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Apple's .Mac service goes down again

As the company phases out its free iTools online services and tries to bump customers to fee-based .Mac, the replacement is not cooperating. It's gone down twice now in as many weeks.

Customers of Apple Computer's .Mac online services were unable to access their information for several hours Monday morning, in the second such outage in the past two weeks.

Apple's support Web site noted an outage that lasted from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. PDT. The problems come as the company is trying to get users of its discontinued free iTools service to sign up to .Mac, a similar, but paid, service that offers e-mail, online storage and Web hosting, among other things. Apple has extended the deadline for customers to convert their accounts to the paid service until Oct. 14. If they fail to do so, they'll lose any data stored in their iTools accounts.

An Apple representative was not immediately available for comment. In a posting on its support Web site, the Mac maker blamed the outage on glitches in equipment from an unspecified supplier.

"We hope you haven't been greatly inconvenienced by the two .Mac network outages we've experienced in the past two weeks (including this morning)," Apple said in its posting. "They were the result of equipment failures, and since the equipment vendor has not been able to persuade us that the problem will not occur again, we've already begun installing new equipment from a different vendor."

The .Mac service is back up and running now, and no data or mail was lost, the company said on its Web site. The equipment change will take several weeks, and the company said it is "working hard to ensure that there are no further issues during that time."

Apple charges $99 a year for .Mac, although it is offering iTools members a $49 rate for the first year and has been offering other inducements such as free digital photo prints in an effort to convince people to sign up for the paid service. The company says that about 180,000 people had subscribed as of last week. However, some people have complained that Apple is charging them for a service they thought would remain free.