.Mac began in 2000 as a service called iTools that offered iReviews, iCards, KidSafe, Mac.com Web/POP email, iDisk and HomePage. People flocked to the service because it was useful and it was free.
At Macworld Expo New York 2002 Apple announced .Mac, the upgraded version of iTools that provided email, Web sites, storage of digital photo albums, calendars and even a backup function - for US$99 per year. The price was a bit of a shock to iTools users and many elected not to buck up. In 2005 Apple increased storage capacity to 1GB of combined email and iDisk space, added Backup 3 and .Mac groups, but still had problems adding new users.
I have used iTools and .Mac since their inception and still find them incredibly useful - but not for the reason that most people do. I barely use my .Mac email account but I use several other features of .Mac all of the time.
1. iCal - I have been hooked on Apple's calendar application since it came out and use .Mac to sync several personal and family calendars. With iSync these calendars also easily sync to my Treo. This alone is an indispensible service of .Mac that is almost worth the price of admission alone.
2. Photo/Web publishing - I used to use iPhoto exclusively for photos but have since upgraded to Aperture. Both allow you to publish beautiful photo galleries to .Mac with a single click. When working on a Web site recently for a local community group I was have trouble uploading files via SFTP to my server, but with one click I posted the site to .Mac.
3. iDisk is an easy way to store and share files online. We use iDisk to pass around versions of the PowerPage Podcast during editing.
4. iCards - Although there are plenty of free services available, I really like the look and feel of Apple's online greeting cards. The interface is simple and the designs are stunning.
Photocasting is a promising new feature of .Mac that allows your to share photos with friends and family automatically. In iPhoto you simply select a photo album, then choose Photocast from the Share menu, click Publish then Announce. An email is sent to anyone you wish allowing them to view the pictures in their iPhoto or any RSS reader. Whenever you update that iPhoto album, subscribers automatically receive updates.
This year I plan to use .Mac's Groups more. Groups are private, ad-free online communities that allow users to "communicate, coordinate and share digital media." Group members can send emails to the entire group and post files, pictures and movies with a common group iDisk and share a common iCal calendar. I've started a group called PowerPagers as an experiment that you are welcome to join if you'd like to test it out.
I know that .Mac is expensive and that some free alternatives exist (this guy thinks .Mac should be free) but discounts are available. The service also needs some spiffy new Web 2.0 features, but I enjoy the simplicity and ease of use of .Mac and will be keeping it - at least for another year.
Where do you stand on .Mac?