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KELLNER: Photo tasks alone compel update

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If there's a chemical solution for the condition of being jaded, I have the feeling it will be found in Cupertino, Calif., or pretty darned close to there.

Cupertino, of course, is headquarters for Apple Inc., whose $79 iLife software was updated a couple of weeks ago. Just when I thought a relatively simple program such as iPhoto had gone as far as it could, along comes new stuff that leaves me slack-jawed and awestruck.

Designed for Apple's Macintosh computers and specifically requiring the Leopard version of the Mac OS X operating system, iLife picks up on applications that can make your personal life, as well as your business life, more fun. Photography, Web site design, home movies and music are all covered by iLife's applications.

After I fired up iPhoto, one of four programs in the iLife suite, the screen displayed a world map with pushpins stuck in it. As my cursor hovered over each pin, the computer revealed the name of a town: the District or Huntsville, Ala., or even Manila.

Click near the name, and you see photos that have been "tagged" to a certain location. How did that happen? Apple's iPhone will include the GPS coordinates for photos taken with the device. Other cameras and wireless cards can do this as well. Suddenly, then, at least some of my photos become easier to identify.

As I write, iPhoto is whirring away, analyzing the roughly 4,800 photos on my computer and checking the faces (if any) on each one using facial-recognition technology. Then, I can identify one photo of a particular person and, with a bit of research, the computer will find other likely photos of that person. You can tag all of them, if you like, and reject the ones that don't match. This seems to work for humans only, though; attempts to get photos of one of my cats organized gave the program a hairball.

Once this is completed, I'll have all my pictures organized by face as well as chronologically and, perhaps, geographically. If I want all the pictures of my wife or my father, I can find them easily.

But wait, there's more, as the infomercials say: You can click an on-screen "button" and put your photos on Facebook or the Flickr photo-sharing service, lickety-split. "Themed" slide shows are available, so with a portable projector or large enough notebook, you can bore 21st-century guests the way your grandparents did with slide carousels 50 years ago.

I'm joking about that last bit. Sort of. However, given the multimedia convergence in America's living rooms, it makes more than a little sense. (Wonder if this'll fly over to the Apple TV device?)

Doing more with your pictures is what iPhoto has been about for quite some time. In fact, its photo-editing and -enhancing capabilities are such that I use the program regularly when working with photos for print publication. Sometimes, it's easier and faster to use iPhoto than to prowl the innards of Adobe Systems' very capable Photoshop CS4 to do the same thing.

There's much more to iLife than iPhoto, but most of that will have to wait - this is an update, or upgrade or whatever you choose to call it, that is well worth the expense.

Another facet of iLife, GarageBand '09, which I've used to record voice-overs for videos, is designed primarily as a music-recording program. Now it'll teach you music too, if you buy lessons from Apple and plug in these. However, Apple says you'll need an Intel Corp. processor in said Mac to use the lessons.

This highlights what may be the real cost of iLife '09 for many Mac users: If you're using a Mac from before 2006, it probably does not have an Intel chip inside, and while you can run OS X Leopard and most of the new iLife, you'll want to think about getting new hardware at some point. Apple, which years ago said it was going to move to Intel-only software, is starting in that direction.

Does this invalidate iLife? Not in this reviewer's opinion, at least not any more than the shift from OS 9 to OS X - which moved the Apple platform to a Unix base and totally recast things - invalidated the new Apple world. Dramatic increases in Mac popularity and usefulness since OS X arrived on the scene have only helped Macs, and I think iLife '09 will continue the trend. It's great software, of which more will be said here in the not-too-distant future.

• Comments? Questions? E-mail mkellner@washington times.com.