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Spymac's Wheel vs. Dot Mac for Easy Web Services
Pages: 1, 2

Exclusives

Both companies offer a similar set of features, and we've looked at and compared each one in the previous sections of this article. Now you may have your mind all made up on which service you plan to spend your money on, but before you go out onto the web and sign up for .Mac or Wheel, you'll want to take a look at some of the special exclusive features that each service offers. Let's start with the features that Wheel offers that are exclusive to its software.



Wheel Only

Aside from offering services such as file backup and recovery and email, Wheel also offers several features that are exclusive to only its software. The rest of this section will give you a quick overview of each of these features starting with one of the newest and most popular forms of online communication — weblogging.

Weblogging
Unless you've been asleep for the last couple of years, you've no doubt heard of the new online journaling phenomena that is weblogging. It has become all the rage on the internet, and it is quickly gaining quite a large amount of journalistic integrity, and thus, becoming an up-to-the-minute source for many web-savvy news junkies.

So, weblogging is hot and Wheel's got it, but what does it offer to the new or seasoned weblogger?

What you get with Wheel is a nice, web-based interface to your very own blog and a ready-made audience, since your blog is posted along with Spymac's other weblogging patrons. Anyone visiting the site can easily search for and read your blog postings. And, you also have the feature of notifying pre-specified "friends" of your new postings, making it possible for you to mimic some sort of syndication.

Now, technically, you could say that .Mac also offers this feature, since you can create and post your own website through iDisk and Homepage. However, you'll find that the service is not explicitly set up for such a task.

In other words, there is no actual blogging page where you can go to add or edit entries in your blog. Instead, you'll have to fudge a weblogging service on .Mac by either using one of the Homepage templates to act as a blog page, or by using a third-party program such as iBlog to maintain your blog pages (or, you could always create your own weblog application as Matthew Russell does here). Regardless of which route you choose, you'll still have to go to Homepage, either to modify your blog — if you've chosen to use a Homepage template to create your blog — or at least to add your blog page to your website — if you chose to create it through a third-party program.

Member Forums and Galleries
If you're into fame and publicity, then you'll no doubt appreciate the thriving community of Spymac "spies" that you'll become a part of with your Spymac Wheel account. Like I said in the previous section, if you want exposure, Spymac comes with its own built in audience for whatever strikes your fancy. To facilitate this community, Spymac offers its members features such as weblogging, picture galleries, and forums.

If weblogging isn't enough for you and you find that you just can't have your voice heard enough, then you might want to try using one or both of the two latter services mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If you love snapping pictures and showing them off to the world, then Wheel offers you member galleries, where your pictures will be displayed to the world for other members to comment on. However, if you love a good debate, or if you just like to pontificate, then you'll want to join in on one of the many Spymac member forums, or perhaps you could start your own.

Regardless of which method you use to get your voice heard, one thing you'll find is that Spymac is definitely dedicated to the idea of building and maintaining an active online community. So, if you're lonely and in need of some quasi-human interaction, or if you just enjoy the idea of making friends all across the vast Internet, you may want to look into Spymac's Wheel service. Though, before you do, keep in mind that many of the community-oriented features of Wheel can also be had by simply registering for one of the free Spymac accounts.

.Mac Only

Personally, I'm not big on the idea of participating in some online community. Occasionally I'll post to, or ask a question of, an online forum (always of the technical variety) and I love to write articles (obviously) and keep in touch with my readers, but all of my activity on the web has always come when I felt that I had something important to offer. I've never been big on the idea of using the web for idle chatter.

If I want to chat, I'll call a friend — if I want to bore someone with a tutorial on Ruby or Python programming, I'll post an article (sorry, but this is my only choice since none of my friends want to read them).

That said, I think its obvious that the exclusive benefits of owning a Wheel account are wasted on me, so I will say here that my view of .Mac in this section will be somewhat biased. Nevertheless, this is one of the areas where I see .Mac taking the lead and making the $99 price tag a little more palatable.

Bookmarks and Address Book
First, let's start with two very important pieces of information that .Mac stores for our online use: Address Book entries and Safari Bookmarks.

If you use either of these applications on your Mac (which if you don't, you should be) you'll love the fact that your .Mac account syncs them for you and makes them available to you on the Web. I can't tell you how often both of these have come in handy.

I own a cell phone, and on it I keep all of my telephone numbers for all of my friends, family, favorite sushi places, and whatnot. What this means is that if I don't have my cell phone, I can't call anyone without being a bit of a super-sleuth.

However, with my .Mac account, I just log in, click on Address Book, and bam (to steal a catch phrase from a rather popular culinary TV personality), I have all of my addresses and phone numbers right at my fingertips. Now, I can call my friends and find out which bar — err, library — we'll be meeting at tonight.

Accessing Safari bookmarks from .Mac Accessing Safari bookmarks from .Mac.

The Bookmarks feature is just as handy. For example, let's say I have a little time at work (say, during a lunch break) and I want desperately to read that article on RubyCocoa programming (shameless plug) that I bookmarked the previous night. No worries. With my .Mac account I won't have to go scouring the internet to find the aforementioned article. All I have to do is log into my .Mac account and all my Safari bookmarks have been synced up and I can simply click on the link and in no time I'll be gaining insight into the wonderful world of RubyCocoa programming.

