TAB – Pre-Macworld 2009 Thoughts and Rumors

The good news is that with the keynote almost upon us, the Mac community has switched primarily from crying about Jobs not giving the keynote to instead focusing on the usual rumors and speculation. This is as it should be.

I’ve written about what I think of the change from Jobs to Schiller for Apple’s last Macworld keynote, so let’s talk about what we may see tomorrow. So many rumors, so little time…

Read the rest of this article on theAppleBlog >>

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The New And Improved iMovie 08 (Software Update 7.1).

imovie_08_7-1.jpg

Apple released a slew of updates for the iLife apps yesterday. While iDVD, iPhoto, and GarageBand got mostly bug fixes and maybe new themes, iMovie got substantial and welcome improvements.

For the first taste of what’s changed, see the picture at the top of this article for three new features:

  • The Event library (lower-left) can be viewed by months within years.
  • In the top middle pane the current clip (with the red playhead) is showing its length in standard minutes:seconds:frames format (in this case 2 minutes, 44 seconds, 13 frames).
  • The playhead displays its absolute location within the movie (in this case 2 minutes, 34 seconds, 19 frames).

The first item is in the View menu. The second and third are controlled via Preferences. For those wishing iMovie used standard time codes and displayed absolute location, your wish has been granted.

Another addition has been in audio control. This is where iMovie may be weakest, and while it’s still weak Apple took a couple steps forward with this update. It now allows manual control over ducking volume, as well as fade-in and -out:

audio_controls.jpg

The release adds the ability to select multiple clips at once. This is great for applying keywords or pasting copied Color or Crop settings to multiple clips. Below is a picture of three clips selected for keyword application:

multi_clip_select.jpg

Another new feature is that you can create still frames by right-clicking and selecting “Add Still Frame to Project”. Once added you can control the duration, Ken Burns effect, etc. just like any other photo.

A transition’s duration is now editable even when the transition was added automatically. This is great, though an auto-added transition still cannot be deleted, or replaced with another. I don’t know why iMovie doesn’t provide full control over an auto-transition, but this is a start.

Apples says there are performance improvements in this release. IMovie flies on my new iMac so I can’t speak to this, but I do know that after the update the first time you launch the application it “optimizes” your events.

There are three presets for Viewer size in the Windows menu (with keyboard shortcuts). The three presets, combined with the ability to hide library panes and swap the Events and Projects panes, gives a lot of control over the look and size of your work area. As just one example, here’s a shot with both Library panes closed, Event and Project panes swapped (i.e., source on top, movie on bottom), and the Viewer set to Large:

large_viewer.jpg

Finally, we get to my favorite new feature. Those of you who read my iMovie 08 review know that I select my clips “roughly” in the Event pane, and fine tune them in the Project pane. I do this with the “extend buttons” set to half-second increments. This worked pretty well for me, but I bemoaned the lack of frame-by-frame editing. Well, not any more.

The Extend buttons are gone. In their place (assuming you turn it on in Preferences) are “Fine Tuning Buttons”. These are double-headed arrows at each end of the clip. Click one and you get an orange selection guide at that end of the clip:

trim_by_frame.jpg

The orange guide drags by frame. As you drag it will show +1, +2, etc. (or -1, -2) for the number of frames. You don’t have to drag, just hit Opt-Right or Left arrow to move forward/backward instead. You don’t need the orange guides to use the keyboard. Hitting option-arrow in the Project pane will go forward/backward from the start or end — depending on playhead location — of the current clip. So you can drag it out or use the keyboard, whichever you prefer. The previous method of trimming a clip was downright primitive compared to this!

All in all these are very nice improvements to iMovie in an update that came out with a bunch of maintenance releases. That makes it that much more of a surprise. Will this silence iMovie 08’s critics? Doubtful, and I do not claim that it should. But it’s no secret I like the new iMovie, and this update clearly shows Apple is listening and improving the product. I like what I’m seeing.

