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.
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 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.