Monday, July 21, 2008

From MobileMe to Google Apps: A Progress Report

It is disappointing, the hassles facing MobileMe users, and I'm sure the team(s) within Apple are pulling their collective hair out trying to find resolution. And I'm sure Steve and the management team are not a little bit irked that this persists in the face of today's earnings report. There will be some shareholder angst to be sure.

On a smaller scale, back in my days as an IT Manager, I recall well the departmental shift into crisis mode when services went dark. But one thing was for certain, customer service became the critical priority externally, while service restoration becames the #1 internal priority. It seems that Apple is having a tough time with this.

As for my own MobileMe experiences, blogged about here and here, I decided to transition to Google for email and calendaring. Jury is out on whether or not I'll use Google's online office. The interface is yet quirky, although it is certainly functional.

If Apple were to put iWork online, that'd be pretty swell, if not an extremely daunting task (for Apple's engineers).

I pay daily visits to MobileMe with hopes things have improved only to find they haven't. I won't rehash all the reasons for me switching, suffice it to say, Gmail and Google Calendar (Gcal) are excellent apps, in particular the sharing functionality of Gcal. Picasa Web Albums is also excellent. It differs primarily from MMe's Photo Gallery in looks, which are pretty slick appearance-wise, I'll chalk that up to MMe's favor; however, looks are not everything.

From Mail/MobileMe to Gmail: Gmail wins me over for superior online options, customizations, tagging, calendaring integration. The usual suspects creep up with any address change: getting people to change to the new one. It hasn't been too bad thus far, but could be better.

Transition has been smooth, and the thought of losing our .Mac addresses is less troublesome with each passing day. I suppose you could say that the breakup is not as bad as I thought it'd be.

From iCal/MobileMe to Google Calendar: Couple things here. iCal/MobileMe is a local/online solution. Locally, iCal beats Gcal because it has ToDo's, and it is local. With Google Gears on the horizon for Gmail and Calendar, and the excellent plug-in architecture for ToDo's in Google services, it will be come local for 1-3 months in advance...

Still, for online Calendaring, MobileMe calendar is a long way from competing with Gcal. Sorry, but it just is. So Google Calendar wins here rather easily. The transition has been smooth since that is what actually started this whole thing back when MMe was announced.

Do I mind that it isn't local? Meh, maybe sometimes. I haven't yet had an outage during which I needed my calendar info. Yet.

From MobileMe Photo Gallery to Picasa Web Albums: Here again we have the interface being the main difference between these two. Google has gone to great strides integrating PWA into iPhoto; however, it is still a few extra steps and less elegant. Just like you're able to change the "Mail" icon in iPhoto, I'd like to have a PWA icon to upload to that service instead of Exporting to the service.

And the online experience goes in favor of MMe Photo Gallery simply because it looks better. But functionally they are on pretty much the same playing field. Where PWA pulls ahead is in sharing of albums - public or unlisted, and in ability to purchase from the web page. No option in MMe Photo Gallery.

Thus the photo situation has not been a difficult transition. But I will say that I liked .Mac's video viewing back in the day when I used it. That was cool. Haven't tested that in PWA, so don't know how/if it performs.

From AddressBook to Google Contacts: This one has not been as easy. Google Contacts seems like more of an afterthought than a great service/feature. It does most of what I need it to do, but for some reason the interface bothers me. It is not as clean and easy as AddressBook. And MMe's online AddressBook is quite nice, although again, there's more that you can do - online - on the Google side of the fence here.

From iDisk to Google (?)
: Um, no. There is no from iDisk to Google because Google falls down here. Yes there are hacks that allow you to use your Gmail space as storage space, but I don't like that solution at all. If Google were to offer an iDisk-like alternative, that'd be great. They don't, so it ain't.

This is the one area that is stckiest. Bottom line for me is that iDisk alone is not worth $99/yr. if I'm not using the rest of the service. For you it might be. I'd rather go to Costco and pick up the under $200 750GB Western Digital external drive. That's 2 years of iDisk with vastly more storage space. Granted, it isn't in the cloud, but it's more practical in this case. There are free online storage systems, I'm subscribed to which I like, but it has less space. Did I mention it is free?