Apple Mac Software: Spend much less (but get much more) than on a PC.

I wrote earlier about the lower price of the new iMac, but didn’t discuss how I’m able to spend less money on software, and yet get more, as opposed to a PC.

To explain this I’ll recount the primary software on my current Windows PC and the new Mac.

On the PC…

For photos, while Picasa and Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition are free, and quite nice, they’re not enough for me. I don’t need the features (or price) of Photoshop, but I clearly needed more than the freebies available. I ran 30-day demos of Paint Shop Pro and Adobe Photoshop Elements, and chose Photoshop Elements. Aside from sluggish performance and the organizer and editor being separate applications I’ve been happy with this choice.

For movies, none of the freebies for Windows XP were even passable. Awful stuff, really. I had run Pinnacle Studio, which I was happy with (Pinnacle is now a part of Avid), but for my latest PC I looked at Adobe Premiere Elements and opted to switch products. Like it’s photo sibling, I think its performance is weak but it’s otherwise a fine product.

Finally, there’s the obligatory productivity suite. Like most PC users I chose Microsoft Office. In my case, Office Basic Edition (Word, Excel and Outlook; no PowerPoint but I downloaded Microsoft’s free PowerPoint Viewer). Not having PowerPoint for editing was occasionally an issue, but I used another machine for those times.

The cost? Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements bundled for $149. Office Basic was also $149. That’s $300 for the “basic” software I needed right away, and I didn’t have PowerPoint.

On the Mac…

For photos, the previous iPhoto was better than the PC’s freebies, but still came up short for me. I may not use all of Photoshop Elements’ controls, but iPhoto’s editing functions were pretty spartan, and keywords were a bit weak. Since Adobe doesn’t care about the Mac’s Elements (still at 4.o when the PC’s had 5.0 for months) I was looking at Aperture. But iPhoto ’08 has changed all that. It borrowed from Aperture, with new controls for Shadows, Highlights, Noise Reduction and White Balance that are invaluable. There’s also a “gamma” slider in the Levels control, and you can Copy and Paste photo adjustments. Further, working with keywords is greatly improved. Those changes, along with other new functionality, will allow iPhoto to fill my needs. Score one for the freebies.

For movies, iMovie had some limitations compared to Premiere Elements, primarily only one video track, but I’ve never used multiple video tracks. It’s extremely capable for home movies, and iMovie ’08 looks even better. The new paradigm of easy clip selection/editing without resorting to a timeline appeals to me. So does the single library for all my shot video. Further, iMovie HD 6 is still available, so I can use both as needed. With iMovie I see no need for another movie app at this time. Score another for the freebies.

For productivity apps, I use spreadsheets and Apple’s suite didn’t have one. For that reason alone I was likely Office-bound. However, like Adobe, Microsoft doesn’t care about their Mac product, but now Apple has a bona-fide competitor. The new iWorks ’08 includes a spreadsheet and has Office document compatibility including 2007’s Open XML formats. Office costs more, is several years old (and won’t be upgraded for at least five months), does not support 2007 Open XML formats, and is still not a universal binary application. In my opinion this makes it a poor choice for anyone for which it isn’t mandated.

The cost? Photo and movie software included with the Mac. IWork ’08 for $79 (compare to $149 for Office Student and Teacher Edition).

And so…

If you’re keeping score, it’s $300 for my current “basics” PC software and $79 for the same thing on the Mac. Only it’s not “the same thing” on the Mac, it’s much better! It includes iWeb, Garageband, iDVD, and Keynote for which I currently have no direct PC equivalents. Sure, maybe I can buy PC equivalents, but then the software price delta becomes even greater. Simply put, the Mac is providing much more software, for much less money, and they all share data seamlessly!

Apple has worked hard to make software a key differentiator on their platform, and it shows. Not only the OS (which is just a means to an end when you think about it), but applications that people really use. This clear advantage took a huge leap forward with the new iLife and iWork suites. Software is yet another reason to strongly consider a Mac.