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iTools: A Free Service That's Worth a Lot

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iTools: A Free Service That's Worth a Lot

By Jonathan Oski, contributor to The Macintosh Bible, Eighth Edition

The next time you come across someone who tells you, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," send them over to Apple's iTools Web site ( You won't find lunch there, but you will find free Web hosting, email, and 20MB of disk space.

The iTools collection consists of iDisk, HomePage, iCards, and email, and you can access the entire suite of tools from your Internet browser. Let's start with iDisk, which gives you 20MB of free personal storage space on Apple's Internet servers. (Once you sign up for iTools, you can add space to your iDisk, up to 1GB in various increments, for just $1 per MB per year. ) Open your iDisk from Apple's iTools Web site, and it quickly appears on your desktop as if it were a shared volume on a local network. In fact, you can use iDisk just as you would any other Macintosh disk. By default, Apple creates a number of folders on the disk to help you organize documents, music, movies, pictures, and other material, but you can change these defaults to suit your needs.

The applications for iDisk are tremendous. Since you can access iDisk from any computer with an Internet connection, you can use it to store files that you want to access while you are away from home or work. There is also a special Public folder that you can use to share files with your friends, family, and coworkers. (All they need to know to access it is your iTools username.)

Apple also uses iDisk to share some of its software (and that of leading OS X developers) with you. In a folder called Software, you'll find some of the latest updates, tools, and applications for both Mac OS 9 and OS X. For example, you can get the newest version of iTunes, AOL Instant Messenger, or the popular game Klondike by opening the Software folder and dragging the application or installer directly to your disk.

If you use your iDisk regularly, you can create an alias to it on your desktop. And it will show up in the list of recently accessed servers if you have this feature enabled in your Apple Menu Options settings. OS X users take note: You can easily mount your iDisk from the Go menu in the Finder and optionally include it in the Finder Toolbar for quick and easy access.

How about a free Web site?

iDisk is also integral to another iTool--HomePage. Using the HomePage iTool, you can easily create your own Web site with nothing more than a few mouse clicks. Apple provides predefined templates for photo albums, iMovies, invitations, shared files, resumés, and more. The default URL that HomePage assigns to you is<username>. For example, you could tell your friends to surf to to view your family photo albums or movies, or to point them to an invitation to an upcoming reunion or other get-together.

HomePage's elegance lies in its ease. If you have a digital camera, or another source of digital images that you'd like to share, simply copy the images to your iDisk, click the Photo Album button in HomePage, specify a theme from the long list of templates (such as beach, birthday, graduation, etc.), and then indicate where on your iDisk the images are located. HomePage will automatically create captions for the album using the pictures' file names. You can change any of the captions, but to save yourself the extra effort, put some thought into what you want to name your files ahead of time.

The possibilities are unlimited--literally: You can post as many pages as you want on your iTools HomePage. You specify the page that you want to appear by default when someone visits your site--your home page--and the other pages you've created are shown as hyperlinks at the top of that page. This makes it easy for your visitors to navigate your HomePage site, and you don't have to know a shred of HTML to make it all happen.

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