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Apple iLife '08 review: Apple iLife '08

Apple iLife '08 is a fine, affordable media-editing suite that should keep beginners and hobbyists happy when managing pictures, videos, songs, and podcasts, but those seeking to fine-tune movies should look elsewhere.

Elsa Wenzel
5 min read
Apple iLife '08


Apple iLife '08

The Good

Apple iLife '08 applications have elegant interfaces, integrate well, and tie into .Mac, iTunes, and YouTube accounts. iPhoto nicely organizes pictures by events, iMovie is drag-and-drop simple, and GarageBand offers more controls.

The Bad

iMovie's radical rebuild omits features for precision edits; must pay for .Mac account to make the most of iPhoto.

The Bottom Line

Apple iLife '08 is a fine, affordable media-editing suite that should keep beginners and hobbyists happy when managing pictures, videos, songs, and podcasts, but those seeking to fine-tune movies should look elsewhere.

Apple is touting what it calls the biggest changes to iLife in more than five years. iPhoto gets some nice ease-of-use adjustments; iMovie changes radically from its predecessor; and the most obvious addition to GarageBand is a virtual stage for composing original songs. iDVD offers new themes and customizations as well as professional-level encoding. Overall, this package for editing photos, movies, and music seems to be a great deal, still $79, plus it's free with the purchase of a new Mac.

You'll need an Intel-based Mac, a Mac PowerPC G5, or a Mac PowerPC G4 to run iLife '08. Unfortunately for those with older Macs, iMovie '08 requires a Power Mac G5 with at least a 2GHz processor, or at minimum a 1.9GHz iMac G5. Luckily, if your system can't keep up, installing the new iMovie will not overwrite the '06 version, which will move to a new folder. Installation was uneventful, taking about 10 minutes in our tests.

iPhoto '08
The interface of iPhoto looks lovely, and it's organized well. But the application crashed on our 2GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook laptop the first time we opened it. Only iTunes and the screen grab utility were also running at that time, and there was no ongoing activity in iTunes. Even later, without other applications running, iPhoto crashed occasionally.

The splashiest new feature may be that iPhoto now automatically groups photos into Events based upon the dates they were taken. This clustering sounds like a big time-saver. Surprisingly, however, iPhoto grouped pictures dated from May 29 through August 8 on a memory card as one Event, rather than breaking them down into smaller time periods. In theory, iPhoto builds an Event for each day but can also detect if you've already organized the photos. At least you can click a checkbox to Auto Split, or hit the Split button to chop up Events one by one.

With prior versions of iPhoto, you couldn't just hook up a camera or a memory card to your computer and select which pictures to move there. Instead, iPhoto would send them to some hard-to-locate folder on your hard drive. Thankfully, iPhoto '08 displayed our SD card pictures within the list of Devices, giving us the choice to import either all or selected pictures. Still, we wished that iPhoto would detect a folder of pictures sitting on our desktop. We weren't sure off the bat where to move those pictures so they'd appear in the Photos Library, but found the Import to Library command did the trick.

A cool skimming feature creates a micro slide show of the pictures in an album as you glide the mouse across Event thumbnails. Just click the spacebar to turn the current image into the thumbnail for that Event. Intuitive display controls, such as the size slider in the lower-right corner, allow tiny thumbnails to change to big pictures. But we were irked that you can't toggle through images using the spacebar, which competing apps allow. And the arrow keys work for general scrolling, but they don't let you hop from one picture to the next.

On the positive side, the Adjust button opens more controls for sharpness, highlights, saturation, and so on. The Enhance button fixes contrast and balance with one touch. Plus, you can copy and paste a set of changes from one picture onto others. And it's easier to fix an awry Horizon line than on most other photo editors.

IPhoto also offers some clever features for reducing clutter: The Hide feature tucks away lackluster photos that you neither want to delete nor show off. The Flag, stars, and keywords also can mark notable pictures. And unified search helps to find by name or tag. In addition, lots of templates are provided for creating photo books and calendars that you can buy, and the AutoFlow feature makes the layout process a snap.

iWeb '08
iWeb '08 brings more Web 2.0 tools to your personal online domain or public .Mac pages, which now max out at 10GB of storage for $99 per year. (We like the increased space, but also wish that the .Mac service cost less.) Web Widgets can display interactive content that can be quickly embedded by copying and pasting the source code text. Google Maps integration is built in; a new My Albums page can better organize lots of content; and there's customized Google AdSense integration for those who want to make a few bucks (or pennies) from online text ads.

