Thursday, February 16, 2006

Apple Software

I have been somewhat critical of the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) as well as iPhoto, so I thought I should set the record straight concerning all the Apple software we own and use.

Basically these fall into three categories, OS X, iLife and iWork. We don't own any of Apple's professional series software packages, such as Aperture, though they are certainly tempting products!

OS X includes not only the basic operating system software but also a lot of peripheral programs that add to the Apple OS experience. Examples include Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book and Stickies. These programs are as stable as the underlying operating system they support and are generally a joy to use.

OS X Tiger is a very stable product which is now in its 10.4.5 version. It seems a good idea to monitor the upgrades and download them as soon as they are available.

Safari is an excellent fast browser with advanced features like tabbing (once you use tabs you can't imagine that they still don't exist on other browser platforms). Not all web site designers test Safari, however, and there are some glaring errors on sites that should know better. The pull down menus on the Houston Chronicle site, for example, do not work with Safari and they have told me I need to use Firefox. This coming from the site that hosts Bob Levitus' Dr. Mac page! One bank refuses to accept that Safari exists and wants us to use Microsoft Explorer (no longer supported on the Mac!)

Mail is an excellent package that is easy to use and stable. Why they changed the interface is a mystery, however, and the latest version is not a good example of Apple's belief that their software should conform to standards.

iCal is a very useful calendar and to-do list organizer. It could do with some plug-ins, like a billing routine that could generate invoices, but this is free software and it does what it does very well indeed!

Address Book is also very useful and I like the way it integrates with Mail. I use OnSync to keep my cell phone synchronized as Apple's own iSync changed beyond recognition when Tiger came out and not all cell phones are supported any more.

Stickies is a classic application based on the Post-it Notes concept. I don't use it a lot but it is now capable of being formatted, etc.

The iLife Suite of programs has just gone through another upgrade and I am disappointed that if you own iLife 5 (as we do) then there is no special upgrade price for iLife 6. iLife is reasonably priced, however, and you get a lot for your money.

iPhoto has as its core a date sensitive organizer and filing system. This is useful but overly complex. Corrupted iPhoto folders seem to be a quite common feature as there are specific instructions on Apple's website about recovering and rebuilding the database. Grey thumbnails are a sign that all is far from well. The photo manipulation software in iPhoto 5 is excellent if not a competitor to Photoshop! The red eye eliminator is particularly good as is the horizon leveler. And if you want to use Photoshop from within iPhoto you can. I hope that iPhoto 6 has addressed the stability issues that I have experienced with iPhoto 5.

iTunes together with the iPod and iTMS has been the major growth factor for Apple over the last few years and iTunes is a very good product as a digital music storage and playback system. It works well with an iPod and has iTMS built in to it. Upgrades are free for this iLife component, which is good!

iMovie HD is powerful software and one of the bargains for Apple users who also own a digital movie camera.

Garageband is not something I use but I understand it is an interesting piece of software with lots of plug-ins.

iWeb is new with iLife 6 and basically promises to deliver a lot more of your iLife suite output to the internet, including web site design, podcasts, etc.

iDVD is a very useful tool for authoring DVDs from home movies. Again it is not something we use but it adds to the exceptional value of the iLife suite.

Which leads on to iWork. At the moment iWork still only contains two products, Pages and Keynote. A spreadsheet would be a useful third program and it may be "in the works".

Pages is a very effective competitor to Word and almost qualifies as a Desktop Publishing Program. Almost but not quite. Apple's various templates are good but not that good.

Keynote is a very real competitor to PowerPoint except, of course, that no-one else in the Windows world has Keynote! The export from Keynote to PowerPoint does work, however. What I have found is that some PowerPoint files that will not load into Mac Office PowerPoint will import into Keynote. Then the file can be exported back as a PowerPoint file that will load. Well done Apple!

And that's it. The total cost of the software listed above is $129 + $79 + $79. That is a lot of software for $287!