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Dissecting .Mac
Pages: 1, 2

Backup Not Bad for First Version

One of the coolest things Apple has added is Backup. Backup is installed in your Applications folder, although it should be installed under Applications/Utilities.



It lets you backup files on your computer to your iDisk, CD writer, or DVD writer. Unfortunately, you cannot back up to disk yet. I think Apple dropped the ball on this one. It makes perfect sense to be able to back up your Home folder to your iPod--I hope this makes it into Backup 1.1.

Backup comes with ten back-up jobs (called QuickPicks) already configured. There are a few among them that I consider useful (Address Book contacts, Keychain, Files on desktop), but most of them aren't what I need. Unfortunately, Backup doesn't let you remove any of the QuickPicks from the list, but you are able to deselect them. There's currently only one preference in Backup: whether or not you wish to mirror backups on your iDisk. Mirroring will delete files from your iDisk during a backup when they've been deleted from your source disk.

Screen shot.
The main backup window.

Antivirus

McAfee Virex 7.1 provides .Mac's antivirus software. Virex installs to Applications/Virex 7. In the Virex 7 folder you'll find ReadMe, Virex 7.1, and Virex 7.1 Product Guide. In the future, I hope Apple will install Virex to Applications/Utilities and will not install a readme and product documentation along with it. I had to type sudo mv .VirexLogin.app /Applications/Utilities/ and sudo rm -R "Virex 7" to move the VirexLogin application and delete the Virex 7 folder after I had copied Virex to Applications/Utilities. If you're not familiar with the sudo and rm commands, I would recommend typing man sudo and man rm first. I then had to re-add .VirexLogin.app to my Login Items.

Screen shot.
The Virex interface.

.Mac also includes a command-line version of Virex; type man vscanx to learn more about it. Virex has preferences for scanning inside compressed and archived files, scanning automatically at login, as well as showing detailed results of the scan. You can set it to automatically clean infected files or to delete them. There is also a preference for inspecting applications and macros for virus-like characteristics. It would be nice if Virex had an animated Dock icon to represent the scan status.

Screen shot.
Virex preferences.

One glaring problem with Virex is that virus-definition updates are not automated. The user must go to the Virex Web site and download monthly virus definitions. They are provided as an installer package that the user must run as an administrator. Virex should have its own update mechanism and should be able to update more frequently than once a month through its GUI. (If you're familiar with the command line Virex's documentation tells you how to download its weekly definitions and update them.) The lack of a built-in update and the fact that the easy updates are only once a month strikes a couple of big blows to .Mac's antivirus capabilities. I hope these issues are resolved in future releases.

iCal

iCal is actually what helped turn me around from a .Mac hater to a .Mac subscriber (yes, I've already ponied up the annual fee). With iCal you'll be able to publish your calendar to the Web to allow friends, family, and co-workers to view it. You can publish your calendar to your iDisk (or possibly another WebDAV resource) and allow other iCal users to subscribe to it and vice versa. You'll be able to invite people to events through standards-based email. And iCal will be able to notify you of upcoming events through your computer or via a variety of mobile devices that it can synchronize with using iSync.

Speaking of iSync, it's a great new plumbing technology that Apple will pioneer in the personal computing industry. It uses the open standard SyncML, which is itself an XML application, to talk to a wide range of mobile devices from cell phones to Palms--iSync will even control synchronization of data between your Mac and iPod.

Sadly, iCal isn't available yet; it will debut with Jaguar. I expect that it will usher in a lot of other great Internet services from Apple.

Final Thoughts

As the iApps evolve, so will their interaction with .Mac. In a sense Apple seems to realize the vision that Sun Microsystems figured out years ago: the network is better for data management than the local client. If you look closely at the early stages of .Mac, you can see a trend taking shape where you exchange and store data via the network instead of local transactions.

How will users react to this? Hard to say right now. Most of them are still in sticker shock over the annual fee. But as .Mac's functionality and feature set improves and becomes truly valuable to everyday tasks, consumers will probably take a second look and decide if they want to pay for those services.

Michael Brewer is a developer based near Charlotte, North Carolina. His interests include web development of various flavors, databases, and Java. One of the off-shoots of these activities is his website Brewed Thoughts.


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