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Mac OS 10.5 will work hand in hand with Apple’s fancy online service, .Mac. Priced at $99.95 a year, .Mac gives you an @mac.com e-mail address and a gigabyte of storage accessible through the .Mac Web interface or through Apple’s mail application. There is also iDisk, which lets you store files on Apple’s servers and share them between computers. On your desktop, iDisk looks like just another disk drive, but you can also access it through the .Mac website. You can even mount the drive from a Windows computer using a Windows program that Apple provides. The .Mac service also offers one-click Web publishing, which works with any Web-design application but works especially well with Apple’s easy-to-use iWeb designer. It’s even easy to create ­password-­protected Web pages for family, friends, or business associates.

The power of .Mac–largely ignored by other reviewers–is that it brings to Apple users the same kinds of services that most Windows users get from their corporate IT departments. Think of .Mac as a big Microsoft Exchange Server that automatically synchronizes e-mail, bookmarks, website usernames and passwords, and other kinds of configurations to work with all your Macintosh computers. This is a huge benefit for anyone who has both a Mac laptop and a desktop, but it’s also super-handy for people who read their e-mail both on their Macs and remotely, via the Web. And all your .Mac mail and files are cached on your computer, not on a server as with Google’s Gmail, so they’re available when you don’t have Internet connectivity.

With Mac OS 10.5, Apple will dramatically improve the services that .Mac provides to Apple users. For example, iCal will support group scheduling, with calendars that can be viewed by multiple users. And you will be able to synchronize notes, to-do lists, items in the dock, and all application preferences across multiple computers.

On the desktop, Leopard’s centerpiece will be Time Machine, a breakthrough application that will back up your Mac to a high-capacity external drive and then allow you to cruise through these backups chronologically. Jun Rekimoto of Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo pioneered this approach back in the 1990s, calling it “time-machine computing.” But whereas Sony largely ignored ­Rekimoto’s work, Apple has taken the idea mainstream.

Being able to browse and restore files from a backup is nothing new–programs like Retrospect and even Microsoft Backup have been doing this for years. The real difference is that Time Machine will be integrated with the Mac’s new operating system: you can browse your backups simply by clicking an icon from the Finder. I suspect that Time Machine will frequently be used to recover files that would just be too much bother to restore with other systems. Finally, because Time Machine is an operating service, other programs can use it directly. For example, you can go back in time and see how particular entries in your address book have changed, or find photos that were accidentally deleted from your iPhoto database.

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Credit: Brian Stauffer

Tagged: Computing, Apple

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