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Expo's Other Big Hit: iPhoto


You don't have to be a propeller head to know that the biggest hit at last week's Macworld Expo was Apple's redesigned iMac. Although some critics have compared its looks to that of a propeller-topped beanie, most have praised the new design.

At the Expo, I watched hundreds of attendees test-drive the new iMac, and all of them did the same thing when they first approached the computer.

Rather than reach for the mouse--the first instinct of most test drivers--they reached for the iMac's pivoting display and moved it around. It's hard not to be impressed with how smoothly the iMac's flat-panel screen floats to just about any viewing angle. And it's easy to wonder why all displays aren't as accommodating.

Contrary to my pre-Expo predictions, Apple did not discontinue the original iMac. In fact, Apple quietly cut its price during the Expo. A 600-megahertz model containing a CD burner and 256 megabytes of memory now costs $999, down about $200. Remember that this model contains a G3 processor, which is much slower than the new iMac's G4 chip.

Apple's other big hit at the Expo was its new iPhoto digital photography software, which is free for the downloading and runs only under Mac OS X.

iPhoto's simple, one-window design greatly simplifies organizing and sharing digital photos. iPhoto stores all of your images in a digital shoebox called the photo library. You add photos to the library by importing them from a digital camera--iPhoto recognizes most current models. If you already have a collection of digital images, you can add them by dragging their icons into the iPhoto window.

iPhoto makes it amazingly easy to scan your photo library. iPhoto's window displays small thumbnail versions of each image; below the thumbnails is a little slider that resembles a volume control. Drag the slider to the left, and the thumbnails shrink to baby-toenail size, allowing you to scan hundreds of images in one glance. Move the slider to the right, and the thumbnails grow, until finally iPhoto's window shows just one image at a time.

This on-the-fly zooming is remarkable to watch--and it's made possible by the sophisticated graphics foundation of Mac OS X.

Once you've built a photo library, you can create albums. You can publish albums on the Web using Apple's free iTools service, and you can order photographic prints and books. You also can view albums as on-screen slide shows, complete with background music and movie-like dissolve effects between images--another graphical trick made possible by OS X.

iPhoto lets you tweak images, but its editing features are bare-bones. You can crop and rotate photos, remove the dreaded red-eye and convert a color image to black and white. iPhoto has no tools for pixel-level editing, such as removing a blemish, nor does it provide color-correction features.

Other limitations? iPhoto doesn't let you choose which images you want to import from a digital camera. Importing is an all-or-nothing deal, which means you waste disk space storing unwanted photos, or you waste time deleting photos you wouldn't have transferred to begin with.

Some of iPhoto's limitations are due to its version 1.0 status, but politics also may be to blame. Apple must tread lightly in the world of image editing, lest it alienate one of its most important software developers: Adobe, whose Photoshop software is as important as oxygen to many Mac users.

Adobe has nothing to fear from iPhoto. Neither do companies that make image-cataloging programs, such as iView Multimedia's iView Media Pro. Novice users will be happy within iPhoto's comfortable if limiting confines, and as they become more sophisticated, they can buy programs that do more. Rather than eroding sales of third-party programs, iPhoto and Apple's other "i-ware" might just act as a steppingstone to them.


Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at

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