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Apple Reincarnates iLife

Today's column and podcast (listen/subscribe/iTunes) cover a familiar subject: Apple's iLife multimedia suite.

Like other multiple-program bundles (for instance, Microsoft Office), iLife is always a pain to review, because my notes hold far more details than I cram into the paper. So here are some details that didn't make the column:

* In iPhoto, the first change is the shift from "rolls" (a set of photos grouped by when they were transferred to the computer) to "events" (photos grouped by when they were taken). The net effect is that Apple has gotten rid of one organizational layer, which should reduce the odds of people getting lost in their own picture collections. Editing is also a little easier; one of my favorite tools, the "straighten" command that levels out a photo with the horizon, is more prominent, and you can now adjust exposure separately in bright and dark areas. The .Mac Web galleries look terrific; check out the "Carousel" browsing option in this sample from Apple (scroll all the way to the bottom of a set of pictures to see it).

* As for iMovie, maybe Apple should have given this program a new name, just to make it clear how little it owes to the old version. Not only does it sacrifice entire categories of features (your ability to fine-tune a soundtrack is almost gone now), iMovie '08 can't even open projects created in iMovie HD! This program also imposes much steeper system requirements, ruling out Macs with G4 and most G5 processors (though on an iMac with an Intel Core 2 Duo chip, it didn't show the slightest hesitation.) That said, I suspect many iLife '06 users never got into iMovie HD, because it was so geared towards professional-grade productions. A program that doesn't require you to create a movie project and import clips before doing anything else isn't as beginner-friendly as one that shows all of your Mac's video clips in one window and lets you fiddle around with them. (Those beginners should beware: Editing video isn't a quick process, thanks to the time spent deciding which clips to keep, dump or trim. I am a bit of a perfectionist, but I spent an hour and a half on a five-minute movie.)

* GarageBand: Not being a musician, I didn't spend much time with this, aside from Magic GarageBand -- but that's worth a chuckle or two even if you usually don't touch this application. Users with small children may not want to tell them about it, however, or the kids will be playing with it all day.

* The new DVD-menu templates in iDVD look sharp, and Apple says this incorporates some performance improvements, but since I was using a much faster Mac to test this than the one I had when reviewing iLife '06, I can't really say how much they help.

* Finally, iWeb's Web-widget feature is neat, but doesn't go very far. iWeb only provides prefab HTML links to Google Maps, Google AdSense ads and any public .Mac Web galleries you've set up, although you can also type in your own HTML. (Outside of that Web-gallery widget, online photo albums set up in iPhoto '08 are pretty much invisible in iWeb. You have to switch back to iPhoto to edit or delete them--the opposite of how things functioned in the prior version of iLife.)

If you buy a new Mac, the decision is made for you -- iLife '08 comes free on the hard drive. If you have an older Mac that can't run iMovie -- and you're already happy sharing your photos at another site besides .Mac -- spending $79 on iLife '08 could be hard to justify. This new release makes the most sense for people who have bought Intel-based Macs over the last year and a half, and especially for those who a) still haven't found a favorite photo-sharing site, b) already subscribe to .Mac or c) have never spent any serious time editing video before.

If you own iLife '06 (here's my review of that version), will you pick up a copy of '08? Please talk about that in the comments, and don't forget my Web chat at 2 p.m. today.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 23, 2007; 12:32 PM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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