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On suite

A remarkably content–free review of iLife ‘05 in PC Magazine offers some, uh… interesting insights:

Still pushing its "digital hub" concept, Apple has updated its multimedia software suite, iLife '05, adding more functions and integrating the individual components more tightly than ever before.

Still pushing? That’s a term you’d generally reserve for situations where a company is flogging a dead horse… like Real still pushing its Harmony project. Apple still pushing its digital hub concept is like Boeing still pushing its “powered flight” concept. It’s kinda what they do.

All but iMovie compete well with the best Microsoft Windows has to offer consumers.

What’d be really nice here would be knowing exactly what is being compared to what in this review beyond the vague “best” that Windows has to offer. Considering iLife comes free with new Macs, I would assume that we’re talking a stock Windows XP install… which means iPhoto is competing with Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, iMovie is competing with Windows Movie Maker, iTunes with Windows Media Player, iDVD with… nothing, and GarageBand with… nothing. That really doesn’t bode well for Windows’ best.

Now, I’ll play along for a minute and allow freeware and cheapware to be substituted in here so that Picasa can comfortably replace Windows Picture and Fax Viewer while iTunes (for Windows) does its thing, but I’m still drawing a blank on the competitive Windows alternatives for all those other iLife apps. Last time I checked, Windows Movie Maker sucked —and I mean a lot— and if iMovie isn’t standing up to it I must suspect there’s something very wrong with my copy of WMM; the atrocious state of the cheapware Windows DV editing market was half the reason I switched to Mac in the first place. The barbs against iMovie are even more prevalent in the review’s “bottom line”:

The individual components of iLife ‘05 (with the notable exception of iMovie) are very good to excellent. All components are extremely well integrated and easy to use, even for beginners.

iMovie isn’t very good? For whom? And again, compared to what? This isn’t hyperbole, people, I’d honestly like to know what iMovie is up against in comparatively priced Windows software, and what makes it so darned bad in Michael Kobrin’s eyes.

We like that the components’ interfaces are converging, with the wildly popular iTunes as the model.

I, myself, haven’t noticed any major changes in iLife apps’ interfaces in quite some years. I wouldn’t say they’re “converging” towards anything; iPhoto is the only one that could readily be described as ‘iTunes–like’ and it’s been that way since day one. What’s the dealio?

Most important, any type of file can be dragged from one program to another; this is especially handy in iMovie and iDVD, which now contain media browsers that give you instant access to your iPhoto, iTunes, and iMovie libraries without having to leave the app you're working in.

I’m going to be a nitpicky bastard and say that drag–n–drop and file browser interfaces are about as mutually exclusive as they get. It’s cool that they have both, I’ll admit, but highlighting drag–n–drop as a Most Important Feature in an operating system where we expect it from all our apps, all the time is hardly breathtaking.

Perhaps the only way in which iLife doesn’t act as a suite is that the apps are all launched separately from the Dock in Mac OS X, rather than from a unified suite interface. But given the programs’ ease of use and integration, we don’t feel that’s a drawback.

I’m glad that’s not too much of a drawback, because I’m going to go on record saying that the ‘unified suite interface’ is one of the worst things ever. Worse than MDI. A big call, I know, but I’m a big man and I need a big breakfast; it’s a call I’m willing to make. Imagine a world where you launched an application called “iLife” from your dock before being presented with a screen that says “hey, what were you really aiming to do when you clicked that little bastard?” — horrifying, I know.

I always thought that was the dock’s job: letting you choose which application you’re going to launch when you want to perform a task. Why pray for a middle man? I can count on one hand the number of times I launched Microsoft Word because I wanted to create a new spreadsheet (hint — the number is still zero), and while I know that in some cultures it might be considered convenient to be able to select File > New… > Photo Album in iPhoto from iTunes’ menu bar, it’s just plain ridiculous.

Why not throw in a few menu items for creating new iCal appointments and Address Book cards from GarageBand? Bands need to make appointments and keep track of their contacts, after all. Oh, right… because if I wanted to do something to my address book I’d launch Address Book. Application modality might be confounding to ye olde Windows users from time to time, but the idea that iDVD handles DVD authoring and only DVD authoring is kind of comforting to me. To analog, check out the relative popularity of Firefox and the Mozilla Suite. One does one thing, one does everything… and one of them is doing what the other could never manage to do: kicking Internet Explorer’s ass.

Suite interface. What will they think of next?