How-To: Replicate Most MobileMe Services, Mostly At $0.00 Per Year

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As anyone who follows me over at Twitter (or on the header of my blog, or as a FB friend) would know, I’ve spent a portion of my day rebuilding my calendaring environment to have it be Google-based. You’d also know that I did the same for my Address Book. Well, in the process I went through and literally was able to check off a list of the key MobileMe services that have now been replicated essentially for free with an array of other, in some ways better, tools. This blog post (in the extended body) will give you step-by-step instructions (or the links to) on how to set up these services to help you have a “cloud” for your computing experience without paying a cent for most of the key services. Note that all these work on a Mac, but not all necessarily work on a PC. Also note that I explain how to use the tools that I use, but that those tools are just one in a couple of choices.

iDisk

The basic purpose of the iDisk feature of MobileMe is to have a storage location that is off-site and accesible from anywhere the internet is.

My replacement for this potentially useful feature is a free service called Dropbox. The basic setup directions for Dropbox are:

  1. Download the client software (Mac or PC) from the above linked website
  2. Install the tool
  3. Go through the on-screen account and local environment setup You’ll end up with a menubar item that shows the status of the synchronization. The menu will have an option to open your local Dropbox, just dragging files here will cause the Dropbox software to upload the files to the server. The web interface has a clean way to navigate your Dropbox, make certain files public, and so on. The website even has an optimized version for Mobile Safari.

Bookmark Sync

The basic purpose of bookmark syncing is to allow you to have all your vast array of bookmarks be the same across all your computers.

My replacement service is one that I wrote about not that long ago, Foxmarks. You won’t get over-the-air sync to an AMD (Apple Mobile Device, iPhone or iPod Touch), but since the bookmarks are synced between platform and browser, as long as one of your synced computers is responsible for syncing your AMD, you’re all fine. To learn more about this tool, you can read both my earlier entry and the Foxmarks website.

Email

MobileMe gives you a “me.com” email address for your personal use.

It goes without saying that there are dozens of free email services. But for the sake of the next two replacement features (not to mention it’s the one that I use), GMail is the one that I’ll explain. Simply follow the link I just gave you to set up a new account, or if you already have a Google Account then this step is taken care of, and has been for the past few months.

Contact Sync

MobileMe allows you to sync contacts across your many computers and AMDs so that you’ll never find yourself without a place to look up that old roomate’s cell phone number.

Replicating this feature is a bit more intense than the rest that I’ve so far mentioned but not necessarily as hard as the Calendar Sync below. It starts with you owning an iPhone or iPod Touch syncing to a 10.5.3+ Mac. You’ll also need a Yahoo! account that you know and own the login for. The step-by-step instructions for Address Book setup as best as I can say are below:

  1. Open Address Book
  2. Address Book->Preferences…-> General tab
  3. Check off both Synchronize with Yahoo! and Synchronize with Google
  4. Click the Yahoo… button and fill in your login information
  5. Click the Google… button and fill in your login information
  6. Be sure to erase the contacts your currently have at both Yahoo! and Google
  7. Quit Address Book if you like
  8. Open iSync
  9. iSync->Preferences…
  10. Check Show status in menu bar
  11. Quit iSync
  12. Choosing Sync Now from the Sync menu in your menubar will start the Google sync, which only occurs manually sadly That’s just the setup for the Mac side. You now have your Address Book contacts up in your GMail contacts folder! Now, if you own an AMD then these are the setup instructions for sync down from GMail to the Contacts application:
  13. Open the Settings application
  14. Select Mail, Contacts, Calendars
  15. At the top a list of your currently set up accounts shows up with Add Account… at the bottom of the list, select it
  16. Choose Microsoft Exchange
  17. In the Email field enter whatever name you want
  18. Leave the Domain field blank
  19. Enter your full GMail email address in the Username field
  20. Enter your GMail password in the Password field
  21. Tap Next to go to the next screen
  22. A server field will appear, enter m.google.com
  23. Tap Next again
  24. Select Contacts (and Calendars if you want to follow my next replication set), but be sure to deselect Mail as Google doesn’t yet support it
  25. Tap Sync twice as you go through the data loss warnings
  26. Press the Home button to return to the Home Screen
  27. Navigate to the Contacts application and open it
  28. All your GMail (hence Address Book) contacts should sync to your AMD over the air from here on out! These AMD directions are also available at the Google Help Center. The Yahoo! sync is required because that is what will let the Google sync occur without the contact sync in iTunes. As you can see these directions are far from simple for the average user, but the end result is a usable cloud-based contacts environment with no cable needed to sync between Address Book (Mac) and Contacts (AMD) as well as now having web-based access to your contacts list.

