The Problem with iCloud

As a huge fan of most things Mac, it’s not easy for me to be less than enthusiastic about the transformation of MobileMe into iCloud. Some users have paid for MobileMe for years, without really understanding what it is, or taking advantage of all the features it offered. Now that MobileMe is on its way out, and Apple is sending dire warnings that MobileMe users better switch to iCloud or else, there is anxiety. What is Mobile Me? What is iCloud? What do we do?

First, let’s start with MobileMe. MobileMe evolved out of iTools, then Dot Mac years ago, and offered not only the .mac domain for email addresses, but also iDisk, MobileMe Galleries, Find My iPhone, contact, calendar and bookmark synchronization across devices and computers, and storage space for iWeb. iWeb was the easy to use website creation tool. MobileMe was an annual subscription service that ran $99 per year. For many it was a great deal, allowing mere mortals with no programming skills whatsoever put together and maintain elaborate websites. Apparently, Steve Jobs reportedly was not a fan of what MobileMe had become.

For one thing, synching via Dot Mac, later MobileMe, was anything but reliable. Users were constantly wiping out their data, losing their calendars and contacts, and generally getting themselves into trouble with the whole, complicated sync process. The idea was that MobileMe would be the digital hub for your content, tying together your music, photos, contacts, calendar and bookmarks. But the reality was less than elegant. After several unhappy starts and changes (the switch from Dot Mac to MobileMe was especially painful, and led to loss of service, loss of email and loss of the upper level of management in that division), it seemed that MobileMe was finally coming into its own. Probably one of the most popular, and useful features was Mobile Me Galleries. With a mere click or two, a user was able to post Photo albums online, in a private, password-protected account. Friends and family could then view these galleries online, and even download images they liked as full-quality digital copies, if the owner chose to allow it. It was wonderful.

iWeb was another great feature that many users mourn the loss of. But it’s not really disappearing, per se. It just won’t be a part of iCloud. With a few adjustments, determined users will still be able to use the iWeb program (at least for awhile) to create sites and host them somewhere else using FTP. iWeb 3 made it possible to publish websites on traditional web hosts. Keep in mind, however, that future upgrades of the OS on your Mac may render iWeb inoperable. We would suggest biting the bullet and converting sites to WordPress, the new standard for website templates. iWeb’s days are numbered. In the short term though, you can at least move and keep your iWeb sites alive a bit longer while you rework them.

So what will happen when Mobile Me goes away? If you don’t migrate to iCloud by June 30th, 2012, your Mobile Me stuff will basically cease to exist. The Galleries on MobileMe will disappear, and websites hosted with iWeb (on Apple servers), will also go off-line. Many folks have been ignoring the call to make the switch. And Apple has clearly decided to turn up the heat by launching an aggressive email campaign, warning all MobileMe users that they need to switch to iCloud sooner than later.

Now that we remember what MobileMe was, what’s with iCloud? Apple describes it in great detail on their website. For our purposes, let’s just review what it means to make the switch. To realize the full potential of iCloud, you’re going to need an upgrade to Lion (OS 10.7.x). This is no small feat if you happen to have an older Mac, since Lion can only be installed on Intel machines with dual cores, and not G5s or older Macs. The highest you can upgrade a G5, for example, is 10.5.8. A client mused recently that Apple will soon be mired in class-action lawsuits over this switch. Not so fast. That small print we all click on allows them to make whatever changes they deem appropriate, and discontinue any service after giving us reasonable notice. Apple announced the introduction of iCloud, and the termination of MobileMe, over a year ago. They then extended all subscriptions to June of 2012, allowing ample time for users of MobileMe to prepare for alternative services, or the upgrade to iCloud (and Lion). If you don’t like it, there are alternatives to do not require an upgrade.

If you’ve been using MobileMe galleries, you’ll have to find somewhere else online to share your pictures. What I’ve seen of SmugMug, recommended as an option by David Pogue, looks promising. If you have a website created in iWeb, you’ll have to move it to a hosting company other than Apple, or convert it to something like WordPress (while still hosting it somewhere else). If you plan on ignoring iCloud altogether, you can use other calendar programs, like Google Calendar, to keep track of your appointments. The same holds true for your contacts, if you need them to sync across all your devices.

And finally, idisk will go the way of the dinosaur. In it’s place, you might consider Dropbox.com. The iphone/ipad dropbox app is free, as are the first 2 gigs of storage.

The good news is that those of us who have a .mac or .me email address, and move it to iCloud, won’t lose it. We’ll be able to continue using it, for free. What you won’t be able to do is create new .mac email addresses or address aliases. But that hasn’t been an option for quite some time. Membership to dot mac closed when MobileMe was introduced, and .me took its place.

Rather than go into what iCloud offers here, I suggest you stay tuned. This week Apple will be announcing an expansion of the iOS, as well as a new line up of hardware, and possibly a fine tuning of what iCloud is to be. Once that information is available, they’ll be a follow-up article. For now, move that dot mac or dot me email address before the 30th, or you’ll lose it. And remember, the most important thing you can do for your Mac today is backup your data.