Once upon a time, like many dutiful Mac users, I subscribed to Apple’s .Mac service. It gave me an webmail-enabled email address, a place to host a webpage with the option of Apple-designed templates, a feeling of belonging to the Mac community, a free virus checker, the occasional freebie app or game, a way to synchronise iCal calendars and Safari bookmarks among multiple computers, and a tediously slow, buggy and so-small-it’s-useless backup solution.
Although I’m sure this is still a great service for many people, I no longer need it. I have Gmail for my mail, a webserver completely under my control (with PHP, Perl, MySQL and tonnes of other goodies), my own templates and webpages (Apple’s were pretty limiting, IMHO), no Mac viruses that I’ve ever seen or even heard of, and a much better back-up solution involving both server syncs and physical backup to CDs.
Now, the sharp-eyed will notice a few holes still remaining. Freebie apps and games aren’t really an issue for me, as I have all the software I need, chiefly from the Open Source community. The “sense of belonging” is also no longer a big deal, as I’ve gotten over my Mac fetish (although I still use my Macs for most of my work). The SpyMac community is great, if you’re into that sort of thing. They also provide 1 Gb of webmail (with POP3 access for regular email clients), homepage hosting, blogs, forum tools, an “iDisk” (WebDAV storage), a gallery, an online calendar/todo system, and more. Great stuff, even if it’s a little slow and graphics-intensive sometimes. (By the way, there’s nothing saying these tools are designed only for Macs: they work just as well on Windows or Linux.)
It’s the bookmark and calendar synchronisation that’s often the killer for people with multiple machines.
The calendar issue is easily solved. Many clients allow sharing calendar info through FTP or WebDAV on a server somewhere (such as on SpyMac, if you don’t have access to another server). Mozilla Calendar –and its up-and-coming standalone application, Sunbird— is perfect for this sort of thing. The extension will install in Mozilla, Firefox or Thunderbird, and you can tell it to “publish”, i.e., synchronise, with the server by setting your URL, login and password in its preferences. You can do this over multiple machines and operating systems, and never be out of sync with your calendar.
The bookmarks problem is another issue entirely, however. There have been a number of kludges. For example, you can use del.icio.us and Foxylicious to share bookmarks, but the whole tag-as-folder thing is rather messy. SiteBar with the Firefox extension is not bad, but it requires a web-based sidebar, and it’s not easy to easily re-arrange or manage your marks. And there are a few other similar projects, but none of them are as easy as simply setting your native bookmarks to share among multiple computers, locations and OSes. I hear tell that roaming bookmarks, as it’s sometimes called, is something slated for Mozilla & Co. again (it has been included in past versions, albeit incomplete and buggy), but now there’s finally an easy-to-use Firefox extension that “just works”.
Bookmarks Synchronizer, by Torisugari, will sync with an XML file it creates on a server. Go into your preferences, fill in your server info, set your options (such as automatically syncing upon starting and exiting your browser), and you’re good to go.
Now, if only I’d get off my behind and implement a way of sharing contacts among my Thunderbird clients, I’ll be all set. Hmm… and then there’s the Palm Pilot synchronisation thing with Mozilla I’ve yet to try. And then there’s groupware to set up. And the wiki for….
Argh. Too many toys, not enough time. Well, at least that’s my bookmarks taken care of.