Apple’s iCloud service may have opened for business in October 2011, but it’s had a long and eventful history.

It began life in January 2000, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained to the Macworld Expo crowds that he and his team had had a mighty brainstorm: Apple controls both ends of the connection between a Mac and the Apple Web site. As a result, Apple should be able to create some pretty clever Internet-based features as a reward to loyal Mac fans. Later that same day, the Apple Web site offered a suite of free services called iTools.

Then the American technology bubble burst.

In 2002, those Internet services were reborn as something called .Mac, and you had to pay for them. In 2008, they were rebranded again as MobileMe, and you still had to pay for them ($100 a year).

But Apple was still clearly itchy on this subject, still not quite satisfied with its “we control both ends” product. So in the fall of 2011, the old suite of online services became free once again—and it was reborn as iCloud.

What iCloud Giveth

So what is iCloud? Mainly, it’s these things:

  • A synchronizing service. It keeps your calendar, address book, and documents updated and identical on all your gadgets: Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. (Pretty much what MobileMe was.)

  • An online locker. Anything you buy from Apple—music, TV shows, eBooks, and apps—is stored online, for easy access at any time. For example, whenever you buy a song or a TV show from the online iTunes store, it appears automatically on all your ...

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