Debating the Price of .mac

Some users question Apple's decision to begin charging for its formerly free iTools.

NEW YORK—While Mac users welcomed Apples headline attractions at Macworld Expo here last week, some fine print has users of the companys e-mail service up in arms.

Specifically, the companys announcement that it will convert its free iTools Web services to a paid subscription service called .Mac has provoked consternation among some holders of a address, many of whom have taken to the Web to vent their frustration.

When Apple rolled out iTools in January 2000, the company billed as a permanent free e-mail account; now, however, the company says that the free ride is over and users will have to purchase the full .Mac subscription if they want to keep their accounts.

Christian Thomas, product marketing manager with Apples application product marketing, confirmed that holders of addresses will have to "pay the piper" for a .Mac subscription if they want to continue using them after Sept. 30.

Even if they dont pay, however, current address holders will be able to take at least minor advantage of the names theyve reserved under the old iTools scheme. Thomas said that even if they dont subscribe to .Mac, these users will be able to keep their names for use with Apples iChat instant messaging as well as AOL Instant Messenger.

In addition, users who dont sign up for .Mac by Sept. 30 will be able to reinstate their accounts, at least within the first year.

Thomas said Apple had rejected the idea of offering a second, free track for e-mail akin to offerings from MSN or Yahoo!; both of those companies free, entry-level offerings rely heavily on advertising revenues in place of subscriptions. "Its not Apples business model to throw advertisements in users faces," Thomas said.

.Mac will costs new users $99 a year, and current iTools members will be able to subscribe for $49 for the first year only. Licensees can purchase up to five additional addresses for $10 each.

iTools has about 2 million registered users and employs a staff of about 200 hardware and software engineers. Apple said it hopes to convert about half of its existing users to the new pay service.

Some subscribers were quick to make their dissatisfaction known at the show and on online forums, including PowerPage.orgs. "Certainly I am unhappy about the 100 bucks charge for iTools," one PowerPage visitor wrote. " I dont need 15 megs of e-mail storage nor virus protection (have it already), nor any of these extras ... I just liked using the e-mail, having my name, and being able to stick my pictures on the Web.

"But being a college student, I really dont have the money to pay for this service, especially not at such a large price ... Buying software that I use every day and helps me be productive is taxing enough, and I even get an educational discount!

"They should have made a sliding scale, like 10 or 15 bucks to keep the current service," the reader wrote. "Id have no problem paying even $20 dollars a year to use the current iTools service ... but changing the name and trying to charge me $100, thats just not cool."

At the show, user Logan Thomison of New York said that while he thinks the new .Mac capabilities are "well worth it" for those who want them, hes not sure about ponying up the annual fee. "How many features do I really need?" he mused.

Jason D. OGrady is founder and publisher of