No more Xmarks!? No!!

Xmarks, my all-time Web-browser plug-in, is pulling the plug. Damn it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I love Xmarks. To me, along with the Google Toolbar, it is an essential Web browser extension. And, now-sob!--it's on its way to the Web history junk-pile.

All Xmarks does is synchronize your bookmarks and passwords across every computer you have. Doesn't sound like much? To me, with over half-a-dozen computers I use every day, it's a life-saver.

You don't need to be able to keep your house warm in the winter with PCs alone to get value from Xmarks. Just being able to keep your home and work PCs bookmarks and passwords in sync is invaluable. Better still, Xmarks works with all the major Web browsers-Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer-and all the major desktop operating systems: Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. So you could, and I have, keep a common set of Web browser bookmarks and passwords on Chrome running on Mint Linux on my ThinkPad; Internet Explorer on Windows XP and 7 PCs; and Safari on my MacBook Pro. So, instead of having to manually drag my collection of bookmarks with me from one PC to another, and try to keep a few dozen passwords in my head, Xmarks let me keep my Web stuff neat, tidy, and best of all, mindlessly easy, no matter what PC I happened to be using.

That's all about to change. Last night I got an e-mail reading, "Xmarks will be shutting down our free browser synchronization services on January 10, 2011." Then, to the Xmark team's credit, they included a link to substitute programs and services. This includes: Firefox Sync; Google Sync; Windows Live Essentials; and Apple's MobileMe.

These are all fine programs, but they also all have one problem in common: They're not Xmarks. None of them do everything that Xmarks does. Only Firefox Sync comes close, but, like the name says, it only works with Firefox. While MobileMe can do both bookmarks and passwords, Google Sync and Windows Live Essentials only handle bookmarks.

So why is Xmarks doing this since I, and many other people, love Xmarks? It's the old bottom line. Xmarks was never able to work out a way to make money from their great, free add-on program.

As Todd Agulnick, co-founder of Xmarks and CTO, said in a blog posting, "For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs."

Why not charge for it, or say, charge just for password synchronization or other high-end features? Agulnick wrote, "The prospects there are grim too: With the emergence of competent sync features built into Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it's hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free."

Agulnick have also tried to sell Xmarks, but "Over the past three months, we have been remarkably close to striking a deal, only to have the potential buyer get cold feet." Then, the money clock ran out" "Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down. Our plan is to keep the service running for another 90+ days, after which the plug will be pulled."

It's a sobering moment. Here we have a great program that provides an extraordinarily popular service, Xmarks has over 22-million downloads for Firefox alone from a single Firefox site, and its developers can't pay the bills for lack of a successful business plan.

Twitter, and other popular services and programs that don't have a business plan, should take note. Popular success doesn't mean money in the bank. Sometimes it doesn't even mean being able to keep a roof over your head.

I can only hope that someone will come along and invest in Xmarks and work out a real business plan for it. It would be a shame for this wonderful program and service to disappear.

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