Today – January 5th, 2020 – is a banner day for Apple and anyone who uses Apple products and services. It’s the twentieth anniversary of a product/service that has become integral to the company’s entire internet strategy, app and media distribution efforts, and is the foundation block that every vital service – particularly development and device management – rest on. It is, in point of fact, the thing that turned Apple from a company clawing its way out of financial ruin and irrelevance into the behemoth it is today.
You might think – and I say this not in a subjective sense but in the sense of a person who asked his friends about this – that I’d be talking about something revelatory like the iPod (although you’d be a year or so early) or possibly the iMac (although you’d be a couple of years too late). Those are solid answers, but the real hero of the piece is our old friend, .Mac.
Okay, to be fair, it was originally called iTools because Apple was squarely fixated on their internet strategy and had made the reasonable decision to prefix everything with an “I”, but when you signed up for it (and I did on January 5th, 2000 from the cramped confines of our tiny apartment on Capitol Hill over a 28.8k modem) you got an actual email address @Mac.com and so much more.
Almost everything that came with iTools was weird, and is now gone. The two goofiest ones are easy picks: iReview and iCards. iReview was a sort of peculiar review site for web pages (a noble goal, but ultimately unworkable considering the exploding rate of web adoption amongst the world at large), iCards was a sort of Blue Mountain-esque web greeting card outlet.
Homepage wasn’t awful, and in fact was a fairly serviceable web-page tool that allowed you to host your own site on your iDisk, which could handle up to a whopping 15mb of content. iDisk itself enjoyed direct support in the OS, too; you had the ability to mount the thing on your desktop as if it were just another drive that made copying data to and from the thing laughably simple and intuitive in a way that probably makes iCloud Drive wake up in a cold sweat every night.
A couple of years later iTools became .Mac, and then .Mac became iCloud, and now I have an email address that works with all of those suffixes and has done so – reliably – for twenty years. And because I’m a digital packrat, I can look at those early mails like some sort of data archaeologist and capture little glimpses of the places we all lived and the things we all did back then. There are pictures of my first new car in there, and long email chains between my wife and I that are weird echoes of who we were before we had kids and mortgages. Updates from friends whose names I’ve long-since forgotten, and notes to and from my Dad who passed away almost eighteen years ago.
My private fear is that someday some bean-counter at Apple will look at iCloud and decide that enough is enough and that .Mac addresses will no longer Be A Thing and that we’ll be left with .me.com and iCloud.com, and while that may cause some headaches about AppleIDs and address books I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world. Still, it would be a shame. Twenty years is an eternity in the internet age.
So, Happy Birthday iTools. If I have one wish it’s that you’ll be here in another twenty years time, and that I’ll be around to check back in with you then.