Apple has renamed iTools .Mac, and has announced plans to levy a $99.95 per year charge for the use of its previously free suite of online services.

.Mac introduces new features, such as Backup and Virex anti-virus software; improved versions of existing iTools services; and additional email and iDisk storage space.

Describing its reasons to levy a charge, Apple said: “Providing email and storage solutions for millions of customers comes at a considerable cost. Using the Internet today requires more storage space, better ways to share, and new ways to protect your important files. To continue providing iTools services as well as a new set of must-haves for computing on the Internet, Apple is charging an annual fee.” The company claims that, purchased individually, the component services that make up .Mac would cost $250.

Offer The company is offering existing iTools customers their first year of access for $49.95. Existing accounts have been converted into 60-day .Mac trial accounts, and will continue to have full access to email, HomePages and iDisk, and the chance to try many of Apple's upgraded suite of online services.

Tools available in .Mac include: HomePage (with a new visitor feedback feature); email with IMAP and 15MB of storage; the ability to purchase up to ten additional email accounts; 100MB of iDisk storage; and iDisk utility software for group file sharing.

The service also offers a selection of safety and security options – back up software to back files up to iDisk, CD or DVD; Virex anti-virus software (with regular updates) and members-only support and discussion areas.

Existing users have until September 30 to join .Mac. After this, existing unregistered iTools accounts will be deactivated. Customers who have paid for an upgrade (eg extra storage space) for existing iTools accounts will get their first year free.

Millions and millions During his keynote speech at Macworld Expo in New York, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that numbers of registered iTools users have doubled since last year – with 2.2 million users worldwide. If all subscribed to .Mac, Apple would pull in revenues of over $200 million per year.

The move to a paid-for subscription is sure to generate controversy. Have your say on Macworld’s Reader Poll (left) now!

For more information, visit Apple's .Mac FAQ.