In early November 2002, Microsoft quietly cast aside the final limitation in Windows XP when compared to Mac OS X, cementing its technological lead over Apple's operating system contender. But while the release of Windows Movie Maker 2 (WMM 2) Beta 1 may have been quiet, news about the new Movie Maker version gathered steam throughout the month, thanks in part to an overview I wrote in Connected Home Express (Part One and Part Two) that quickly made the rounds through various Macintosh advocacy Web sites and news lists. The response from the Mac community was largely unprintable, but let's just say they weren't amused.

The problem is that digital video was, until recently, the last bastion of Mac advocacy. Oh sure, Mac users can talk up Mac OS X's stability, thanks to its UNIX underpinnings, but XP is just as stable, if not more so. Mac users also point to Apple's bundled "iApps"--especially the digital media oriented iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD--which are indeed generally quite good. But Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP), which came well before iTunes, was always a more powerful solution, and the latest version, Windows Media Player 9 Series, is even better (see my review for details). And when Microsoft shipped Windows XP, its integrated digital photo acquisition technology and shell integration were far ahead of Apple's lame Image Capture application; the release of iPhoto a few months later was interesting, but was designed mostly to play catch-up with XP. And then there was digital video. For over two years now, Apple has reigned supreme in this crucial area.

Windows XP and digital video editing

Microsoft's first stab at a digital video editing tool was Windows Movie Maker 1.0, which debuted in mid-2000 as part of Windows Millennium Edition (Me). Specifically designed to provide consumers with simple video capture, editing, and sharing capabilities, WMM 1.0 nonetheless compared poorly to Apple's iMovie, released the previous Fall, which featured far more advanced tools and capabilities, though it was likewise much harder to use. What most people, including reviewers, failed to understand was that WMM was in development simultaneously with Windows Me, and wasn't a response to iMovie at all. But the reviews universally panned WMM for its comparatively weak feature set, while ignoring the fact that video editing was, quite simply, a task that was too difficult and tedious for most consumers, despite their best intentions.

When development of Windows XP began, Microsoft planned a small WMM upgrade to accompany the new operating system. WMM 1.1 shipped with XP, offering the same simple video editing features as the previous version, but with support for Windows Media Video (WMV) and Audio (WMA) version 8 technologies, non-compressed AVI recording of digital video sources, and output to Pocket PC devices. On the day XP shipped, Microsoft delivered WMM 1.2 via Windows Update; this version added a new, near DVD-quality movie resolution with excellent compression.

Still, none of these WMM versions offered the advanced features found in iMovie. WMM offered exactly 1 transition type, compared to the 6 in iMovie. WMM offered absolutely no video effects and no titling capabilities, forcing users to create bitmap images to use as titles; iMovie shipped with several video effects and over a dozen titles. And though WMM retained a few key advantages over iMovie--it works directly with analog video sources as well digital video sources, while iMovie supports only digital, and WMM remained much easier for consumers to use--the iMovie advantage was obvious. And Apple touted its digital video prowess to the hilt in its digital hub ads. Game, set, match.

Well, not quite. Because everything just changed.

Introducing Windows Movie Maker 2

At the August 2002 Reviewer's Workshop that Microsoft held for Windows Media 9 Series, I actually asked about WMM 2, sort of. At that event, I asked David Caulton, the Lead Product Manager for the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft whether WMM 1.2 would be upgraded to support the exciting new Windows Media 9 Series technologies, and he told me that, no, it would not. Instead, he said, a new WMM version would be needed. Since I was still under the impression that WMM was an OS deliverable, I figured that WMM 2 wouldn't ship until Longhorn, the next Windows version, was ready, and I let it drop.

Two months later, in late October, Caulton called to tell me about Windows Movie Maker 2 (Figure), which was a unexpected but pleasant surprise. The feature set he described was exciting, but these things have a way of falling apart in actual use. When the beta code arrived the next morning, I was floored. WMM 2 is an amazing product, for a variety of reasons. First, it brings the capabilities offered by the Windows Media 9 Series technologies to end users. Even more importantly, however, WMM 2 is a tool that will be embraced equally by video neophytes and advanced users. Here's why.

