All Mac users are familiar with iLife because it's included free with every new Mac. But the new version may surprise even the most stalwart Mac users. "This is the biggest jump in iLife since we introduced it." So said Steve Jobs when he unveiled iLife '08 last month.
Programs such as iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD, are the ideal tools for people who want to use their Mac to create and organise digital photos, music and video. This powerful, yet easy to use software suite is one of the key features that attracts new users to the Mac. But although Mac sales have flourished in the last couple of years, the iLife suite has actually been neglected during that time – with no significant updates since 'Life '06 was introduced almost two years ago.
Well, Apple's made up for that now with iLife '08. There are major upgrades for iPhoto, GarageBand and iWeb that make them more powerful than ever, as well as keeping up to date with new developments such as the rise of YouTube. This new release isn't without controversy, though – for with iMovie '08 Apple has gone so far as to scrap the previous program altogether and release something entirely new. So read on to find out if that two-year wait was worth it.
In the picture
In some ways, iPhoto has become a victim of its own success. The program makes it so easy to manage large collections of digital photos that, according to Apple, it's now quite common for people to load thousands upon thousands of photos into it. Managing such a large number of photos can be a bit of a chore – even with the program's ability to group photos into Albums, as you still have to sort through all those photos and choose the contents of each Album yourself.
So Apple has added a new feature called 'Events' that lets iPhoto do most of the donkey-work for you. The 'Source' panel has been reorganised so that instead of simply showing a 'Library' it now includes two new items labelled 'Photos' and 'Events'. The Photos item is the same as the old 'Library' – click on it and you'll see previews of every single photo stored in the program. However, when you import photos into iPhoto it will now automatically group all photos taken on the same day into a new Event. When you click on Events you will just see the first photo in that group, which now acts as a kind of preview for the entire Event. However, you can quickly skim through all the other photos in that Event simply by rolling the mouse gently over that first photo. This is a really clever idea, as it effectively means that iPhoto is doing all the work of organising your photos for you, while also making it easy to skim through your photos to find what you want.
If you've got a mixture of photos that were taken on the same day – perhaps a wedding ceremony and then a reception party afterwards – you can easily split them into separate Events. You can also merge multiple Events to combine sets of photos taken over a period of several days. We actually suspect that many people will now stop using the Albums feature altogether and just let iPhoto organise everything into Events for them instead. We also like the ability to choose exactly which photos you import from your camera, because this will save time weeding them out later.
The editing tools in iPhoto have been improved too. The Crop tool now displays a grid that illustrates the 'rule of thirds' (dividing the picture into a 3 x 3 grid so that you can centre the main subject properly), and there are also new tools for adjusting highlights and shadows. One nice touch is the ability to adjust settings such as brightness and contrast for one picture, and then copy those new settings onto other photos as well. This will be handy if you've got a set of photos that were all taken in the same lighting conditions, and which all need the same adjustments.
Unfortunately, some of the other editing tools – such as the red-eye removal – are still rather crude, and iPhoto is still no replacement for a photo-editing program such as Photoshop Elements. It's important to remember, though, that iPhoto is primarily a tool for managing your photo library, rather than a true editing program – and on that score this upgrade works extremely well.
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