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A taste of the iLife

David Baugh runs the rule over Apple's 2004 multimedia suite and finds great potential for the classroom

Apple's iLife 04 suite is a collection of five applications for creating, using, and organising digital media that Apple markets as "Microsoft Office for the rest of your life".

As a non-specialist teacher trying to get a grip on music creation, I have been struggling with various music programs over the last three months with varying degrees of success. Therefore it was a real breath of fresh air to get my unmusical hands on GarageBand. If the program is started without a midi keyboard attached, the program helpfully gives you a virtual one - a piano keyboard in the middle of the screen. When a keyboard is attached it is automatically recognised. You can then choose from 50 different midi and software instruments and start composing straight away. However, for the musically challenged or those who want some backing, you can choose from over 1,000 backing loops covering a full range of instruments and styles.

Real instruments or voices can be recorded with the help of effects that are straightforward to apply. This means that an electric guitar can be plugged straight into the computer and then recorded via GarageBand. You can choose the type of virtual amplifier you want to use and how you want the instrument to sound.

For a program that is so simple to use out of the box, it is surprising that it is possible to do some fairly clever editing, adjustment and sequencing in the program - that includes editing the notes you have created on the keyboard. When the composition is finished it can be exported to iTunes for use in any of the other programs in the iLife suite.

Pupils I have used this with have picked it up very quickly and some as young as six have been jamming in minutes. The potential for teaching music composition with GarageBand is immense, even for those of us who have shied away from it in the past.

Another constituent program in iLife is iTunes, which allows you to import audio files on to your computer easily from a number of sources. These files can be created on your computer with the help of third-party programs for recording voice, music creation or the conversion of text to voice.

Files can be downloaded from the internet and iTunes can also import tracks from a CD and turn them into MP3 files or high-quality AAC files. Obviously you will have to check if you have permission to use these music files in school.

iTunes also allows you to sort audio files into any grouping you want called a playlist. This makes things much easier when you want pupils to find the right music later on. A playlist can ensure quick access for teachers and pupils.

When iTunes is combined with an iPod the potential for pupils accessing and recording audio is enhanced.

iPhoto is an image management program that imports images from digital cameras and other digital sources such as scanners or the internet. These images can then be organised into albums for easy access and export. The images can be exported to make web pages, QuickTime movies and as files.

iPhoto allows some editing functions such as cropping, one-touch enhancement, red-eye elimination, sepia effects, retouching, black and white, brightness and contrast. There is also a Slideshow facility that will play music of your choice from iTunes to accompany your pictures.

iMovie started life as a digital video editing program. It has now matured into a program that brings the elements of still images from iPhoto and audio from GarageBand and iTunes together with video into fully fledged multimedia projects. With the enhancements to audio control and video editing control included in iMovie 4 there seems little need for schools to look elsewhere.

iDVD is possibly the simplest tool available for the production of interactive DVDs. You can be up and running in minutes with iDVD even making DVDs straight from the other programs in iLife.

Given that there is a lot of power for creativity in iLife 04 you might think that it comes with a hefty price tag. You would be wrong. At pound;21 it has affordability to match.

Apple iLife

Bundled free with all new Macintoshes

pound;21+ vat for schools


iLife Inspirations

iLife advice support and training

Fitness for purpose *****

Ease of use ****

Features ****

Quality ****

Value for money *****

David Baugh is ICT adviser to Denbighshire LEA and runs the Digital Video in Education project.

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