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Email for the Mac faithful

Apple.com - Steve Jobs' new Internet venture - has everything from Mac email to greeting cards

Among the revelations at Wednesday's keynote address by Apple's now-permanent CEO, Steve Jobs, were a number of tidbits about the company's newly redesigned Web site, including new greeting card and Web site review sections.

iReview, a new section of the Apple.com site devoted to reviewing "the very best of the best for Mac users", organises sites into 15 different categories such as movies, health and music. Anonymous Apple reviewers write descriptions of various sites and rank them on a scale of one to five stars.

iCards, Apple's greeting card site, lets Internet surfers send personalised cards via email for free. Cards are available for pretty much every major Hallmark-esque category, including birthdays, illnesses, holidays, love and more. The Web reviews and cards can be used by anyone with Internet access. However, Apple's other new section, iTools, is only for Macintosh users.

Mac owners can now also sign up for their own "mac.com" email account. The new email service from Apple will work with a variety of email clients. KidSafe, an Internet filtering tool, gives kids access to 55,000 approved sites and blocks out everything else.

Two other new tools, iDisk and Homepage, give Mac owners a place to store up to 20MB of data on Apple's Internet server and the tools to build their own homepages.

Jobs' announcement that Apple will try its hand at greeting cards, Web site reviews and free email appears to be an attempt by the company to capitalise on some of the most popular uses of the Internet. But the approach has also left some analysts wondering, why bother?

"I don't really understand a strategy where a hardware manufacturer is providing things that are already available in a variety of places on the Web," said Harry Fenick, vice president of analysis for Zona Research.

After hearing of the new features, Fenick admitted he was at a loss to explain how the announcements fit into a clear strategy for the company. "There's a certain randomness about Apple," Fenick said. "It probably signifies a lack of cohesion in their strategy."

Apple's decision to partner with Internet service provider EarthLink did not receive such harsh criticism, however. "EarthLink is a good provider," admitted Fenick. "They don't have the reach of a worldwide provider like, say, an MCI. But in the United States, EarthLink is a credible choice."

Under terms of its partnership, EarthLink software will be included with all Macintosh computer sold in the US and Apple will receive a cut from every Mac customer that subscribes to the service.

Apple will invest $200m (£124m) in the ISP and receive a seat on the company's board of directors.

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Also see Powering up Apple: Macworld Expo Special.