Paired with a paid .Mac account, iPhoto enables you to upload photo galleries that should appear the same on a Mac or a PC. Anyone can send pictures to a specific e-mail address for instant publishing to the gallery. The Web galleries are attractive and easy to navigate; we wish that photo-sharing sites like Flickr would similarly enlarge pictures. You can also easily upload work from iMovie to your .Mac site.

iMovie '08
iMovie '08 is a far cry from the '06 version. It's built to simplify on-the-fly video editing, but Apple has removed many controls that added depth to the older version. But you can keep both programs on one machine when you install iLife '08, and you can download iMovie '06 version 6.0.4 for free.

Similar to iPhoto, a new Video Library groups footage into Events; lets you skim by dragging the mouse over the thumbnail, adjusting the speed easily and clicking the spacebar to set the thumbnail to the view of the moment; and displays footage in photo gallery-like thumbnails. Memorizing keyboard shortcuts will give your hands a break from the mouse. It's cool that you can hide footage from view without deleting it, as well as add text tags to describe a project and make it easier to search for.

It's simple enough to add titles, fades and other transitions, and songs from iTunes or GarageBand. You can rotate and crop images, better adjust color settings, and easily normalize audio. There's support for high-definition video, as well as AVCHD for plugging in solid-state cameras. When movies are done, you can add them to iTunes or instantly publish them online via YouTube or to your .Mac Web Gallery for 960x540 pixel video with higher resolution than MPEG-2-format DVDs.

We're not crazy about iMovie's new split personality, with features removed from the new version in the name of simplification. For instance, there's only support for one audio track, a major omission if you want to add voiceover narration along with background music. And iMovie '08 lacks themes, which we'd like for cobbling together, say, a quick wedding video with a pastel background. While you can drag and drop clips, the omission of a timeline view, found in most video-editing applications including "="">Final Cut Pro and Express, will annoy those seeking more granular control. Plus, if you plan to burn a DVD, you can't add chapter markers anymore without using iDVD or QuickTime.

We wish the altered interface could have retained more features from iMovie '06, instead of forcing longtime users either to suffer with less functionality or use the old software. And if you open a project you had nearly finished editing on iMovie '08, the new application keeps the raw footage but not any effects you may have added.

GarageBand '08
GarageBand looks sleeker than its predecessor, and it adds some welcome new controls. It now enables multiple takes for recording and creating loops. For creating a layered song, GarageBand lets you label each part, so it's easy to find and manipulate just the chorus, for instance, without having to analyze the waveforms to identify it. Multiple edit points are allowed so that you can automate the behavior of instruments as well as tempo effects. We like that you can adjust equalization by dragging bands with the mouse within the Visual EQ box. In addition, there's support for 24-bit audio. Plus, you can make notated printouts of MIDI instrument tracks. Your finished audio can be added to iTunes or used for a podcast. Podcast creation is especially intuitive, and a new fade out control makes ending a show a snap.

The new Magic stage displays images of instruments that assemble a virtual band. You can pop a bass, a guitar, or a saxophone onto the stage, and then add your own voice or instrument to the band. It's sort of silly but fun, providing nine genres of music: country, rock, jazz, blues, slow blues, reggae, funk, Latin, and roots. This tool should be good for people who want to play with music but don't have a solid handle on audio-editing software, or for those who want shortcuts for smoothly mixing up songs. But you can't make these baked-in instruments play a new tune. And rather than getting new, royalty-free audio samples within GarageBand '08, you'll have to pay $99 for each of five Jam Packs. Serious hobbyists or pros should still look to richer applications, such as Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason, or Adobe Audition.

iDVD '08
iDVD is supposed to be faster than its predecessor for burning projects to DVD; we could not detect a difference in our tests, but we didn't run into glitches while burning a DVD either. The Magic iDVD option provides 10 new, ready-made visual themes, such as Sunflower and Cinema. And OneStep iDVD steps you through hooking up a camera via FireWire to make a quick burn.

Service and support
We found the searchable help menus within iLife '08 to be thorough and to the point, and the video tutorials are good. Forums to interact with other users may be the among the best sources of support. iLife buyers receive 90 days of unlimited free telephone support for installation, launch, or reinstallation. Three years of telephone support is offered through AppleCare, a separate support plan available for a fee. Users can also seek help at the Genius Bars of Apple stores or attend free workshops offered by stores.

Newcomers to iLife will find uncluttered interfaces and a well-rounded set of features for managing pictures and making movies, songs, and podcasts. The changes are best for those who hold paid .Mac accounts, a significant expense. For those upgrading to iLife '08 from a prior version, the alterations to iPhoto are the most practical, especially for managing massive picture libraries. Although GarageBand gets more controls, iMovie eliminates many in its upgrade, and users may consider it dumbed down. And Apple seems to be pushing serious video hobbyists away from iMovie and toward Final Cut Express. We wish there were a happy medium.


Apple iLife '08

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 0Support 6