Monday, January 15, 2007
Many Mac users subscribe to Apple’s .Mac service which provides email, Web hosting and a shared files service. .Mac has had a lot of stick over the last few years, most of it deserved; it’s not cheap (about $100 a year), the mail had a whole week of being unreliable last year, and the performance of its iDisk file storage and sharing service is capable of being painfully slow, so slow it’s sometimes unusable.

You use iDisk through the Finder, which, in the background initiates a WebDAV connection to Apple’s servers. When the .Mac weather’s bad, this connection can be too slow or lossy, leading to spinning beach-balls and a halting, stuttering Finder. The way I cope with this is to use Transmit which can us WebDAV as well as FTP to connect to remote file systems. Transmit is blindingly fast at everything it does and slices through the bad weather in a way that the Finder doesn’t seem to be able to manage.

You can do various useful things with the 1GB storage available on iDisk, such as putting files on it for others to use. Mac users can get to the files by mounting your iDisk, and users of other platforms can see and download your files using a Web interface that you can quickly and easily put in front of your disk. You can also give other people permission to put files there or delete them - if they use a Mac. If you want to share files with Windows users and have them copy or remove files from your iDisk, there’s no official solution. There is a Windows client for iDisk, but firstly, it’s only available if you have a .Mac subscription, and secondly it can’t be used unless you have a .Mac account. It can’t be used by the average Windows user to manage files on your iDisk.

That was the very situation I was in the other day, when working with a colleague in the UK. Fortunately I found a generic WebDAV client that works with iDisk. It’s called DAVExplorer and the best thing is it’s a Java application, so it works on any platform that has a Java Virtual Machine - including Windows and Linux.

There’s a trick to getting to somebody’s Public folder from a DAV client. The person who’s using your iDisk will need your .Mac user name and the password that you assigned when you set up read-write access to iDisk (set in the .Mac preference pane in System Preferences). Anyone using DAVExplorer should connect to the path

that is, you have to tack -Public onto the end of the iDisk URL. If they do that correctly, then .Mac will present them with a standard login dialog. The username they should use is public and the password is the one you assigned earlier. That done, they will be able to add and remove files from your iDisk without having any kind of .Mac account.