This is my very first attempt at reviewing a commercial software application, so may be a bit rough around the edges (I hope my readers will bear with me). In January of 2006 Apple introduced it’s yearly update to it’s media creation suite iLife 06. This new version contained so many new features and enhancements that I could easily write a long, detailed article on each one. However, since each application has been professionally reviewed many times already, I decided to focus my efforts on reviewing the photo to web process which is where my interest lies.
My review begins with a very simple question: “How can I easily put up my own website with photos so my friends and family can see them?” This issue was raised and discussed in a previous meeting of the Lawrence Mac User Group and I thought it presented a good focus for my software review. The goal is to describe the process of getting a group of photos from the camera to the web. While there are a great many options and tools available on the market to do this we want to find out if Apple’s most recent solution is worth buying. Especially if you already have an older version that you are using. Before I detail my personal experience using these two applications to build my photos website I’ll give you a brief review of the latest version of iPhoto and the new iWeb.
What’s New in iPhoto 06?
There are many new features in this version of iPhoto and I would have to say that most of them are solid improvements that will make organizing and editing much easier. The first thing you might notice when opening up iPhoto 06 is that it feels faster than any prior version. The iLife developers have worked hard to improve the performance and it can now hold up to 250,000 images. I don’t have anywhere near that many photos but who’s to say how many pictures we’ll all be sitting on in five years. Digital cameras are making it easier than ever to shoot without restraint. The interface has also been updated to more closely match the current style of iTunes. Nothing too major has been redone but the style is a little more slick and professional looking.
iPhoto 6 introduces a Full Screen Editing button. Clicking on it will and iPhoto’s interface—along with your desktop and any other windows—will completely disappear, replaced by a solid black field in which your image will be displayed as large as possible. In full-screen editing mode, you can edit your photo without the distraction of other interface elements or colors. After doing extensive editing work in last year’s version of iPhoto I have to say that I like this mode very much. It gets everything else out of the way and puts the one picture your editing front and center. Pushing the full screen button again instantly returns you to normal iPhoto view. Along with the full screen editing mode is the new Compare button. It allows you to display images side by side. This is really useful when you’ve shot many versions of the same subject and want to decide which picture you like the best. Along with the editing panel is the new Effects pane. This allows for the easy one-click addition of simple effects like black-and-white, sepia tone and edge effects like blurs. The Effects pane and the Editing pane are both in the new black, slightly transparent, floating window style which Apple has been using lately.
Photocasting is a new feature which allows an easy way to instantly share your photos libraries with others. You need to have a .Mac subscription to make it work. It works by selecting an album and clicking the Photocast button on the toolbar.
Your photo album will then be uploaded to .Mac’s servers and then emailing out a notice to your friends with the website address. So far it doesn’t sound at all different than posting your own website but there’s more. Other users can subscribe to your site using their copies of iPhoto. Whenever you change the photos your users will automatically see the updates as well.
The book making function has been enhanced to produce higher resolution results. Newly designed books can be viewed full screen with all of it’s effects. Custom greeting cards and calendars that can now be ordered along with the photo books. The calendars tie into iCal to display all of your important dates and appointments automatically. Other notable improvments include the ability to export photos as 16-bit TIFF files. Borderless printing can now be done if you have a printer that supports it. A new preference can be used to store photos in locations other than iPhoto’s internal library. iPhoto now allows for ColorSync tagging when importing images.
What is iWeb and how does it work?
iWeb is Apple’s new entry level desktop Web publishing application. It allows you to build simple but good looking websites. These sites can contain audio Podcast’s, text blogging, short video clips or still photographs. The big selling point is that all of this can be don’t with absolutely no HTML coding at all. The entire website can be designed and modified in a drag and drop style. When opening iWeb (or automatically importing images from iPhoto) you will be prompted to select one of several predesigned templates. Most of the Apple templates are nice and I certainly expect the number of choices to grow with each new version of the application. If none of the templates suit your taste then you can select a blank page. Once you’ve selected a template you can fill it up with content pulled directly from a floating palatte called the “Media Browser.” It’s a simple process to drag images from the Photos pane, movies from the Movies pane, and audio of any kind, including podcasts, from the Audio pane. You can also drag and drop items from your desktop if you like.
The entire iWeb application functions in one main window. The workspace called the Canvas is in the middle. Here you can choose a template and proceed to fill it with all of your stuff. With iWeb’s 12 included templates, your Web pages are pre-formatted for blogs, podcasts and movie clips. To the left, an iTunes like list called the Site Organizer, lists all of your pages in order. On the bottom is a toolbar that contains text and image controls. You essentially start out with an Apple template (or a blank page) but can end up with something that looks totally different. On a photo page for example, you can have a solid color background, a texture or your own photo of choice. Pictures and titles can have various levels of opacity. Thumbnails of your pictures can have different kinds of borders. Titles and captions can have different fonts and colors. All of these options and many more are all accessed through the single floating window called the Web’s Inspector. Through the Inspector we can make all of the changes I mentioned above as well as alter the page dimensions text attributes such as size, and line spacing; set margins, word wraps, and lists; add drop shadows and reflections to your boxes and images; and designate links. The Inspector can add password-protection to your site and even track how much space is used on your iDisk.