Calendar Sync

The calendar sync functionality of MobileMe helps keep you on time for your many work and personal tasks.

Replicating this feature is also quite intense, but doable and super-nice once set up. It is using Google Calendar as the server-side, and they’ve been enhancing the feature for months, so I’ve actually gone in and out of using it, but hope that it’s now solid enough for my permanent adoption. You’ll need a 10.5.0+ Mac (iCal 3.x+) to enable this replacement. Step-by-step setup instructions are here:

  1. On Google Calendar set up one calendar for each of the calendars you have in iCal (and want synced), likely named the same
  2. In iCal export each calendar to ics files, my suggestion would be save those to your Desktop, then quit iCal
  3. Back in Google Calendar click Settings just below the list of your calendars
  4. Down a ways (just under Create new calendar) is Import calendar, click it
  5. Choose the ics file and subsequent Google Calendar, and then click Import
  6. This step could take some time
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for your remaining calendars
  8. Follow this link to download Google’s iCal-Google Calendar sync setup application
  9. Open the application and enter your Google email and password
  10. A window with all your Google Calendars will show up, select the ones you want synced to iCal
  11. Press the Add to iCal button and follow the on-screen dialogs
  12. iCal should be opened as the sync setup tool quits
  13. iCal will need to upgrade its database, let it even though it could take some time
  14. You should see that the Google Calendars are syncing with the server, in the end each event on your calendar should be doubled up
  15. Give your synced calendars the same colors as their local ancestors if you so desire
  16. Delete the local copies, and make sure you save the exported ics files for safe-keeping for a while just in case
  17. The calendars will sync be default every 5 minutes and each edit, you can change this in iCal->Preferences…->Accounts tab You now have your iCal calendars syncing up to Google Calendar, with the ability to edit the data either in the web interface or iCal! If you have an AMD, follow these additional setup tasks to get the calendars to sync over-the-air to your AMD (Calendar application) as well:
  18. Follow steps 1-14 of the AMD Contacts setup instructions above
  19. Open Safari on your AMD and go to m.google.com/sync
  20. Log in with your GMail login
  21. Select your AMD (it should be named either iPhone or iPod, or the name you gave it in iTunes at initial setup)
  22. Select up to 5 calendars that you want synced to your AMD (I wish this limit is lifted higher someday…)
  23. Tap Save in the bottom-right of the webpage when you’re done
  24. Exit Safari and go to Calendar
  25. Those 5 calendars that you selected will be synced into view You should have full editing powers for those calendars and see those changes in iCal within 5 minutes (and vice-versa of course)! That’s the long set of directions to set up your iCal to sync to your Google cloud and through it, over-the-air to your AMD.

iWeb Publishing (usually not free)

iWeb publishing is key for personal websites for the inexperienced average Mac user. Sadly in previous iterations of iLife iWeb was locked to .Mac/ MobileMe publishing. In iLife ‘09, however, Apple finally added simple FTP Publishing as well. This means that if you own an account at a web hosting service, or run your own web server, you can use iWeb to publish to it. My family is currently using Site5 as our web hosting service (this blog is run from there as you read this).

Closing Notes

I know I didn’t cover each service/ feature in this comprehensive How-To post, but I did offer replacements for the key ones. I’m fully open to discussion about my ideas, and others in the comments, so if you have any ideas, comments, or concerns please speak up! Enjoy, Alex.

Update: 2-23-09

I was having contact sync issues after a few hours of the setup. To fix this I needed to export all my contacts to a vCard from Address Book, delete all the contacts from Address Book, and import the vCard to Google. After syncing the contacts to both devices I could add a contact on either device and it would show up on the opposite device and up at GMail.

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