MobileMe — Jury’s still out

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MobileMe is the new “Cloud Computing” solution introduced by Apple.  This service appeals to me because I frequently use different computers for working and I frequently have a need to share files with others for work and school.  This service promises the capability of syncing calendar and address book information between multiple Mac or PC workstations.  This cross-platform support is, in fact, a rare feature that is particularly useful to me.  The cost is $99, but for this type of seamless syncing, the price would be worth it.  However, it hasn’t been the simplest thing to set up.

I took advantage of the 60 day free trial to set up my MobileMe account on the 19th. 

I registered for my account on the website and that went pretty smoothly. It then presented instructions for setting up my Mac and iPod Touch.  This also went pretty well.  There are just a couple of things I thought were a little odd.

First, MobileMe apparently doesn’t recognize ‘smart groups’ in Address Book. I had to reconfigure these as static lists in order to share them across the cloud.  It also doesn’t want to sync subscribed calendars from iCal (It will pass them along to other machines, but you can’t see them in the web client.  The other thing is that Apple Preferences shows that you have the option to sync Apple Mail accounts.  I’m not sure what this means because It doesn’t sync anything.  I currently have two IMAP accounts set up in Mail, neither of which is the MobileMe account.  My guess is it only wants to sync a me.com email account.

Mac was pretty smooth otherwise.  Likewise, the iPod setup in iTunes went pretty smoothly.  Then there’s Windows…

Setup in Windows was about the same process as on the Mac.  I sync with Outlook 2007.  What I didn’t expect was that MobileMe created a new calendar folder in Outlook for each calendar I synced.  It didn’t merge them as I would have expected.  This includes my subscribed calendars.  End result is I had five calendars in Outlook after sync.  Outlook only functions fully with the main calendar, so I had to merge these manually in order for Outlook to function properly.

The Contacts behaved the same way.  Each group in Apple Address book synced in as a separate contact list in Outlook.  I’m still deciding how to handle this, but in both Calendar and Contacts, at least the information flowed.

The biggest problem I had in Windows is that the sync engine kept crashing on me.  I couldn’t get it to run.  After a full day of frustration over this, I found an article on the Apple site that explains how to ‘reset’ windows and start over.  It basically involves the complete removal of iTunes and Apple device support and then reinstalling everything. I followed these steps to resolve the issues I was having.  After reinstalling and reconfiguring MobileMe, I was still having the problem, but performing one final reboot after the process was complete seems to have solved the problem. I’ve now synced several times without any errors.

iDisk was pretty simple on the Mac.  Once I set it up, there was an ‘iDisk’ icon in Finder that allowed me full access to the storage on my account.  Windows did not set up automatically, and the instructions for setting up MobileMe did not include the instructions for mapping a network drive to the cloud storage.  However, I also found information on Apple.com for mapping a drive in Windows to the iDisk.  The only problem I’m still having with iDisk in Windows is that even when I set the checkbox to reconnect on login, the connection isn’t restored.  I had to write a batch file to force-disconnect iDisk and then reconnect.

I haven’t done anything yet with MobileMe mail.  First of all, I’m not convinced that I want to give up the convenience and functionality Gmail offers.  Besides, I’m not yet convinced that MobileMe is a service that’s functional and reliable enough to convince me to pay $99 for.  I’ll decide if I’m going to go to the trouble of changing my email address after I know whether I’m going to keep MobileMe as a resource going forward.

There are many complaints on the ‘Net over this service not working well, and it hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world for me to set up, but I think I’ve finally tamed it.  If it straightens out and delivers on the promise Apple makes, it will be a useful resource that is worth the cost.

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