Every year, Apple issues a new iLife upgrade, and every year, I stare in wonder at my Mac's monitor, noting the improvements and wondering why Microsoft and the PC industry can't create something as impressive as iLife for the Windows realm. Three years after the initial iLife release, iLife '06 is now available, and it's better than ever. Quite simply, there’s nothing on the Windows side of the fence that approaches the quality of iLife '06.

If you're unfamiliar with iLife, it's basically a complete and integrated suite of digital media tools that's available only for Mac OS X. In most cases, these applications are best-of-breed, meaning that there are no alternatives that come even close to combining the power, ease of use, and integration that the iLife applications provide. Apple iLife '06 adds one new application, so the entire suite breaks down as follows:

iMovie HD 6
Apple's movie-editing package is excellent, and the new version finally overcomes some previous limitations. For example, you can now open multiple projects simultaneously, each in its own iMovie window, and many video effects are finally rendered immediately. Apple iMovie has always provided excellent audio-editing tools, and although the previous version supported widescreen aspect ratios, version 6 adds native support for the video iPod.

iDVD 6
There simply isn't a better consumer-oriented DVD-authoring application available on any platform, and iDVD 6 raises the bar with widescreen menu support, gorgeous new themes, a Magic DVD feature that automatically generates a completed DVD from content you specify, and, finally, support for third-party DVD burners. It's nearly perfect.

iPhoto 6
While iPhoto 6 is arguably outclassed by the free (and Windows-only) Google Picasa, the new version is the best yet, with support for more than 250,000 photos, full-screen photo editing, numerous effects, and a cool addition to its book-making functionality: You can now make (and order) greeting cards and calendars, as well.

iTunes 6
Although not technically part of iLife '06, iTunes was in previous iLife versions, and is available free from Apple's Web site. The latest version is the best yet, and it's my favorite music jukebox. iTunes 6 helps you create video iPod-compatible movies, and it's compatible with the iTunes Music Store's TV shows collection, which includes downloadable episodes of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, and other hit shows.

GarageBand 6
Originally launched as a music-making application, GarageBand has found a new calling in version 6, with a new focus on podcast creation. It's unclear whether this is any less nichy than its previous bent, but the suddenly ambidextrous GarageBand has proven to be a popular low-cost choice for people who need to create their own audio content.

iWeb
Apple's newest member of iLife is the least well realized, which makes sense since this is just the first version. Essentially a friendly Web site editor, iWeb integrates especially well with Apple's paid .Mac service, providing users with an easy way to post Web sites full of photos, videos, blogs, and even podcasts. It's not as easy to use with traditional Web servers, but it's a start.

What you can't get from this short overview is how well these applications integrate. If you want to make a movie from your photo collection, your iPhoto-based photos appear in iMovie. Likewise, you can do something similar from iDVD. Each of these applications can reach into the other applications' databases and extract content, as needed, in a similar and integrated fashion.

Best of all, iLife '06 is cheap. It comes free with any new Mac, but if you have a previous version, the full retail version is just $79, while a Family Pack, which lets you install the suite on as many as five Macs, is a bargain at $99. Why Microsoft can't duplicate this functionality—along with the low-ball pricing—is beyond me.