iLife Tips

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Every year and a half or so, Apple updates it's personal productivity suite, iLife. The latest version of iLife is provided with new Apple computers and it is available for purchase for $79 for users of older Apple computers. The most recent version is iLife '09. I tend to upgrade every other version because each update typically doesn't both new and stable stuff at the same time. Apple often makes major changes to some of the components of iLife, but often these changes result in reduced functionality probably because of the time pressures of getting a completely new version of an application of of the door. After the next major revision, that application has had the time to be fleshed out and most of the bugs fixed. For me, iLife '09 was worth the upgrade because of these reasons. iPhoto had new and significant functionality in the form of Faces but the overall application had not changed a lot. iMovie '08 was left somewhat lacking in the last revision, it was completely new but not complete. iMovie '09 is now up to speed, but IMHO, it has a serious flaw, discussed below. Garage Band has many new features but since I never used the earlier versions, I didn't even install it. iDVD is still in the suite, but it got hardly an update at all. iTunes is listed here because it used to be part if iLife, but it has always been given away free on Apple's web site and it has a "life" of it's own.

This page doesn't try to describe the features of these applications, that is what the marketing information provided by Apple is for. What I try to do here is to describe how this stuff actually works as I actually used it.


iTunes is here for completeness only as it isn't actually on the iLife '09 installer disk anymore. iLife started out as an application for organizing one's music library and to provide an interface to an iPod. It has grown to be much more. It still does music organization and iPod synchronization, but it also is a conduit to the iTunes store which sells music, TV shows, movies, and applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The latest major feature enhancement to iTunes is the Genius Sidebar. This tool reads up the content in your library and sends it back to Apple for anonymous analysis. It then returns information about music that is similar to a selected song in your library so that you can more easily find music similar to what you already like. The feature sort of works but it often comes back with stuff that isn't very applicable. It is supposed to get more accurate over time as more users provide summaries of their content.


iMovie had a serious update in the last revision, iMovie '08. It was rewritten from the ground up with a completely new paradigm. It came on my son's computer and I tried it there but I quickly determined that it wasn't complete at that time.

In iMovie '06 (also called iMovie HD), each movie project was self contained. In earlier versions of iMovie everything associated with the movie project was the "package" that contains the project. In iMovie '08 (and '09), the projects are NOT self contained. All the movie clips are stored in a library. Each project is in a separate package. A package is really a folder that looks like a file. However all the clips are stored in a different folder. The project just points back to those clips. This has the advantage of allowing clips to be reused easily, but it has two serious disadvantages.

The first disadvantage is that video, especially stored as DV (Digital Video) is huge. I have 320 DVDs of old iMovie projects, each DVD contains an average of 4 GB of data, mostly DV. This is about 1.3 TB of data. If all these clips were in my video library, I'd need a disk 5 times bigger than the one in my iMac just to hold the video. Then I'd need a Time Machine disk 2 or 3 times bigger than that to hold the backup. A backup of some kind is necessary because if the one disk that holds the library dies, all that video dies with it. This is nuts, this paradigm cannot work.

The 2nd disadvantage is that, as far as I can tell, it is not easy to extract the movies into a self contained project for backup as I do now with iMovie HD. The iMovie HD projects may be larger than a single DVD, but it is easy to manually move clips to another DVD (or more) for the purposes of backup and then reassemble them after the backup for rendering in iDVD. If a clip in the library is shared between movies, then just deleting it from the library one one project is deleted may endanger other projects that use the same clip.

Apple needs to add some mechanism to export a self contained project, removing clips in the library that are used only in that project and retaining clips that are in use by other projects. This will trim the size of the library AND allow backup of an individual project. I find that I rarely go back for an old clip and never go back for one more than a year old. Keeping old clips around for "easy reuse" is not very appealing.

One significant new feature of iMovie '09 is the image shake feature. iMovie can analyze video (this takes quite a while, let it run overnight) to determine scenes that contain shake. It then zooms in a little and then digitally removes the shakes. It actually does a pretty good job of many shaky scenes. This feature is very worthwhile but there seems to be some small loss of quality. A clip that has been stabilized can be exported in DV back to iMovie HD but it is not quite as clear as the original.


