This issue’s MacNotes column focuses on having fun. One of the joys of owning a Macintosh computer for work is the entertainment it can provide both after and during office hours (c’mon folks, you all know that you take a few minutes of personal R&R time during a busy and hectic workday). We have known about the graphics and musical capabilities of Macintosh computers for some time. Apple has now expanded those capabilities through a combination of new hardware and software at extremely reasonable prices.
During his Keynote address at MacWorld early in January, Steve Jobs introduced iLife ‘04 to the world. Describing it as "Microsoft Office for the rest of your life," Jobs impressed virtually everyone in the standing-room-only auditorium at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.
Apple introduced the original iLife package about a year ago. In the package, Apple included several programs that it had already made available without cost to Mac purchasers, upgrading some and augmenting the package with new software. The package included iPhoto for managing digital photographs; iTunes, the whiz-bang program created by Apple to handle your music, regardless of source, and the doorway to the online 24/7 iTunes store opened by Apple; and finally the iMovie application, which provided would-be videographers and moviemakers with a reasonable and competent video editor. At $49, iLife represented an incredible value. But improvements and additions have been made in the latest version of the software.
GarageBand. As good a value as the original was, the ‘04 version of iLife offers a much better value. In addition to all the original programs (several of which Apple again upgraded), Apple added a new program to the mix, GarageBand. Simply put, GarageBand can make you look like a talented composer, even if you can’t read music.
Jobs wowed the Apple faithful at MacWorld as he used GarageBand to seemingly effortlessly weave together a composition out of a combination of prerecorded music, a live guitarist, and a MacIntosh. Jobs was assisted by a fairly decent USB musical keyboard that Apple sells for $99 (Apple does not require that you use their musical keyboard: almost any USB keyboard will do).
Musical loops serve as the basic building block in GarageBand. The program comes with a library of about 1,000 loops. You can drag and drop the loops into the GarageBand window to create a new track. You can then modify the track by changing its duration, tempo, and key. You can build a composition by adding additional loops. Apple also sells a supplemental library of 2,000 loops for $99 as the GarageBand Jam Pack. The Jam Pack also includes another 100 software instruments and additional presets and amplifier configurations, further expanding GarageBand’s already substantial capabilities.
You can augment the musical loops with music created by you on software instruments that you can play through a software keyboard that appears on screen (or better, through the use of the USB keyboard referred to above). You can also add music from other prerecorded and live sources.
GarageBand will mix all the tracks down to a stereo AIFF file (full CD quality). You can export the finished composition to iTunes (Apple’s music management program, also included in iLife ‘04) for inclusion in your computer music library and subsequent exportation to your MP3 or AAC format player, or to a CD.
iTunes 4.2. The new version of iTunes sets the program up to work well with the new iPod Mini as well as the traditional iPods. If your music library exceeds the capacity of your iPod or iPod Mini, iTunes will now prioritize to ensure that the portion of the library synched and downloaded to the iPod includes your play list songs, your most played songs and your top rated songs.
iPhoto 4 . Apple substantially improved its iPhoto software, releasing it as iPhoto 4. iPhoto 4 increases the program’s capacity to handle photographs numbering up to 25,000. The new version handles the photographs more quickly, more easily, and more efficiently than its predecessor versions. It also adds a new sepia effect to enhance presentation and an increased facility for exchange with others through Rendezvous.
iMovie 4. iMovie 4 now allows editing in timeline form. It also allows simultaneous application of effects and transitions to multiple clips. Apple has substantially improved the program’s editing capabilities as well. Additional improvements/features include new export options for your finished movie, new titling capabilities and the ability to import movie clips from Apple’s iSight camera.
iDVD 4. Apple has added new themes to iDVD 4 as well as a number of new transition effects. The new version also includes new navigation tools. You can also incorporate an autoplay feature into movies or slide shows recorded to DVD.
And On Another Subject: Microsoft has announced that it plans to release Office 2004 for the Mac later this year. The new release will work only on System X and will require OS 10.2.8 or higher. It violates the newsletter’s policy to review an unreleased product. Accordingly, I will not review it here—I will simply pass along the fact that the preliminary information that has been made available to and through the media promises an expanded, better integrated, more powerful, and more sophisticated package of programs than Office X and should bring the Mac version of the suite to substantial parity (if not, in some cases, outright superiority) over the current Windows version of the suite.