iCloud: What's in, what's out for MobileMe users

Web calendar and contacts in, iDisk and password sync out, says Apple

Apple won't officially debut iCloud for months -- September is the bet by most -- but last week the company revealed more information about what the online sync and storage service will and won't include.

The news was especially welcome to customers already paying $99 a year for MobileMe, the 2008 service Apple launched to early teething troubles and poor press. MobileMe never attracted a wide audience, in part because so much of what it did could be cobbled together from free services and tools.

Earlier this month, Apple announced it would pull MobileMe's plug in 2012, months after it is to be replaced by iCloud . But until last week, Apple had left MobileMe users in the dark about what parts would shift to iCloud and what would be ditched.

Apple's MobileMe-to-iCloud transition FAQ gave us some answers, and we pitched in with some others.

Will I still be able to access my mail, calendar and contacts on the Web? Yes. Once iCloud launches this fall, users can access email, calendar and contacts, three of the apps now available on MobileMe.

Apple said it would provide more details on how to migrate MobileMe's mail, calendar and contacts to iCloud when the latter goes live later this year.

What happens to iDisk and the files I've stored there? iDisk won't make the move to iCloud. But it's not going away until June 30, 2012, when Apple retires all of MobileMe. That gives subscribers just over a year to continue uploading and downloading files to and from the 20GB iDisk space.

Before MobileMe goes dark, users must copy the files in iDisk to local storage on their Mac or PC. Instructions for doing so are available on Apple's website.

Can I use iCloud's online storage like I did iDisk? Because Apple's not been crystal clear, we're not sure, but we think the answer is no.

Unlike MobileMe's iDisk, iCloud's 5GB of free storage space apparently won't be accessible through, say, the Mac's Finder, but instead will contain documents saved, at least initially, only through Apple's iWork suite of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Other uses of the space, Apple's said, will be for the email mailboxes and backups of iOS devices , including photos, settings, app data and other information.

Apple has said nothing about files generated on a Windows PC or on a Mac outside of iWork.

So with iDisk gone, what do I do? Apple hasn't said, but it seems the company has ceded the space to the likes of Dropbox and Microsoft 's Windows Live SkyDrive.

Dropbox gives Mac and Windows users 2GB of storage space for free -- and syncs that space between platforms, machines and mobile devices, while SkyDrive offers 25GB for free.

For online backup purposes, you may want to look into services like Carbonite or Mozy . The former charges $55 per year for unlimited storage, while the latter provides 2GB free, with 50GB of space costing $6 per month.

What's happening with MobileMe's iWeb and Gallery? They'll vanish in June 2012.

Neither service is making the move to iCloud, so June 30, 2012 is the date to remember: After that, a site (or sites) you've published to iWeb, and photos or videos you've stored on Gallery, will be inaccessible.

Apple's recommended that users move their iWeb sites to another hosting firm, and either sync Gallery with iPhoto '08 or later, or download the photos and movies to the hard drive of a Mac or Windows PC.

Can I keep my .me or .mac email address? Yes. "If you have an active MobileMe account when you sign up for iCloud, you'll be able to keep your me.com or mac.com email address," Apple said.

Will iCloud sync my passwords between Macs like MobileMe? Nope. "Syncing of Mac Dashboard widgets, keychains, Dock items, and System Preferences will not be part of iCloud," Apple said in its transition FAQ.

"Keychain" is Apple's name for its password management system, so once you shift to iCloud, you won't be able to sync passwords between Macs using Apple's service.

Instead, you'll have to switch to a password service or manager that supports synchronization. The $40 1Password , for instance, stores passwords on all your personally owned Macs, and uses Dropbox to sync. A free alternative is LastPass, an all-online password manager that syncs across multiple browsers , OSes and devices.

Both Dropbox -- which 1Password relies on for sync -- and LastPass have had confirmed or suspected security breaches this year, however, so the cautious may want to standardize on Chrome or Firefox on all their Macs, then use the browser's built-in sync service.

What about Find My iPhone ? It will live on in iCloud, says Apple.

According to reports , Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion, will also support a Find My Mac tool serviced by iCloud. Like the long-available Find My iPhone, the new tool will let users pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen Mac.

iCloud's 5GB of storage space seems pretty puny. Can I opt for more? Apple says you can, but hasn't spelled out how much additional space will cost.

Remember that iCloud won't count music, apps, and books you've purchased through iTunes, the App Store or iBooks against the 5GB. Nor will the 1,000 images in Photo Stream, iCloud's photo-sync service for iOS devices, Macs and Windows PCs.

I know Apple's extended my MobileMe subscription through June 2012, but I'm not happy about the changes. Can I get my money back? Yes. You can cancel your subscription at any time, said Apple, and receive a prorated refund. If you paid the $99 annual fee six months ago, for instance, you'd have $49.50 coming.

But if you do cancel, all your MobileMe services will stop working and your data will be deleted.

Our suggestion: Wait until this fall to cancel -- after you've migrated to iCloud -- so that you can retain your .me or .mac email address, and keep syncing your calendar and contacts.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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