Apple's smart move to integrate .Mac services into Macs and iLife have driven strong sales of the £69/year service - despite complaints as to the system's reliability.

Citing research from NPD, Computerworld reports that the boxed version of .Mac is Apple's second most popular product so far this year.

NPD research analyst, Chris Swenson observes that many customers may be taken aback when they open up the .Mac box to discover "there's nothing in there other than a license key." (Which also begs the question of how environmentally friendly it is to sell an empty box).

The report pursues the theme that software as a service offering such as .Mac appears likely to emerge as part of the future for applications vendors, as they choose to migrate their products to the model in order to stave of piracy.

However, for products to remain enticing, customers must feel they are receiving value for money, with many users now looking to replace their relatively costly .Mac subscriptions with assembled packages of various services.

The NotMac Challenge recently introduced notMac, a free, open-source utility for using client-side dotMac services provided by Apple. Currently the solution requires a server running OS X, but efforts have already begun to create Linux and Windows compatible versions.