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Apple: Good things come in small packages

Continuing the small box trend it started with the iPod, Apple Computer has started packaging its software in containers barely wider than a CD.

Both iLife '06 and iWork '06 come in the new packaging, as do several GarageBand JamPacks.

The move addresses a well-known fact in the industry: Software boxes, which once were stuffed with large manuals, keyboard overlays and other goodies, have become largely empty space. Most boxes contain a flimsy "getting started" booklet and a CD or two.

Apple's small boxes

Traditionally, the big boxes have been important in securing shelf space at retailers. However, since Apple controls its own stores, it can pretty well guarantee that its boxes will get whatever prominence they need.

By doing away with the big box, Apple is certainly taking a small step to help the environment. Beyond the extra cardboard, bigger boxes take up more space, meaning fewer fit on a pallet, meaning more space in a plane, train or truck that is burning fossil fuels.

But clearly, the move also cut costs. Apple has been very aggressive in doing this with the iPod, which once came in a large cube of a box, but now comes in something little bigger than the new software boxes. Of course, Apple has facilitated the move to smaller iPod packaging by doing away with the docks, power chargers and other accessories that once came standard, but are now sold as add-ons.

With the new software boxes, though, customers are still getting everything they paid for, only with a bit less waste.

In a change that may be less well-embraced by Mac fans, Apple has gone to a DVD-only policy with the latest releases of iWork and iLife. Apple is also requiring G4 or faster processors for the software, ruling out the original iMac family and many iBooks.

The Cupertino crowd said that the new iLife would have taken up multiple CDs and that there just aren't that many CD-only machines out there that can run the software.

While certainly disappointing to some owners of older Macs, Apple has been headed in this direction for a while now. When it released Mac OS X Tiger last year, Apple only included a DVD in the box, but the company allowed users to get a CD version by sending in their DVD along with a handling fee.