Another benefit of using .Mac is that when I find interesting articles when I'm away from my home computer, I can just log into my .Mac account, select bookmarks, and add the new link to my bookmarks menu. The next time I'm on my home computer (depending on when you've chosen to sync your .Mac account) I should find the link in my list of bookmarks in my Safari browser. This is really one of my absolute favorite features of .Mac.

Now, I'm going to go on the soapbox here for a just a moment and hope that someone at Apple working on the .Mac development team is reading this article. As I said above, I love the Bookmarks and Address Book features that .Mac offers. I especially like that I can add bookmarks to my Safari browser while away from my computer. This is great for when I stumble upon an interesting article at work that I want to read, but that I don't currently have time to. But, I would love to see this feature taken further and more of my data be made available on the Web via my .Mac account.

For example, one of my favorite applications on the Mac is Stickies. I use it constantly for jotting down all of my ideas for new programs, articles—you name it. But, as much as I love Stickies, I would love them even more if I had access to Stickies while away from my computer.

I'm constantly coming up with great ideas for new articles at work, but rather than scratching them down on a piece of scrap paper or a napkin, or emailing them to myself, it would be great if I could just log into .Mac and create a new Stickies note that gets synced to my computer the next time I log on. My advice to Apple, take the idea of Bookmarks and Address Book to other applications and you'll not only see more first-time .Mac customers, but plenty of repeat customers as well.

iCards
The iCards feature in .Mac gives the user the ability to send electronic postcards to friends and family for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. While I can't say that I am a big user of the iCards feature—I generally tend to stick to plain text emails—I can say that it is nice to send one from time to time.

When I created my website using the .Mac Homepage feature (by the way, I do know enough about web design to create my own website, but really, I'm just too lazy and Homepage is just too easy) I sent out an announcement to all of my friends and family letting them know my site was up and they could all view my articles and photos. I did this by sending them an iCard. Not only was it quick and painless, but it also gave the moment an air of respectability, I believe.

.Mac members can also feature their own photos in iCards. All the images you have stashed away in the Pictures directory on your .Mac account becomes a potential star of a dazzling iCard. Look for the "Create Your Own" section on the iCard home page.

So, while I can't see iCards being a deal breaker for anyone, I do believe that they provide some added value and can be one more way for you to get your money's worth out of your .Mac subscription. Plus, just think of how important iCards will become every time you forget a birthday or an anniversary.

Synchronizing Multiple Macs
In addition to accessing your Address Book, Safari Bookmarks, and iCal calendars via a web browser on any computer, you can also synchronize this data (and more) among your Macs. That way every time you open the Safari browser on one of your machines, it will have your bookmarks in the same place, same order as on your other Macs.

Apple uses iSync and .Mac to enable this convenience. And if you have more than one working computer, such as a PowerBook and an iMac, you can save yourself a lot hunting around by enabling this sync feature.

Virus protection
Finally, we come to virus protection on your Mac. Now, I know what you're thinking: Virus protection? You can't get a virus on a Mac? Well, it could happen, and more than likely it probably will happen. Eventually a virus will find its way into the Mac community and once it does you'll be ready with Virex.

Virex is virus protection software from McAfee and available as a free download to all .Mac subscribers. Unfortunately, I haven't used it very much as of yet, and I really can't tell you how good it works since I've never had a virus on my Mac before or after installing Virex. But, it is a nice extra, and as the Mac platform becomes more and more popular, the chances of getting a virus, or transferring one to an unsuspecting Windows user, will continue to grow. So, it's not a bad idea to download this little freebie and start using it before trouble strikes.

Final Thoughts

So, here we are at the end of our journey and the moment you've all been waiting for. Which web service will be chosen as the best? Well, that all depends on what you want from your web service.

If you're the kind of person who wakes up every morning and runs 3-5 miles at 6 a.m. before going to work, then more than likely you have the kind of discipline it takes to use Spymac's Wheel to its fullest. If, however, you hit the snooze button for a full hour in the morning and race into work a few minutes late with your breakfast in hand, then .Mac is definitely more your speed. What it comes down to for me is usability. .Mac's got it, and Wheel doesn't, at least not quite yet.

When I think back to all the purchases I've made over the years of different tech gadgets, one attribute comes to mind — usability. It's the reason that I can't live without my iPod while other MP3 players I've owned over the years have fallen to the wayside. It's the reason that every PDA I've ever owned eventually took a backseat to pen and paper. And, it's the reason that after spending $40 on a Wheel account I still found it justifiable to spend $99 on a .Mac account.

In the end, I would like to say that Wheel offers a great product for the price, but I found that it was just way too cumbersome for me to bestow it with that designation. Using it is a bit like using your gym membership — I know I need to use it (after all, I did pay for it), but I really don't want to take the time or expend the necessary effort to do so.

With .Mac there was no effort. To quote Apple — it just worked. Once it was set up, my Backups happened on schedule each night without my intervention, and the setup was a snap as well. After setting up iSync, I was able to forget about my Address Book and Bookmarks. They were just there for me whenever I logged in.

Overall wheel isn't a bad product, by no means, it just needs a little spit and polish before its ready for primetime. So, if you're the kind of person whose colleagues describe as disciplined, then you can probably get your money's worth out of the service. However, if you're lifestyle sounds a little more like my own, skip Wheel and pony up the extra 60 bucks. I'm sure you'll find your .Mac account to be worth it.

Christopher Roach recently graduated with a master's in computer science and currently works in Florida as a software engineer at a government communications corporation.


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