Meep Meep

January 21, 2009

MobileMe Alternatives

Filed under: iPhone — meepmeep @ 10:21 pm +0000

Update: Feb 2009: Google has released Google Sync for the iPhone.

These days, a number of people seem to be looking for MobileMe “alternatives” or “replacements”.  While I still think MobileMe is worth it for many people, I thought I’d summarize some of the websites that provide bits and pieces of “MobileMe-like” functionality.  While MobileMe provides an easy-to-use, “one-stop-shopping” site that bundles various useful features together, many of these features can be found in free, lower-cost, or reduced functionality forms, if you’re willing to do a little work and/or possibly go through some pain.

Disclaimer: I have not necessarily tried/evaluated the following sites.  I do not know how reliable or scrupulous they are.  Take the following with a grain of salt, and do your own investigation.  If you see any errors, please leave a comment and tell me.  Also, all prices mentioned are believed to be current as of January 2009; note that the prices may have changed if you’re reading this a while after that.

Email

MobileMe’s big email feature is “push email”.  Fortunately, “push email” exists in at least two other places: Yahoo and mail2web.  Both of these have free accounts with push capability, although you can pay to get additional features.

Yahoo’s push capabilities don’t seem to be well-known, even though all Yahoo email accounts have this feature.  When setting up a Yahoo mail account on your iPhone, you must set it up as a “Yahoo mail” account, and not as “Other”.

Mail2web offers a free, exchange-based push email service.  It also includes synchronized (“push”) contacts and calendars, although the free version has no way of importing/exportings contacts or calendars (for example, from Outlook or Google).  You can, of course, pay for premium accounts with more features.   When setting it up on the iPhone, you must set it up as a “Microsoft Exchange” account.

While push email is nice, it can be disruptive if you get a lot of less-important email, and it can reduce battery life.  Using a trick, you can get “selective push” of messages, where only messages that you specify get pushed; other messages are not pushed.  This is done using two email accounts: a main email account, and throwaway push account.  For details, see, “Selective Push Email for the iPhone“.

If you don’t need push email, but need mail “synchronized” between multiple PCs, Macs, and iPhones, you might want to consider using an email service that supports IMAP.  With IMAP, all mail is served on a central server.  For example, if you read your email from one PC, that mail gets marked as read on the server.  Then, if you read your email from a different Mac or iPhone, you’ll see that that email will be marked as read.  Google’s gmail supports IMAP, but Yahoo doesn’t.  For more information regarding gmail’s IMAP, see the Google documentation, as well as the gmail iPhone docs.  For some additional pointers to mail providers that support IMAP, see the wikipedia page on webmail providers.

Contacts and Calendars

If you want “push” synchronization of contacts and calendars, you need some exchange-based service.  Aside from MobileMe, I know of only two ways to get “push” contacts and calendars:

  • Use an exchange-based service like Mail2web’s live mail service (which offers a free account).  As mentioned above, in addition to “push” contacts and calendars, you also get push email.  However, the free account has no way of importing/exporting existing contacts and calendars.

    Note that any exchange-based service can be used, and there are quite a few out there (sorry, I really don’t have any more information).

  • nuevasync (also exchange-based, but this is something of a special case).  This is a currently-free service that provides “push” contacts and calendars for Google contacts and Google calendar.  Push email is not available, although the company claims to be working on it.  I have no idea if they’ll switch to a paid model in the future.
  • Google Sync for the iPhone (beta).  This uses an exchange-based interface to sync Google contacts and calendars to the iPhone.  (There is currently no push email service with this.)

    One current limitation is that there seems to be no way to put contacts into groups on the iPhone.

However, note that the iPhone only allows the use of one and only one exchange-based account.  That means that you cannot use nuevasync (for push Google contacts and calendar) with another exchange-based account (for push email).  You can only use one or the other.  You can, however, use nuevasync for push contacts/calendar,  and Yahoo (or MobileMe) for push email, though.  (The iPhone allows you to have more than one Yahoo-based account, more than one IMAP/POP3 account, up to one MobileMe account, and up to one exchange-based account.)

On the other hand, if you don’t need push contacts and calendar, iTunes does a decent job of synchronizing contacts and calendar (although PC users need to buy Outlook to get calendar sync).

Photos

For photo management and web uploading, PC users can use Google’s Picasa (a Mac version is curently in beta).  By default, it only uploads to Google’s Picasa web albums, but there is also a way to upload to Flickr.  You only get 1GB of free image storage space, although you can always pay to get additional storage.  If you only upload modest-sized pictures for web viewing, 1GB can go a long way.  However, if you upload full-sized images from digital cameras, you can use up 1GB quickly.

Of course, you could just use Flickr, but Flickr doesn’t manage the pictures on your PC or Mac.  It’s pretty much a web-only application, where you must first upload pictures to Flickr before you can do anything with them.  Free accounts are limited to uploading 100MB/month, with a max picture size of 10MB.  There appears to be no limit on how much total space you can use (which means that it would take, for free accounts, 10 months to reach 1GB).  You can, of course, pay to get unlimited bandwidth and fewer restrictions.

As a side note, if you happen to need an online image editor, Sumo Paint appears to be quite nice.  It’s a fairly-powerful image editor that runs in your browser.  Performance appears to be decent, although loading and saving may take a long moment.  It also works in Firefox and Chrome, and does not require registration.

Files

LifeHacker did an excellent comparison of many available online storage sites.  Here are some comments.

