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Red-faced Apple fights .Mac brown-outs

'We're very sorry you can't read this email. $end more money'

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"Remember your story about Mac users demanding worse service?", writes a frustrated Apple user and Register reader based in the United Kingdom. "Apple seem to be delivering."

Indeed, after the .Mac service suffered major outages on Sunday, depriving users of their iTools disks and .mac email addresses, it does appear that Apple has heeded the second part of the call. The first part - the call for higher prices - it has already fulfilled.

The brown-out couldn't come at a more sensitive time, after MacUser last week reported Apple management's concern at the reaction of users to the $99 a year .Mac service. Early numbers were "concerning" and "lacklustre", according to executives cited, and the magazine also reported that Apple was re-evaluating the fees. Implicit in the new $99 a year deal is that the services should be more resilient than the free offering - when it's free, you have little right to complain, or so it's argued.

However European users have more right to be peeved than most. The servers are hosted in the United States, but as Apple doesn't officially (as per its web site) support .Mac outside the USA or Japan, readers who encounter poor response times and bugs are left facing equally exasperated local Apple support representatives.

(Apple wouldn't comment on our request for more information).

But the experience has left early subscribers disillusioned. One paying .Mac member - English isn't his first language, so be patient - wrote:-

"Globally, I still doesn't regret my 50 dollars, but the service has to be quickly updated. If the numerous and huge problems found in the message board are publicized outside, you are at risk to have enormous difficulties to convince new users."

Ouch.

"Overall, you have a big communication problem. The support is extremely poor for a paid service, even with good will moderators. There is no public statement saying that Apple acknowledges the problems met by its customers, limitations are badly publicized (even if I am sure you are legally protected by some kind of fine print somewhere). For example, problems with the filenames when asking iPhoto prints, or with files sent to the iDisk, are attached to mail are to be ashamed of. At least they should be publicized."

Topping the complaints list are difficulties getting WebDAV to respond from behind a firewall, latencies, and service outages. We've been tracking these for several weeks, and readers report that the mail service was, until the weekend, improving.

"Apple's refusal to admit that there are any problems and to answer questions about what they are doing to address the issues is as irritating as ever," reports one reader. Message postings critical of the service have been deleted from the fora.

As for the value of .Mac, we've received remarkably few letters praising the breadth of the new offerings. Although the Backup service looks slick, the inclusion of an Anti-Virus program is considered superfluous on an operating system that ought to get few, if any of the virus exploits that plague Windows users.

Register readers seem to clamor a tiered service (actually, it's already tiered: you can buy more .Mac email space, but the annual entry fee is fixed at $49/$99) with resilient virtual disk space a secondary request.

And a few servers on European side of the Atlantic would be greatly appreciated, you tell us.

British Apple users smarted when, in the great globalization (read: rationalization) spree of 1999, the UK version of MacOS saw its "Wastebasket" turned into a "Trash" can. Whatever that is.

(A proposed clause in the MacOS 9.0 EULA that would have required British users to chew gum and wear a baseball cap backwards while deleting files was thankfully defeated).

Back in the US, it's clear that iTools/.Mac is a strong selling point in the retail stores. We consistently hear CompUSA staff promoting the package to prospective customers, and it appears to be working. The other day, we actually saw a San Francisco shopper purchase a .Mac box, although what is actually contained in the box is one of those tantalizing mysteries we haven't yet unraveled. Probably a piece of paper stating - "You have bought a cardboard box. Seriously."

(To digress again: by a process of deduction you'll have correctly surmised that this was in the Market Street CompUSA store. In Apple's Palo Alto store, they don't ever try and sell you anything, ever … even if you want to buy something. You can stand around and talk about Miles Davis, all day, however).

Last week we reminded Apple of the lost opportunities represented by seeing the iTools customer base hemorrhage, but these are smart people and probably don't need to be reminded. Register Apple readers don't mind paying for something that brings utility, provided it's fast and it works. ®

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