Steve Job's Macworld keynote today means that it's once again the time of year when countless pundits and technologists lay out their expectations, beliefs and hopes for 2007. It's really astonishing how Apple has become the focal point for so many of us in terms of our broader hopes for technology and the ways it can transform our lives, and no other company looks even close to taking over this role any time soon, no matter how much attention we pay them. In contrast Microsoft has become for many the embodiment of practical, pragmatic technology; workable but a long way from the elegant, gleaming future we vaguely recall being promised. Perhaps inevitably then, Apple falls semi-naturally into the role of anti-reality, offering a glimpse of a brighter world in which everything just works, and in which design embodies qualities of humanity so often lacking in consumer technology. Now Apple doesn't always deserve to be granted this role as it's as prone as any other company to getting things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, and it can take an inordinate amount of time to fix (or abandon) the things that aren't working. Witness the .mac service, which continues to languish somewhere between merely inadequate and downright embarrassing. This isn't the time for me to add my suggested fixes to those already out there from a considerable number of users and ex-users, but I think 2007 needs to be a make-or-break year for the Apple's web services strategy. It's tempting to suggest that the solution begins and ends with Google, but things are rarely that simple, and I suspect it'll have lot more to do with iTunes than anyone to date has speculated. What I mean is that if we want to see the near future of Apple's strategy we should look very closely at what makes the iTunes-iPod ecosystem so successful, and imagine some close equivalents across the whole Mac /digital hub space. Think smaller components of Leopard and its progeny tying into paid-for services with the emphasis on consuming and publishing digital content, and you're getting a lot closer to the future of .mac, which won't be called .mac at all. I don't expect to see SJ announce much, if anything, about .mac at today's keynote, but we might see the general direction in the iLife and iWork updates, and potentially in any new iPod ecosystem products that appear.