DropBox

I happen to like Dropbox (still in beta), because it gives you 2GB of free storage space, and because it works on PCs, Macs, and linux boxes.  Among other things:

  • Dropbox basically mirrors and synchronizes a directory tree on your PC/Mac/linux box, to the web and to other systems (everything in and below “My Documents/My Dropbox”, by default — you can specify a different directory, however).  Note that, while the directory tree appears to be on a local disk, it’s actually something like a cached network drive.
  • When you modify files, only the changed portions are uploaded and/or downloaded — not the entire file.
  • From the web, you have access to your deleted files, and previous versions of your files.
  • It also provides web photo galleries, and ways of sharing files and folders with others.
  • If you need more than 2GB of space, it’s $99/year for 50GB.
  • The max file size appears to be 5GB, which is larger than the available space in free accounts.
  • One downside is that folder sharing is done read-write; there’s currently no way to make a read-only folder available, although you can share individual, downloadable (read-only) URLs to files.
  • Folder sharing can apparently be done only with other Dropbox users.

It’s really quite powerful and easy-to-use — check out their demo video.

Jungle Disk

If you need more than 2GB (but less than 20GB or so, maybe up to 30+GB), but $99/year is too much for you, check out Jungle Disk, which also works on PCs, Macs, and linux boxes.  Although it’s not free, and doesn’t appear to be as nice as Dropbox, you basically pay only for what you use: you buy the Jungle Disk program, and then you buy storage space and bandwidth from Amazon.  While it’s simple enough to set up, it does take more setup work, as not only do you have to install and set up the Jungle Disk program, but you also have to sign up for an Amazon S3 storage account.  Novice users might have difficulty with this.

On the Mac and PC, it looks just like a network drive.

Basically, you buy the client software ($20, runs on PCs, Macs, and linux boxes), and then pay only for the storage and bandwidth you use (yes, you do pay for bandwidth used, in both directions):

  • $0.150 per GB – first 50 TB / month of storage used
  • $0.100 per GB – all data transfer in
  • $0.170 per GB – first 10 TB / month data transfer out
  • $0.01 per 1,000 PUT, COPY, POST, or LIST requests
  • $0.01 per 10,000 GET and all other requests (no charge for delete requests)

These are US prices.  See the Amazon website for complete pricing.

For example (I think I have this right), let’s say that you upload and store 20GB of files.  Amazon would charge you $0.10*20 = $2.00 to upload the files, plus $0.01 per 1000 uploaded files.  In addition, $0.15*20 = $3.00 would be charged each month to store the files.  So, for this example, the first month would cost a bit over $5.00, but only $3.00/month after that.  However, downloading files would cost extra (over $0.17/GB) — downloading all 20GB would cost another $3.40 or so.  If this was all done in the first month, it would cost over $8.40.

Note that, at $99/year, Dropbox works out to around $8.25/month, and there are no bandwidth charges.  Heavy users are probably better off with Dropbox at $99/year, while light users might be better off with Jungle Disk.

Note that Jungle Disk uploads and downloads complete files; in general, there is no incremental uploading/downloading of file changes, unlike Dropbox.  If you change a file, the entire file has to be uploaded to the cloud, and, if you also access your Jungle Disk drive from other PCs, Macs, etc., you have to download the entire file.  While this isn’t important for small files, this can be significant for medium-to-large files.  However, you can pay a subscription fee of $1.00/month to get incremental file uploads (not downloads) with Jungle Disk.  This can be useful for people with ADSL internet connections, and for saving upload bandwidth costs, but it does not address the entire-file-must-be-downloaded issue.

Jungle Disk also has an optional backup facility, where directories you specify are periodically (or manually) backed up.

Files and directories can be encrypted once they leave your PC/Mac, and the encryption keys are stored only on your systems.  However, if you opt-in and use their web-based file interface, you have to give your keys to the Jungle Disk people, because that’s required in order for the web servers to work.  User beware.

Syncplicity

I haven’t tried this, but Syncplicity appears to be a competitor to Dropbox.  Comparing Syncplicity and Dropbox:

  • Currently, Syncplicity is PC-only.  An OS X version is currently in closed beta, and a linux version is supposedly being worked on.  Dropbox already works on all three platforms (although it is, technically, still in beta).
  • Syncplicity’s pricing is similar ($99/year for 50GB, just like Dropbox).  However Syncplicity allows you to add additional storage space, in chunks of 50GB ($99/year for each additional chunk); with Dropbox, you’re limited to 50GB.
  • Syncplicity allows you to specify the directories to backup/synchronize.  Dropbox limits you to a particular directory tree.
  • The free Syncplicity accounts give you 2GB, like Dropbox, but limit you to only 2 PCs for synchronization.  Dropbox does not limit the number of synchronized PCs, Macs, or linux boxes.

Website Hosting

Sorry, I haven’t set up any public websites, and so I don’t know about good hosting solutions.

I do know that MobileMe’s hosting is pretty basic, as it:

  • Does not have database hosting (e.g, Postgres or MySQL).
  • Does not have any cgi-bin facility (no PHP, python, ruby/rails, etc.).
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1 Comment »

  1. […] To MobileMe or Not To MobileMe? Filed under: iPhone — meepmeep @ 12:50 am +0000 Update, Jan 2009: People looking for a MobileMe alternative might want to see my other blog post, MobileMe Alternatives. […]

    Pingback by To MobileMe or Not To MobileMe? « Meep Meep — January 29, 2009 @ 11:40 am +0000 | Reply


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