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Inside Apple's iLife '08

What's the big deal about Apple's upgraded media suite? Our reviewer finds out.

August 22, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Last week's release of iLife '08 marked the first update to Apple's digital media suite in more than 18 months. Originally created as part of Apple's digital hub strategy as a single, user-friendly repository for digital media, iLife has grown into a creative suite of applications that make it easy for anyone to turn his digital memories into books, movies and DVDs, Web sites and beyond. It has become a staple for Mac users, shipping with every new Macintosh computer and offering tools for managing and editing digital photos, video and music.

Despite the long wait, the new version's innovations are definitely worth the time and the $79 price tag. The components that have seen the most changes are iMovie and iPhoto, so we'll start with those applications. GarageBand, iWeb and iDVD have all seen improvements as well, though -- some major, some minor -- and we'll get to those in turn.

IMovie was one of the first iLife applications, and it was revolutionary right from the start, providing an easy way to capture and edit digital video. Not only has iMovie always been so intuitive that "user-friendly" seems an understatement, it has always offered professional-looking options for titles, transitions and other effects.


Inside Apple's iLife '08

IMovie '08 continues to deliver on those basics, but the application has been rewritten from the ground up, sporting a more versatile interface that delivers easy access to any QuickTime-compatible digital media stored on a computer or connected device.

IMovie's new wide-screen interface includes a browser that allows you to access any video stored on a computer's hard drive, within an iPhoto library (a great feature, now that most digital cameras include the ability to capture video clips) or on a connected device. Like previous versions, it also offers the ability to record from a built-in or attached iSight camera.


IMovie has received the biggest overhaul of all the iLife components. (Click for larger view.)

The clip browser allows users to browse by Events, which group together video clips recorded or imported on the same day. (See the iPhoto section of this review for more about how Events groupings work.) Clips can even be marked as Favorites or as Rejected and can be tagged with keywords (an option that iPhoto has offered since its first release). The browser can be set to display only clips that are appropriately marked or tagged, making it easy to find specific clips.

Another, even more revolutionary change is that clips are no longer displayed as a single thumbnail image. Now they are displayed as a series of thumbnails that users can skim over with the cursor while the preview of the clip moves along with them as though fast-forwarding or rewinding. The process is smooth and intuitive and allows users to simply select segments of video in the same manner that they would select text in a word processing document or audio in GarageBand.

Once a section of video is selected, that section can be dragged into the Project Library (what used to be the Timeline) and manipulated. The process, which truly makes selecting and positioning specific pieces of video startlingly easy and natural, is a major advance over previous versions of iMovie.

A clip in the Project Library can be represented by a single thumbnail or by a skimmable thumbnail, as in the browser (you can select how long each thumbnail is on a clip-by-clip basis). As with previous iMovie versions, you drag the clips around to create the order of the video, and you can also easily select video within clips that can then be moved, deleted, copied or edited in some other way.


iMovie naysayers
Apple's dramatic rewrite of iMovie for iLife '08 has added a lot of welcome new features, but many users have found that some of their favorite editing techniques or methods from previous versions either have changed or just aren't there any more. For example, you can no longer manually adjust the volume of just a part of a clip's audio track. At the same time, there is a new "ducking" feature that can let a single track, such as the narration, force a reduction in volume in the other audio tracks.

And, at least in this first release, you can't add chapter markers in an iMovie project to create chapters when you take your movie into iDVD. According to Apple, this release is focused mainly on sharing via the Web, iPhones and iPods, and Apple TV, and better DVD support may be coming in future releases.

Likewise, third-party add-ons from earlier versions are unlikely to work with the new release. The complaints are being given a full airing in the forums on the Apple site and at If you're a fan of the current version, it's worth reading through the comments to find out what might be missing. Apple also promises that its Web site will soon feature more tutorials that will address some of the more advanced tasks users might be having trouble with.

IMovie '08 also has much higher system requirements than the rest of iLife '08: It requires at least an Intel or G5 processor (the rest of the package will work with a G4), and in the latter case, it requires at least a dual 2-GHz PowerMac or a 1.9-GHz iMac. (It's not the CPU itself that matters, says Apple, but the GPU, but it's easiest to identify an iMovie-capable machine by its CPU configuration.) For all these reasons, it's a good thing that the iLife installer leaves the previous version on your hard disk (adding the new version next to it) when you upgrade the rest of the suite. Apple has also made iMovie 6 available as a free download. Note that while iMovie '08 can import projects created with iMovie 6 and earlier, iMovie 6 cannot work with iMovie '08 projects unless they are exported as a QuickTime file.


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