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Deadline looms for .Mac account

People using Apple Computer's free iTools service have only a few hours left to either pay up for a .Mac account or lose their e-mail address.

People using Apple Computer's free iTools service have only a few hours left to either pay up for a .Mac account or lose their e-mail address.

Monday is the deadline for iTools customers to upgrade to a paid .Mac account for $49 or lose any data that has not been backed up elsewhere. The account includes a e-mail account, online storage, and Web page creation, hosting and other services. After Monday, an account will cost $99.

Those who had free iTools accounts originally had until Sept. 30 to upgrade their account for $49 or risk losing their data. In the days leading up to the deadline, Apple extended the offer until Oct. 14. An Apple representative confirmed Monday that Apple does not plan to extend the deadline further and said that all iTools accounts that have not been upgraded will be deactivated at midnight.

As of Oct. 1, Apple said that 180,000 people have signed up for .Mac accounts.

Apple's move to charge for what some people thought would forever be free led to an early backlash. An online petition against the move has amassed nearly 34,000 signatures since mid-July. But that number has remained essentially unchanged during the past three weeks.

Meanwhile, the .Mac service has suffered a number of outages. Apple has blamed the outages on faulty equipment, which it said it is in the process of replacing.

Over the past weekend, the service was down for maintenance from 8 p.m. PT Saturday until noon PT Sunday. Several .Mac customers complained of weekend service interruptions.

"During the maintenance window .Mac services may experience an intermittent issue," Apple said in a posting to .Mac customers. "No mail or data will be lost."

Some said they were unhappy with the way Apple handled the situation. "First of all, they should have sent an e-mail to everyone at least a day before," said Mac owner Steven Mair. "It was bad enough when it was free. Now it?s really starting to get on my nerves."

Mair said such problems could hurt Apple's campaign to woo Windows users. "I own five Macs," Mair said. "If they get me mad, how are they ever going to convert Win users?"

Some analysts have also said that Apple might have ruffled fewer feathers if had moved move more gradually to paid services.

"Apple would also be wise to allow users to keep their e-mail address for free with limited storage options, similar to Yahoo and Hotmail's free services, and then try to upsell them on services and storage over time," Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said earlier this month. "There were a lot of annoyed Apple users at Macworld who felt that even if Apple never explicitly promised a free e-mail address for life, it was strongly implied."