flickr feed or maybe I’ll have to overcome my aversion to Yahooo and Yahoo products and get one myself. One point in Picassa’s favour, however, is that it integrates with iPhoto; you can upload / export to Picassa web from within that program.
.Mac’s integration with OS X is nice but it is horribly overpriced. A subscription based web service can be an attractive offering, but to do so it has to outshine its’ free competition. Having no ads is the right thing to do, but neither the storage n or the service has kept up with the competition. Flickr offers massive storage on a paid account, and Picassa offers 6GB for $25 annually. .Mac wants an additional $50 to increase storgae to 2GB. That’s on top of the roughly $100 annual subscription (even more in Canada). What about iWeb? What about Photocasting with iPhoto? What about them? There are many, many free blogging services that are head and shoulders above what iWeb offers. If WordPress is too technical, check out Vox, for an example of a great looking service that is reputed to be very simple to use. It’s offered by Six Apart, the same people that created Typepad. As for photocasting – it seems you can enter any photo hosting service’s RSS in iPhoto and you are in. I’ve got it working with Rebecca’s Flickr feed, for example. What’s left that is unique and useful at .Mac? Well, there is synch. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect there are programs out there to do this as well.
What else was I playing around with in anticipation of our travels? Skype. Skype has been around for a while but this is the first time I’ve given it a look. I was curious to see if we could use it to save money on calls back home while travelling and it turns out the answer is – yes! Right now “skype out” calls are free until the end of the year. Skype out calls are calls where you use skype to call a non skype phone number. We tried this out with a local call and the quality of the sound was very good, even if there was slight delay. The great thing about the iMac – and the Macbook that Rebecca has – is that they offer a built in Microphone, so you can use a service like skype as soon as you download and install the software.
If Apple is going to keep .Mac relevant and charge for it, one way to stay competative might be to approach some of these companies. Apple had to approach music recording labels and film/ TV producers for iTunes content, so why not use .Mac as an umbrella that provides both very good OS X integration and the level of service that a paid blog and photo host offers? How about working with Skype (or something similar) and including a internet phone service, so that iChat can be used to make phone calls, or video phone calls? It offers that now, but a social service needs more people in the network. The important part of a service linkage like that would be that iChat could then be used to reach people not using Macs or OS X. Why not give a really useful version of iChat away – just like iTunes is given away – and use it to prod people into paying for a .Mac service that will make the free program much more useful? iTunes and the iTunes store could be an example. A blog service could act as a yellow pages for the service, and / or a place to flesh out one’s web presence with writing, photo streams or music samples – anything that helps people connect with one another. If a iPod with cell phone capabilities should ever come along, well, that would fit in just ducky, wouldn’t you say?