iTools

There are now almost as many products with an “i” prefix as there are bugs in Windows. The latest addition, iTools, is a suite of Web-based software tools for Mac OS 9. Most free things are worth only what you pay for them – nothing. iTools, though, is not only free, but also useful. Basic email
The first of the four iTools is email, from mac.com. There’s nothing clever about this – it’s just an email account. As soon as iTools was announced, there was a gold-rush for the good names – started by Steve Jobs, who can be found at [email protected] iTools has recently been made available to users outside North America, (see news)so UK users running Mac OS 9 can now enjoy these free services. It’s nothing short of idiotic that this is available only in North America. The reason is that, in North America, data is a valuable commodity: good profiles of Apple customers represent millions in potential e-dollars. Although Apple claims iTools will “go global”, by the time the rest of us get it, we’ll already be using it – via a dodgy ZIP code. The actual account is slightly different from other Web-based email systems, because it isn’t Web-based: it’s a normal POP/IMAP server – the same kind of mail most ISPs use. This means an email application and ISP account is needed to receive mail. There is, though, an automatic set-up for Outlook Express 5 (OE 5): simply click on the Set-up OE 5 button, and it does the rest – both impressive and convenient. If you already have an email account, you can either forward the mac.com mail to it, or, even easier, check both accounts from Outlook Express. KidSafe on sentry duty
Parents the world over are concerned about their children having unsupervised Internet access. Even parents savvy enough to put Net-nanny software in place may not be a match for most 12-year-old hackers. KidSafe stops this. It’s easy to install and use, and practically impossible to circumvent. Still, don’t imagine that Junior won’t be able to have a good guess at your password – and watch out for hidden microphones when using your Mac OS 9 voice password. There are also other ways of accessing porn, bomb-making tips and other Internet nasties – so I’ve heard. Applications such as various FTP clients, email, Hotline, and Carracho all have the potential to breach KidSafe. You can bet that kids will trade such information like Top Trumps cards. It’s impossible to police completely the enquiring mind of child. Setting up KidSafe is easy, but using it is less rewarding. It works by nominating KidSafe sites that can be viewed, rather than choosing ones that can’t. This limits the number of sites available. Granted, there are 55,000 of them, but this is a tiny fraction of the one billion pages out there. It’ll be frustrating, even for a child, to be excluded from sites that are patently safe, yet do not get the Apple seal of approval – especially so with Apple’s US-centric history. For example Macworld’s own site, www.macworld.co.uk, is not on the list of approved sites – although there’s a way of adding particular sites to KidSafe, but this must be done one site at a time. KidSafe is certainly safe, but it may be more trouble than it’s worth for anything beyond homework projects. One way that Apple could rapidly increase the number of registered KidSafe sites would be for it to get its iReview staff to register sites as they are reviewed. Currently, even the top sites that are reviewed are not in the KidSafe register. iDisk makes the difference
The iTools feature that makes it worthwhile is iDisk, which gives 20MB of storage that can be used for any files – including your very own Web site. Once signed up to iTools, iDisk can be mounted on the desktop. From this point, it can be used as a network volume for back-up, shared files, movies or Web galleries. The best thing about iDisk is that it allows one to shuttle files between home and work. I can copy a file to my iDisk from work, and then download it when home. There’s a also a publicly shared file that others can access. This makes sharing anything – from digital pictures to work projects – easy. Remember, though, other users also need to have Mac OS 9 and iTools to take advantage of this. Initially, your iDisk is split into folders for documents, pictures, movies, public and sites. You don’t have to stick to this, but it will help you publish information easily. Most ISPs have an amount of free Web space included – not that many people use it. This requires special software and knowledge. iDisk is simple, convenient and beats the pants off most other free Web-space titles. Web-editing made easy
The perfect addition to iDisk is iTools’ HomePage. This is a simple Web-based tool for building a personalized home page. A fully animated, Java-stuffed Flash extravaganza is beyond it, but for saying who you are and for displaying family snapshots for far-flung relatives, it’s ideal. No knowledge of Web design is required. The first step is to copy selected pictures or movies to iDisk, so when visiting the HomePage there’s material to work with. Next, decide what kind of Web page you want. The choice is between Photo Album, iMovie Theatre, Invites, Announcements, Baby and Resumé. Once the category is selected, HomePage will search iDisk for suitable files and offer to display them – leaving you to pen titles and captions. The page can then be previewed, and publishing is achieved with the click of a button. Your Web site address will be something like www.homepage.mac.com/yourname/gallery.html. Other pages are simple forms that are filled out and published in the same way. Although templates are flexible, Apple should consider adding to the options. If it doesn’t there’ll be an abundance of identical-looking sites out there. Apple could run an ongoing competition for iTools users to design a Web template for the HomePage site. This would supply a constant stream of original pages, without costing Apple a penny.

OUR VERDICT

It’s hard to criticize a product that costs nothing. Even if you don’t use all its features, some are bound to come in handy. If all you want is to stake a claim for your own name, it’s worth getting a mac.com address. Also, if you’ve a particularly complicated email address – as with Compuserve’s numerical addresses – there are advantages to having a mac.com address. If you use email from work, and like to change jobs from time to time, then iTools is also useful. Although tiresome, KidSafe does have its place. Older children will become frustrated by its limitations – and not because they want to access filth and violence. HomePage is a great feature that offers a way to get a Web site up within minutes. It’s best suited to pages designed for use by friends and family, rather than the general public or your company’s clients. However, I know my Stateside mother-in-law will enjoy being able to see pictures of her far-flung family more often. So, if you thought you could get away without buying Mac OS 9, think again.

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