Conclusion: The transition from MMe to Google has been going very well, the only areas that fall a bit short are with AddressBook and iDisk although there are solutions both free and shareware.

Any of you switching from MobileMe to Google?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MobleMe Continues to Disappoint

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been an iTools/.Mac/MobileMe user since it was a free service. It has taken me, I guess, 8 years to come to the conclusion that it no longer meets my needs, therefore, it no longer justifies $110/yr.

Some of you reading this will undoubtedly disagree finding MobileMe meets your needs and then some. That is great and I'm glad it works for you. For me the cost is a too high considering the free services out there. But I totally understand the ad-free MobileMe service, I really do. If it were free, of course I'd keep it, but I'd still be critiquing the offerings in light of my needs all the while gazing over at the Google side of the fence.

So I write this a bit surprised at myself. It is almost like an awakening from a strange RDF-induced dream I've been in for so long. Gosh it feels weird to write that.

The conclusion I've arrived at (as of today - gotta leave myself a way out in case the RDF returns) is that the service Apple provides is not really geared toward users like me any more. As I read over the weekend (can't recall where), MobileMe is geared for (best taken advantage of by) the iPhone generation more than the non-iPhone set.

Not that we non-iPhoners can't use it, don't get me wrong. But for me it boils down to functionality, customization, and flexibility. I want it to be more like Google Apps, which I suppose is why I'm moving that direction.

I've mostly loved Apple's no nonsense, K.I.S.S. approach to hardware and software as opposed to Microsoft/et al's "how much useless stuff can we fill this PC with" approach. And for so long I've lumped Google into that latter category - until now.

When people extol Google's Gmail, Calendar, etc., I used to yawn and turn away (except for Picasa - hurry on that OS X version guys). No more. It is really weird - having been a Mail user since the beginning, even bringing Gmail down via POP access - how much Gmail's online methodology has grown on me. It has become more intuitive, even addicting.

Over the weekend, and today, I put MobileMe thru the paces, you know, giving it a chance. And yeah, I did say Apple may work out kinks in the coming weeks so I'd give it more time (and I will as I've got 90 days left before renewal). But even as MobileMe has sped up a bit, I still find it *way* to slow. And I find the lack of customization leaving me indifferent to the service as a whole. MobileMe Calendar, IMHO, is a complete waste of time. Just doesn't work for me or my workflow.

IMHO, MobileMe is polished on the outside, but lacking in "meatiness" on the inside. As Clara Peller said, "Where's the beef?" This is one instance where I wish Apple put a lot more stuff into a product beside looks.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, I do not plan to renew our membership with MobileMe. My wife and I already use Google Calendar, and have all our .Mac/MobileMe mail filtering through our Gmail addresses. A long relationship, custom .Mac/ email addresses - all things I've loved about Apple's iTools and .Mac, seem to no longer hold sway over me. And it feels weirdly liberating.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

iCal & MobileMe or Google Calendar?

Caveat: as for a lot of computing, preferences are entirely subjective. These are my opinions based on how I use iCal, Google Calendar. Your MO may be quite different from mine. That's okee-day. I happen to know there's a lot of folks pondering whether to keep paying the fee for MobileMe, or jump ship to free resources. Perhaps we can help each other out with some sage advice.
I've had great expectations for MobileMe since Jobs announced/demo'd it at WWDC. On the other hand, I was on the edge of diving into Google Apps more (Calendar) for family scheduling purposes since iCal was not filling the need adequately.

Needless to say, I was quite excited about MobileMe, thinking my $110/year (extra email) would now be more justifiable.

I'm one of those folks who has been with it since it was iTools. Every year a new iLife was announced with .Mac integration I got excited - but rarely ever use the additional features. Pretty much just email. So with the whole "push" thing, it seemed like it just might get there.