While there are a great many things you can alter in Apple’s pre-designed templates, some thing remain beyond your control. The navigation menu can’t be moved. At present these is also no way to create submenus. You have to manually create links to all of your individual albums—this isn’t hard, but it takes a little time. I hope they add this feature in the next version of the program. The very first version of iWeb had a problem of optimising each image file as a .PNG file rather than the more standard .JPEG. This created the side effect of web pages ballooning in size and being slower to navigate online due to PNG’s being larger than JPEGs. However, the iWeb 1.1 update seems to have corrected that issue.
The web publishing route of choice for iWeb is a .Mac account. Using this system, it’s method of one click publishing “just works” as advertised. However, if you do not have a .Mac account and prefere to publish to another domain through an FTP server then you have to take a few more steps. It involves using the “Publish To A Folder” command, then navigating to your user folder/Sites, find the files you want to copy, and upload them via FTP. If you happen to have a .Mac account and little interest in learning HTML web coding skills then iWeb might be a good tool for you. It will allow you to design a good looking Web site with all of your own content. However, for those with experience using more powerful layout apps like Dreamweaver or Adobe Golive then iWeb will seem inflexible and far too basic to design large complex sites.
My Experience Designing a Website
I should mention that I have a membership to Apple’s $100. per year .Mac (pronounced dot Mac) service and have been using iPhoto 5 to import, edit, organize and upload my images to my Homepage space. While the process has been relatively easy, I’ve always felt a lack of control over the design of my website. Most of Apple’s website templates are pretty lame and haven’t been updated in a long time. The Homepage templates also suffer from not being customizable. In preparation for an art show that I was going to be put on during September and October I built a simple online portfolio using iPhoto 5 and .Mac’s Homepage feature. Due to my distaste for most of Apple’s templates I almost always use the simple black pages for my photos. I have also found that brightly colored artwork tends to be viewed best against a neutral background anyway. Once I got my hands on iWeb I went about recreating that simple black website but with a refreshed look.
I started by building a new photo album of the picture I already had in iPhoto. I also used my Kodak Easyshare (5 megapixel) digital camera to shoot some new pictures of my show after it had gone up at a local coffee shop. Getting the pictures into iPhoto is as easy as plugging in the USB cable that came with the camera. If you happen to be pulling your images from another source like a scanner then you would use the software that came with your scanner and then use iPhoto’s “Import to Library” command under the File menu. There can be as many or as few images as you like. iPhoto offers of the option of deleting the pictures off your camera once it’s done, or leaving them alone. It also lets you name the incoming batch of images for searching later. Once our pictures are imported it’s easy to sort them into albums or folders. I made great use of the new “Full Screen” editing mode offered by iPhoto 06 during this process. Being able to blow those pictures up to their largest possible size for editing greatly improved my ability to see what I was doing. Once I had my photos titled and edited I pushed the iWeb button and off they went.
iWeb automatically opened up to receive the incoming photos and asked me to select a template to work with. For obviouse reasons I went with the clean and simple black page template. Using iWeb turned out to be easy and painless for me. I found a surprising amount of flexibility in moving objects around and using the Inspector Palette. I could have adding colors, frames, fancy text, shadows, password protection, hyperlinks and a wide variety of other elements to my pages. For now though I opted to keep it simple. The Site Organizer lets you move the order of different pages around and create entirely new sites. iWeb also offers image editing tools using the very same floating Editing pane that shows up in iPhoto. After dragging the photos around to an order that I liked and grouping the pages up I proceeded to publish my website by simply pushing the “Publish” button. Although for this particular project I decided to use a super simple and plain site design I am planning on reposting my very popular photo website in the near future. For that project I’ll employ more color and flair for my web pages. I’m looking forward to it already.
And that is my review. Although not nearly as comprehensive as some of the professional reviews done on iLife, I tried to touch on most of the new features and highlight how I used them to actually get some work done. I hope that some of the information I’ve detailed here will interest you to take a closer look at this amazing package. Using any one of the included applications in iLife 07 can enhance your ability to manage and share your digital memories.
Pros: Faster scrolling and performance. Full screen editing mode. New book, greeting card and calendar designs.
Cons: Runs a little sluggish on my three year old iBook (darn!). I recommend running it on a newer system or having lots of ram.
Rating: 4 out of a possible 5
Pros: Built in templates and web publishing are a huge improvement over the old .Mac Homepage service. Finished sites can look professional and slick. Handles video clips, blogs, Podcasts. Lots of options to tweak pages to your taste.
Cons: Inability to create and save reusable templates. Publishing to FTP not easy enough.
Rating: 3 out of a possible 5 (which isn’t bad for a version 1 product). Expect a new version of iWeb in January ’07 to add new features and address shortcomings.
If you would like to view the website I designed for this project the url is: