Apple On an iCloud

A look how Apple store your data online
here was a time when, if you said you were under a cloud, all your acquaintances suddenly discovered they had pressing business elsewhere and, come December, you were dead short of Christmas cards.

But with computers, when we talk of clouds we mean somewhere in cyberspace where you can store information or reach for it over the global communications network.

Apple has built a cloud of its own, called MobileMe, an online service that uses mobile phone networks and wi-fi, either hot spots or domestic networks as well as landline broadband, to push emails, calendar events and other information between iPhones, iPod touches, Macs and PCs.

MobileMe is a subscription service that replaces and revolutionises the .Mac (pronounced dot-Mac) system I have used all over the world for years. It costs $A119 a year ($179 for a five-user family pack), which gives you access to everything plus 20GB of storage on Apple’s servers for your movies, photos, disparaging emails from Great Aunt Maude and other essential stuff. A 60-day free trial is available.

On an iPhone or iPod touch you need iPhone firmware 2.0 and iTunes 7.7 (downloadable from apple.com, where you can also sign up for MobileMe). If you are already a dot-Mac subscriber, you will have been signed up automatically. You can keep your @.mac.com email address but you also get the same username at me.com.

MobileMe is a further example not only of Apple’s ability to make difficult things easy and spread the doctrine of constant connectedness, but also of how the Mac is invading the PC environment.

Macs are now selling at a rate three times faster than PCs, according to Ron Johnson, Apple’s head of global retail sales, and they are moving steadily into the business arena.

Axel Springer AG, a huge German publishing company with 150 newspapers in 30 countries and 10,000 employees, is currently replacing its 12,000 PCs with 12,000 Macs; towers, iMacs and MacBooks. It makes Springer Apple’s second-largest customer, behind Google.

While you cannot run Mac or iPhone applications on a PC and MobileMe will not talk to Windows Mobile devices, you can use MobileMe to synchronise data on a Mac, an iPhone or an iPod touch with a PC.

The data is stored in your corner of the MobileMe cloud, aka Apple’s servers on what is essentially still the old iDisk arrangement, but under MobileMe your iDisk is more accessible; drag and drop on the desktop.

If you make changes, they are pushed to every device you have given access to your MobileMe account. Or you may log in from any internet connected computer, using the new me.com website.

MobileMe will talk to Outlook on Windows and, of course, to MacOS X’s Mail, iCal and Address Book. If you make an entry in iCal on, say, your iPhone, and if your other devices are connected via wi-fi, a mobile phone network, or a broadband line, the iCal calendars on every device you have listed (and Outlook if you also use a PC) are automatically synchronised. Similarly, emails show up on all the devices you have linked to the cloud.

Via me.com, you can get to Web 2.0 style applications to share photographs and other files and expect many more will be created as Macintosh and iPhone developers get going.

This has led the socially mobile and surreptitious to worry whether, should they (in the joy of the moment!) carelessly use their iPhone to take pictures of their girlfriend in a bikini at Noosa, would their wife instantly see the incriminating images pushed to the domestic iMac? Even good technology has traps.

The other worry for Australians might be the cost of pushing all that data around a mobile network. But, to be optimistic, greater traffic should mean lower prices and better plans.

The concept of synchronising devices and sharing information is far from new, of course.

Big companies use Microsoft’s Exchange, which works well with expert management, but for ordinary folk is like learning Icelandic while knitting bed socks out of barbed wire.

Apple boss Steve Jobs has called MobileMe "Exchange for the rest of us", which is a fair analogy, but in my view underplays the seamless user friendliness we should expect from Apple’s latest and, in many ways, most significant move in thinking differently and changing the world.

Apple is now harnessing the burgeoning wireless networks to seriously challenge some entrenched technology – Microsoft and Google for just two – by showing there is an easier, more efficient way.

Apple has an advantage because MobileMe can do it by wireless as well as online. But, before the end of the year, in the US, if not elsewhere, Google will respond to the iPhone challenge with Android. Progress.

MACFILE

Is the growing popularity of the Mac likely to make it more vulnerable to the evil and, these days probably criminal, purveyors of viruses, internet robots, electronic Trojan horses and other kinds of malware?

A couple of weeks ago a virus watch outfit called Intego announced that it had found two Mac Trojans likely to do damage. It said that one, "PokerGame", pretended to be a free card game but could steal your data, passwords and get control of your computer to propagate more malware. The other malware interfered with AppleScript.

If you remember your Greek mythology you will know that the Trojan takes its name from the wooden horse used by the Greeks to infiltrate and lay waste to Troy. In short, Trojans look neat but have nasty things inside. The Trojans’ mistake was to think the horse was a gift.

So, while we can say that no Macintosh viruses are at work on the internet, Trojans are not viruses and are there to trap unwary users. They don’t do damage if you don’t open them and let the nasties out. There are hundreds of them in the PC world, many purporting to be free videos on online porn sites.

While no one discounts the dangers to Macs, the feeling is that provided people use common sense and trash stuff they don’t recognise, the risk is pretty low.

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