Since MobileMe was a ways out, I decided to give Google Calendar a whirl (not just toying with it as I've done for a year now). See, my family is down to two computers. My aging 17" PowerBook, and a "new", cheap P4 for family stuff. Though my work life is all about Apple, I'm one of those who just can't afford to lay out the $$ for a family iMac (not interested in mini's).

I've never been a "cloud computing" fan, always liked local desktop apps. Still do, but I'm getting used to the Google cloud now, and actually enjoying it.

See, the best thing about Google Calendar is that my wife and I, from each of our Google accounts, can edit and save all the calendars we share (we set them up that way). Can't do that in iCal. The other thing, prior to MobileMe, is that we can access our calendars from any computer anywhere. Can't do that in iCal, can in MobileMe.

So we've spent the better part of a month immersed in Google calendar for our boys' swimming events, family events, work schedules, and lots more. But in the back of my mind MobileMe lurked - would it work as well as Google Calendar? To be honest, I was assuming MobileMe would totally replace Google.

However, after lots of patience trying to get in to MobileMe, and finally doing so, I have been thus far disappointed.

First and foremost, it is slow. Mail in particular can be excruciating say just trying to click on "Sent" items. Now I understand the servers are still seeing high demand, so maybe it'll peter out in a week or two. But wow, is it slow. Even on my P4 with XP Pro SP2 - which is a lot snappier than my 1.33GHz G4 with 2GB RAM - MobileMe is slow.

I wrote a buddy who recently bought a new MacBook, and asked if it was fast on his machine and he said "nope".

I was honestly expecting it to be as snappy as in Apple's demo videos with good 'ol John at the helm.

Next up would be iCal vs. Google Calendar. iCal has To Do, Google Calendar does not. But Google Calender allows me to go into a calendar and choose not only to share it, but to set permissions as to what others can do (edit/delete, etc.). That has been awesome for my wife and me. Same calendars which both of us can edit from different Google accounts. Updates are instant on either account.

iCal/MobileMe cannot do that. At least with my current set up with my wife only having an email account. But with Google, we share the same calendars from different Google accounts ... for free.

So when I logged in for my wife. The only icons accessible to her were Mail, Contacts, and Account Settings. No calendar. I shook off the cobwebs and realized that's because she's email only. So I looked at Amazon and saw $135 for the MobileMe Family Pack, $150 at the Apple Store. Ugh, more money.

MobileMe = $135/year with no ads, a beautiful interface, we get to keep our beloved .mac/.me addresses, 20GB space - OR - Google Apps = FREE with ads (though to me they're unobtrusive), so/so interface with addresses, and less space. Hmmm.

Let's see, gas is $3.91/gal here in Hampton Roads, VA, our energy bills are set to jump over 9% this year, maybe more. FREE looks awfully attractive. But there's that nagging feeling that I'd be losing a friend - those (formerly) prestigious addresses. See, I've been a member since iTools, so it is sentimental.

So I decided to see if I could duplicate what we can do in Google Calendar in iCal: share a calendar with ability of assigning another person (wife) to edit and share from another account. Nope.

I was also excited about the whole Push thing. But I don't do iPhone (I'm a Verizon guy), so that doesn't matter ... and I don't do any data plans or email ... so it would be pushing between the cloud and my computers only.

So here's where I'm at: Google's Calendar is FREE, fast, stable, can be shared editing-wise. It is not as glamorous as iCal, doesn't have To Do's. It does have Google Notifier which is pretty darn awesome up in my menu bar, thank you very much.

iCal, local and pushed to the cloud, elegant client locally and MobileMe-ified. $110/yr, currently much slower than Google Calendar, can't be shared/edited in the cloud between multiple users, only viewed via subscription.

As of now, the balance is leaning toward Google Calendar. I will, of course, give Apple a few weeks to sort things out, namely speed. I don't see them altering how iCal is shared at this point. But for Apple to tout this as Exchange for the rest of us, they need to make calendars editable by the likes of secretaries in small businesses, co-workers, and family members.