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Free alternatives to MobileMe

Posted on Mar 17, 2009 in Featured, Opinions, The web

Continuing in the series of posts hating on MobileMe, today we’re going to look at free alternatives to Mobileme. This article will focus on the core Mobileme features and take a look at the pros and cons of the alternatives.

Mail alternative: Gmail

gmailI’ve never been willing to lock myself into a $99 / year e-mail service, simply because my main e-mail address is something I’d like to be able to keep indefinitely. Gmail can collect (and send) e-mails from a variety of providers and addresses, offers free IMAP support (a must-have for iPhone owners!) and doesn’t include advertising in the messages you send. The storage is basically unlimited and nothing is ever deleted.

Pros: No ads in mails, best-of-breed webmail interface, IMAP support, works great with Mail and iPhone once configured

Cons: IMAP mailbox configuration a bit tricky

Calender Alternative: Google Calendar

Surprise surprise, another Google app! Google Calendar offers basically the same range of features and can be configured to sync with iCal (Google actually provides a handy tool called ‘Calaboration‘ to set things up for you automatically). Perks include free SMS appointment reminders, simple calendar sharing and fast natural language scheduling (e.g typing “Dinner tomorrow at 9pm” will schedule the appointment accordingly).

The web interface is a little less pretty than MobileMe’s, but it gets the job done.

Pros: SMS notifications, iCal integration, CalDAV support, natural language entry, useful “Agenda” list view of upcoming events

Cons: –

iDisk Alternative: Dropbox

dropboxI’ve raved about Dropbox in a number of other posts, so I won’t rehash to much of the details here. Suffice to say that Dropbox has the best cloud-based document syncing and storage service I’ve come across. It’s integration with the Finder is perfect, it offers seamless version control and makes sharing with Windows & Linux users a breeze as well.

The only real difference is the storage size – but it’s a big one: While free Dropbox accounts can sync up to 2GB of files, Mobileme offers 20GB of storage. Beyond the free plan, Dropbox also offers a 50GB package, but that costs as much as Mobileme does.

If you don’t need to sync and store large amounts of data in the cloud, Dropbox is perfect. If you do need more storage, then Mobileme is worth reconsidering.

Pros: Seamless cross-platform OS integration, easy sharing, version control & “undelete”

Cons: Only 2 pricing tiers, web-interface a bit tricky at first

Photo Gallery Alternative

flickr_logoMobileme’s iPhoto Gallery feature is probably my favorite aspect of the entire package. The galleries are a little slow to load, but are very nicely presented. The ability to download an entire Zip file of an album is also a nice touch and the iPhone presentation is the icing on the cake.

But there’s a plethora of picture sharing websites out there that offer similar functionality: I’m just going to name a few that stand out for their decent iPhoto integration:

  • Facebook Photo Gallery
    • Pros: built-in iPhoto support, support for Faces, fast & simple web presentation
    • Cons: no album downloading, requires Facebook account
  • Picasa Web Albums
    • Pros: Dedicated upload tool, album downloading, 3rd party application support
    • Cons: less storage space, uglier web interface
  • Flickr
    • Pros: Community-features, built-in iPhoto support, nice web presentation
    • Cons: Limited monthly uploads and image downloads for free accounts

Overall this might the dealbreaker if you really need to share a lot of images with friends online. Sure, you could always just throw a zip file of your images on your Dropbox account (see above), but if there’s one standout feature of Mobileme, this is it.

Conclusion

There are lots of great alternatives for Mobileme’s individual services worth checking out. Whilst they may not offer the integration that Mobileme does, they sure give the service a run for its money and are worth a look if you’re on the fence about signing up or renewing your account.

Oh, but if you do decide to stick with Mobileme, you can save a bundle if you buy it through Amazon.

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Guitarist’s Tip: Busking with your iPhone

Posted on Feb 18, 2009 in Reviews, The web

There are a bunch of guitar chord & tab sites out there on the web, but usually you’re never near a computer when somebody hands you a guitar and wants you to play a song. Whilst there are a ton of iPhone guitar tuning and chord reference apps in the AppStore, there isn’t much in the way of apps for tabs or sheet music. Luckily there’s a few ways to get your favorite songs on your iPhone…

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College Collaboration Tools

Posted on Oct 26, 2008 in Opinions, The web

This semester we’ve been assigned a lot of coursework that needs to be worked on in teams, with each team  usually consisting of around 3-6 people. To help us share files, work on document together and generally stay in sync, we’ve started using a few different online services…

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Google Chrome: First Impressions

Posted on Sep 2, 2008 in Opinions, The web, UI Design

Well, Chrome is here and so far I’m pretty impressed. Although currently only available for Windows (you can’t actually download the Windows version if your browser identifies you as a Mac user – I had to select a Windows user agent for the download page to let me download it) it’s quite snappy, even running under Parallels. 

I had no trouble loading any pages and even complex pages such as my netvibes.com customized homepage (which is slow to load on other browsers) seemed to load very quickly (and this was in a virtual machine!).

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OpenID is a mess

Posted on Jul 22, 2008 in Opinions, The web, UI Design

OpenID seems like a nice idea to simplify logins and profiles on the web. The promise: Create an account with one OpenID-enabled service such as Yahoo, WordPress or others and then you’ll be able to sign in to other OpenID-enabled services.

The reality? OpenID still has some way to go before really becoming seamless enough for the average user to use it. Most of the issues lie with the sites implementing OpenID, but from what I can see they’re pretty systemic Here’s my OpenID experience:

1st attempt: Using my wordpress account to sign up for Skribit

So I decided to sign up to Skribit. They offer OpenID support, so I decided to try that, rather than create a traditional account. First of all you’re asked for your OpenID url. If you don’t know what that is, tough luck. There’s no link with more information on what your url could look like or how you can get one. 

Frustrated, I figure I’ll go to OpenID.org to find out more. OpenID.org looks like a cross between a phishing site and 1996:

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Apple accidently charges users for MobileMe trial

Posted on Jul 16, 2008 in Opinions, The web

And this is why forcing users to enter credit card details to test a free trial of your somewhat troubled online service is a bad idea – here’s one users experience after signing up for a trial:

“I have just checked my card account online and apple have put a £121 pending transaction on the card! that’s not even 1 years subscription.”

Link to the relevant Apple Support Discussion thread.

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