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    Apple ups multimedia integration with iLife '05

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver Business in Vancouver May 10-16, 2005; issue 811 High Tech Office

    As I write, the world of Mac users is awaiting the release of the OS X Tiger: The Next Generation, the latest version of Apple's Mac operating system released on April 29. But this column takes a look at another software offering from Apple. Because the company makes the bulk of its money selling hardware, it's only available for Apple's Macintosh computers, but Windows users should pay attention because the Windows world tends to follow in Apple's footsteps.

    iLife '05 is the latest version of a set of tools Apple bundles with its hardware. Mac owners who aren't ready to buy a new computer can pick up the boxed software set for $99 ($129 for a family pack for three installations). iLife is a set of programs building on the company's idea of the personal computer as "digital hub" for working with digital still and video cameras, music players (especially Apple's mega-popular iPod), DVD burners and more.

    iPhoto 5 is a photo album, designed to work with most digital camera models. Users can catalogue photos and perform a variety of simple edits: crops, rotation, colour correction and more. The new "Instant Ken Burns Effect" lets you turn a set of photos into a mock PBS documentary with a single click. You can output photos as slide shows (complete with music), Web pages or as book printable either at home or professionally.

    As the name suggests, iMovie HD adds high-definition video features to this video-editing program, at least for the minority of users with expensive new HDV camcorders. These make a nice addition to this easy-to-use video editor, usable even with non-HDV camcorders. It is perhaps the most limited of the set of iApps. Apple would be happy to have users move up to its $379 Final Cut Express product.

    iDVD 5 lets beginners combine still photos, digital video, and music files onto a disc viewable on standard DVD players. Much of its ease of use and high quality output comes from a well-designed set of templates. Version 5 includes 15 new templates, making iDVD perhaps the best entry-level DVD authoring product for either Mac or Windows.

    iTunes 4.7 is unique among the iLife set: it's the only one that's also available for Windows users, and the only one that can be downloaded without an iLife purchase. That's because it's the software that Apple wants you to use with its iPod music player and its iTunes Music Store. Even if you haven't bought into the iPod mania, though, iTunes is a useful tool for organizing a digital music collection, "ripping" tunes from music CDs onto your computer, creating music playlists and creating music CDs. (It even prints out nice CD inserts).

    GarageBand 2 breaks the naming convention and lacks the mass-market appeal of the other iApps. Instead, it's aimed at aspiring musicians, offering the ability to produce songs. Even non-musicians can build a song from the set of pre-recorded loops. Or record your own vocal or instrumental tracks. Among many new features is eight-track recording (but you'll need specialized hardware to so this). There are lots of other music applications (on both Mac and Windows). GarageBand is among the most affordable and easiest to use.

    Apple has improved the integration between the various iApps and given them a more common look and feel. You drag files from one program to another, letting you, for instance, use your iPhoto-edited pictures in iMovie or your iTunes playlists in an iPhoto slideshow. Buy a new Windows PC and you're likely to get some sort of bundle of multimedia applications. But many are time-limited demos and all will lack the ease of use and integration that mark Apple's iLife 05.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan