December 13, 2008

Is There a Get Out of MobileMe Free Card?

Like any good Apple fanboy, I was among the first to sign up and get a e-mail address way back in January of 2000. At the time, a person's e-mail address was determined largely by which ISP they were using. I was using @Home broadband, so my e-mail address was Prior to that, I had used Earthlink, AOL, Prodigy, and of course, my Berkeley account when I was in college. While I had also signed up and gotten e-mail addresses with Yahoo!, Netscape and Excite, it was Apple's iTools offering that finally switched me over to a hosted service, and I've been using that address almost exclusively for personal mail, for nearly nine years.

But as we are approaching the annual ritual of renewal, I'm considering the effort needed to pull the plug and jump to GMail. It could be huge.

When Apple's iTools debuted, it was a free service. It was the same kind of e-mail offered by Yahoo! and others, but it, to me, meant something more. With every e-mail I sent, I was telling people my computer platform choice. And when my e-mail disappeared with the evaporation of Excite@Home, I was more than happy to make my permanent address of record.

Of course, as you know, much has changed since 2000.

By 2002, Apple changed its mind about free e-mail, ditching iTools for .Mac, and making users pay $99 for the privilege of keeping the address. I was frustrated, but was able to get in for only $49 as an existing user, and I hoped the iDisk, iCards, iSync and other tools would become valuable. They've pretty much been a dud.

By 2003, I even got my fiancee a .Mac e-mail address. I registered her new e-mail address with my last name as a geeky way to show I was serious. So both of us are people. While we were paying for something that was free elsewhere, we knew it stood for more than the basic Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or what have you. Free e-mail usually represented the unwashed masses who would forward chain letters and were plagued with spam.

In 2004, Google set the e-mail world upside down when they launched GMail on April Fool's Day. GMail offered a difference - a free e-mail account that had something like credibility, scads more storage, filters, labels and all sorts of coolness. But even though I have a GMail account (and actually bought it on eBay when invites were scarce), I usually use it for e-mail lists and news monitoring, not much else - still using my account for virtually everything.

In 2008, Apple revamped its .Mac service once again, to MobileMe. And the result has been disappointing across the board. I don't even want to touch the Webmail version of the site, which I've seen gobble up sent e-mails, send them multiple times, or even fail to load. The quality is far from what I've grown to expect from Apple, and it's really turned me off to the service. Combined with the availability of GMail and other free services, and I'm strongly considering making the move.

But here's what's stopping me:

Address Books - My e-mail address is in the address books of many people including friends and family and Web connections. I have friends who still call a cell phone number from two years ago and family members for whom just understanding e-mail is a big hurdle.

Services - It's no secret I'm registered on a bajillion networks, from the silly to the professional. I get my financial updates from Wells Fargo, credit cards and to the account. When Web sites want a e-mail and not a user name, it's the account that I use. I don't even want to think about going to every single one of those sites and making a change.

Archives and Search - Virtually all the e-mails with friends, family, acquaintances and services are stored locally on my computer under the Mac account. In fact, Apple's Mail reports I have more than 35,000 messages that have as the main recipient, and nearly 9,000 from me sitting in sent boxes or other folders. If I move to another e-mail service, can I still pipe it in to the same box and not lose a beat? Not sure.

It has gotten to the point that my e-mail address is more difficult to move than a phone number. I know there are better services out there, and Apple's changes in the last year have not installed confidence. I know my wife and I are paying when we don't necessarily have to, but barring some drop-dead simple migration tools, auto-forwarding and some real work across the Web to make changes, I won't be changing any time soon.

Where is my "Get Out of Email Jail Free" card?