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iTools "Free For Life?" Well...

Just A Thought - iTools "Free For Life?" Well...

by , 10:00 AM EDT, July 22nd, 2002

This past MACWORLD Expo will likely go down in history as one of the most turbulent in Apple's history -- after the infamous storming of Apple's booth by Joel Kocher's Power Computing mob in 1997 -- all because of a marketing faux pas that has been exacerbated by managing missteps. Yet Apple can still come out of this smelling like a rose, well, maybe not a rose but surely smelling less like something emitted southward from a north bound moose.

When Steve Jobs announced the termination of iTools and the creation of .Mac, and that the once free services would now cost $100 a year, I have to believe he knew there would be a lot of dissent among the Apple crowd. A casual look through Apple-centric forums and I get three general points being made amidst the cries of betrayal; first and foremost is that many believe that Apple promised the mac.com e-mail account we got would be free forever. I've looked through many of Apple press releases and keynote speeches, and while all indicate that the mac.com e-mail account is free, nowhere could I find anything saying it was free forever. That is, until I ran across this while surfing the Apple forums:

What happens when you leave one Internet Service Provider (ISP) for another? Usually it means that you have to change your email [sic] address. And that means re-subscribing to mailing lists, notifying friends, family, and colleagues about your new address, and changing account settings at the Apple Store, Amazon, and other online vendors. But it doesn't have to be painful to switch ISPs. Not if you have a Mac.com email account. One of the four Internet services that are part of iTools, a Mac.com account is a snap to set up and easy to remember. That's because you use your member name ("ulysses") as part of your email address ("ulysses@mac.com"), so as long as you remember your name, you'll remember your address. Mac.com also provides all the features you need in an email account, including auto reply and mail forwarding. What's more, you can keep it as long as you like and use it with any ISP you sign up with, so even if you switch -- from AOL to EarthLink, let's say -- you can still get your mail delivered to your Mac.com address.

This came from an eNews (Volume 3, Issue 24 and, while it does not say "free forever," it certainly implies it. On many forums some suggest that the "free forever" bit for mac.com e-mail is an urban legend, but, like most legends, there is a nugget of truth that fuels it and keeps it alive. There may be other examples of implied "free forever" mac.com e-mail in Apple's literature. If you run across any please let us know.

The second point is that many actually understand Apple's need to charge for services, and that the $100 a year for .Mac is not bad at all. Those who can use the services offered by .Mac find that it is indeed a bargain. The problem is that many don't want or need all of services .Mac offers and would just as soon keep the e-mail only and, perhaps, the home pages, which leads me to the third point.

Many forum posters don't care for the all-or-nothing approach Apple has chosen and would prefer a multi-level .Mac offering. I've gone over my thoughts on this in a previous editorial, but in a nutshell; many want Apple to offer e-mail only accounts at a reduced cost per year, or for free, and to offer other portions of the .Mac service at a reduced rate, like home page hosting. I like this idea. While I would certainly vote for free e-mail, I understand that Apple may not be able to provide it for free, so I'd be willing to pay some small fee to maintain my mac.com account.

The incongruity between Apple and its customers will only grow unless Apple does something quickly and decisively. I hope Apple finds a way through this that satisfies most folks.

Vern Seward is a frustrated writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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