All the '06 versions of the iLife applications should be familiar to Mac users, though the programs have received some minor tweaks. For example, all the apps now have an updated window shape à la iTunes 6. Also, iPhoto 6 has gained a full-screen editing mode and transparent editing palettes similar to those in Apple's professional-grade photo-editing application, Aperture. But most of the changes are to features, not to the look and feel.
iPhoto 6's much-improved performance is especially noticeable when you scroll though your photo library, which can now contain up to 250,000 images. (Such a large library can make the scrolling stutter on a lower-end Mac, however.) The new full-screen editing mode is welcome and makes working on images more like working at a light table. Professionals may scoff at the new Effects panel, a floating, translucent palette that offers one-click effects, but most amateur users will find it useful. Perhaps the oddest but potentially most interesting addition to iPhoto 6 is what Apple calls "photocasting." If you have an account with Apple's .Mac online service, you can set an iPhoto album to be shared over the Internet. Your invited friends will see your shared album as if it were theirs; similarly, their albums will be automatically updated as you update yours. They don't even need iPhoto; you can share photos with anyone who has an RSS reader, such as Apple Safari.
In this version of iLife, iMovie 6 is more closely integrated with other applications in the suite. It's easy to pull in a GarageBand project as a soundtrack to your iMovie and equally easy to place an iMovie in a Web page that you've made in iWeb. iMovie 6 also gets iDVD-like themes and real-time previews of the themes and effects. However, large projects with many transitions and clips can bog down on all but the hardiest Apple systems.
As for iDVD 6, the news is that it now supports 16:9 wide-screen movies and third-party DVD burners. In addition, it has a Magic iDVD feature that takes your raw footage and photos and automatically creates a DVD. The price of this simplicity, though, is flexibility. For example, you can't choose which transitions will connect your scenes.
The new iWeb is, in typical Apple style, simple and elegant. You can create entire Web sites complete with blogs and podcasts by choosing a template and dragging and dropping photos and other objects. It's probably the easiest way to make a Web site with all these elements. Though Apple wants you to pay into its .Mac subscription Web-hosting service, you can publish your site to any remote server. However, Web-design gurus will flinch at the huge and complex HTML code that iWeb creates. Also, iWeb has the annoying habit of taking portions of your text, especially titles and paragraphs in nonstandard fonts, and turning them into graphic items. This prevents Web crawlers from indexing your site--a bad thing if you want Google to find your brilliant writings.
We've already reviewed GarageBand 3 in depth as a powerful music-creation tool. In short, with this third version, Apple has added interesting podcast-creation tools. GarageBand 3 includes automatic ducking, great filters for voice recording, and integration with iChat. The last is particularly interesting in that it enables you to record interviews using iChat's voice feature, with the interviewee's voice on a separate track. There's a downside to using GarageBand 3 as a podcast studio, though: it's a resource-intensive application with heavy RAM requirements and gigabytes of sound files that will fill up your hard drive.
Apple has stated that one of its goals with iLife '06 was to improve performance across the board, and for the most part it succeeded. iPhoto 6 scrolls through its photo library much more smoothly than previous versions, even with an increased limit of 250,000 photos. iMovie 6 and iDVD 6 both play back completed projects more smoothly, though they performed inconsistently while we worked on our projects, and some projects played more smoothly than others. On the other hand, GarageBand 3 is a resource hog. As always, the more available RAM, the better. As with Apple's iWork '06 consumer productivity suite, the price of iLife '06 does not include any dedicated tech support per se--a step back from the support offered for iLife '05. If the individual applications' in-program help doesn't solve your problems, Apple's support Web pages have threaded discussion boards moderated by Apple employees. Often, an average user will offer a solution to a posted problem before the pros do.