By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, August 23, 2007
When you've created a photo album, a slideshow or a movie, the natural impulse is to find an audience to applaud your effort. But who should that audience be: a few people peering over your shoulder, several spectators in front of the television or the two-dozen people you e-mail all the time?
Apple's iLife '08 gives you another option: anybody on the Internet.
This set of picture, video, DVD, audio and Web page-editing programs -- called iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb -- comes free with new Macs and has become a core selling point for Apple's computers as well as a moving target that Windows developers struggle to keep up with.
The new version, a $79 upgrade for owners of old releases, is the biggest change in years. Far more than other releases, iLife '08 emphasizes public sharing over private enjoyment: uploading video to YouTube, not burning it to DVD.
Apple is following fashion in some respects -- look at how many photos show up on sites like Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa and how few wind up as prints. In other ways, though, iLife '08 constitutes an act of fortune-telling. Apple has axed good features of past iLife releases to focus on Web sharing in an apparent belief that its users want to be authors and publishers.
No iLife component shows this shift more than iMovie.
It barely resembles earlier versions and dumps so many editing tools that Apple gives iLife '08 users a free download of that prior version. It can't even open projects created with the old iMovie HD, but the new release makes it far easier to share your video online.
IMovie '08 can index any scrap of video, from fuzzy camera phone snippets to clips shot with a digital camera's video mode to high-definition camcorder footage, and place it all in a timeline format.
Quick drag-and-drop commands then allow you to trim clips, string them along into a short movie, add music from iTunes and mix in transitions. This new software makes it easier to get a movie done quickly, though harder to get it done well.
A few more clicks will park the video on YouTube or Apple's $99.95-a-year .Mac service, where you can choose various quality levels for better viewing on such devices as an iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.
Putting your work on a DVD, however, is not so easy. Without the old version's "Send to iDVD" command, you must pick some non-obvious file-export options. (IDVD itself has barely been altered in iLife '08.)
One consequence of this focus on online sharing: a program ill-suited for clips longer than a single song. IMovie '08 works best for short-attention-span theater.
IPhoto, the other iLife program to get a thorough round of revisions, also aims to speed the process of pushing your work online. But Apple didn't sacrifice its editing features in the process.
After you've copied photos to a Mac, now grouped by when they were taken instead of when they were transferred, you only need to click the "Web Gallery" button instead of switching to iWeb, as iPhoto required before.
In a few minutes, your pictures will appear in a "Web gallery" on Apple's .Mac site. (In addition to 10 gigabytes of Web storage, .Mac offers e-mail service, file backups and data synchronization among multiple Macs.)
These galleries are slick, flashy productions, on a par with Yahoo's Flickr. You can limit access by passwords or make them public, and you can even invite other people to add shots of the same event.
In their favor, Flickr and other services offer free photo storage but require extra software to provide the same ease of uploading as .Mac. (Apple's recent decision to welcome developers of these add-on programs should increase their availability.)
The magnitude of the changes to iPhoto and iMovie may have caused Apple to rush their development, judging by the bugs seen in each. For example, iMovie rejects periods and other punctuation in movie-project titles, and iPhoto stopped letting me rename some photo collections.
The rest of iLife should be more familiar to those used to earlier versions. The GarageBand music editor now offers a "Magic GarageBand" option, in which you can change which instruments play a preset melody. It's vaguely like the Guitar Hero game, except nobody keeps score and you only "play" with a mouse and keyboard.
IWeb offers extra tools to customize Apple's canned designs, plus the ability to add "Web widgets" that pull in data from other sites, such as a Google Map. But in the Web-saturated iLife, it's odd to see iWeb incorporate such modest changes from its predecessor.
Setting aside the quirks of this release, Apple is probably right in thinking that online sharing will matter more than handing out physical copies of your creativity, such as a DVD or a photo print.
It's also far ahead of many people's thinking today, but some of its most ambitious tech forecasts proved right before. Either way, don't be surprised if PC vendors start trying to match iLife's features -- even if still they can't beat its ease of use.