In IPhoto '08, a feature called Events was added. This feature groups photos taken at or about the same time into summary Events. The thought is that photos taken together are probably about the same subject. This works and the span of an Event can be adjusted to be from hours to days. iPhoto seems to do a pretty good job of creating Events even from older libraries.

It is practical to keep a library of music and photos that has everything in it. My personal iPhoto library has 28,000 photos in it now and consumes 46 GB. About half of that is for the iPod Photo thumbnails which I could delete in a pinch. It takes about 50 times less space than a library of my video would take even though it covers about the same total time span. My music library is even smaller, it's only a couple of thousand songs and about 12 GB so I can keep the whole thing together.

In iPhoto '09, two new sorting features were added, Faces and Places.

Places. Places attempts to group photos by location by utilization of the geotagging information provided by recent GPS enabled cameras. By far the most common GPS enabled camera is the iPhone. I don't have one so NONE of my photos are geotagged. As geotagging becomes more commonplace, Places may be very useful. For now, it's a feature that isn't of much use. Geotagging information can be added manually but that would be too much work and Events seems to do a credible job of grouping photos together when were taken at about the same time, and are therefore likely to be in about the same place.

Faces. Faces is something very new for personal computers. It is facial recognition software wrapped up in a consumer application. Faces could use some work, but in it's first release, it actually work pretty well. Faces first analyzes all the photos in the library (this also takes some considerable time) to locate faces. Then, the user picks some photos with faces in them and ties a name to the face. Once only one or two faces are identified, Faces can do a credible job of locating that same face in many other photos and it provides suggestions as to other photos that contain that face. It is easy to confirm that any given photo contains that face. Once a half dozen different photos of that face are confirmed, Faces usually gets better at identifying that face.

However, Faces doesn't work so well on all faces. Some faces are hard for it to recognize such that it doesn't find particular people's faces at all. Other faces are suggested as candidates for almost everybody. For example, it seemed to find my face quite reliably. It hardly found my father in law at all, I had to manually tell it that his image was a face nearly every time and even then it had a hard time determining who that face belonged too even after I had manually identified his face many times. It suggests my wife's face as a substitute for nearly everybody.

It seems to be able to track some faces as they age. I have pictures of my four children from babies to adults. It did a credible job of identifying a childhood or infant photo from a confirmed teen age or adult face. Sometimes, it does a better job of differentiating between my kid's infant and young faces than I could. Often I had to look back at the names of the files to determine if Faces was correct or not.

Earlier versions of iPhoto were somewhat unstable and could crash and leave the library corrupted such that it was unreadable by iPhoto. Often, any changes that were made within iPhoto itself were lost. After going through this a couple of times, I gave up and didn't use iPhoto for anything else than a photo browser. I edited my photos in GraphicConverter and included any metadata that I wanted into the photo's filename. This included the names of anybody interesting in the photo, it's location and date. The photos were then kept in a file based hierarchy. If iPhoto barfed, I could just delete library and reimport all the photos. It took some significant computer time but little effort on my part.

iPhoto '08 and '09 convert older libraries such that they are not useable by the earlier versions so before I fired up iPhoto '09 (never had '08), I made a copy of my iPhoto '06 library and then updated the copy. I had no problems. After I started adding Faces information, I found that iPhoto crashed a couple of times, but each time the library was intact with the last change still in place. Since I also have Time Machine and therefore a backup of the whole library, I don't feel quite as exposed as I used to.


iDVD is in the iLife '09 package, but it is not even depicted on the cover of the box. It got a few new themes, but otherwise it seems to be much the same as the version in iLife '06.

Garage Band

I have never used Garage Band so I cannot comment on it. It does have some new "Learn To Play" features that are free and some paid music lessons by the artists that originally did the song.

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© 2009-1012 George Schreyer
Created Feb 16, 2009
Last Updated February 10, 2012