First, WMM 2 has been completely redesigned to better tackle the realities of the consumer-oriented video editing market. From a technical standpoint, it gives consumers the advanced compression and quality features from WMA 9 and WMV 9, providing them with a way to create libraries of home movies on their hard drives in the same way in which they might create libraries of digital music and photos. It offers far more editing capabilities for those that need them, including over 130 new titles, transitions, and effects. For users not interested in the laborious and time consuming process of editing video--and that's just about everybody, incidentally--WMM 2 offers an incredible AutoMovie tool that takes raw video and creates a professionally-edited final movie without any user intervention. And finally, WMM2 offers more ways to share your video creations, with only one obvious deficiency. I'll discuss all of these capabilities and issues in more detail below.

From a user interface perspective, WMM 2 resembles its predecessors, but serious improvements abound. The WMM UI is still broken up into major areas, including the Collections pane, the (current) Collection view, the video preview window, and Storyboard/Timeline view (Figure). But in this release, the Collections pane is toggled with the new Movie Tasks pane (Figure), which is shown by default; this pane offers simple links to common tasks you might perform with this tool, including capturing video, editing video, and sharing (or finishing) your video. This task-oriented approach is an interesting embellishment on the wider task-based UI in Windows XP itself, which is a major advancement for which I believe Microsoft doesn't get enough credit. Compared to the "what do I do now?" stupor that greets users in Mac OS X and iMovie, the benefits to the task-based approach here are immediately obvious: No guessing, and no aimless mousing around, trying to figure out what to do next.

There are other UI improvements. The video preview window is resizable (Figure) and it even provides visual feedback about the resolution of the preview window, so you can watch your creations in their native resolution if desired. The Storyboard/Timeline view is likewise resizable (Figure), making it easier to work with clips, transitions, and effects. And because WMM 2 now supports discrete video, transition, audio, music, and title overlay tracks in Timeline view, you'll want the space. Storyboard view, meanwhile, provides visual cues about the video effects and transitions that accompany each video clip (Figure).

OK, let's take a look at how this amazing application works.

Capturing and importing video

The first stage in any video production is getting raw video footage or other content into the application. And like previous Movie Maker versions, WMM 2 supports both the capturing and importing of this content.

Capturing video

Windows Movie Maker 2 supports video capture from analog and digital video and audio sources. To test the product, I used a Canon DV camera for digital capture via IEEE-1394 and my trusty Belkin VideoBus II for analog audio and video. Since it's the holidays as I write this, one of the tasks my wife recently gave me was to take a collection of Christmas videos we have on VHS tape and convert them to digital format so we can watch them on the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Media Center PC that's connected to our main television. I used WMM 2 and the Belkin device to make the conversions.

When you connect a DV camera or other similar imaging device to a Windows XP-based PC, a new choice called Capture Video using Windows Movie Maker appears in the Autoplay dialog that automatically appears (Figure). For analog capture or more manual control, however, you can simply launch WMM 2 and select Capture Video from the File menu. Either option will display the improved Video Capture Wizard (Figure), which is a huge improvement over the previous version. The goal with this release was simplify the capture process and eliminate a lot of the technological mumbo-jumbo that confused consumers; however, more advanced users can uncover bitrate, display size, frame rate, and other technical information if needed.

The options you'll see throughout the wizard depend on whether your source is digital or analog. For digital video capture, you get options for importing into DV-AVI as before, a high-quality format that also suffers from massive disk space usage. However, consumers will generally choose the default selection, "Best quality for playback on my computer," which will provide highly-compressed, high-quality WMV 9 video instead. As I note in my Windows Media 9 Series review, WMV 9 is an incredible solution for home video, letting you store massive amounts of high-quality video right on your hard drive, an impossibility with DV-AVI or the DV format Apple uses. You can also select "Other settings," which provides more advanced selections such as video for local playback at 1.5 or 2.1 Mbps and video for Pocket PC, which is tailored toward portable devices running Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system (Figure). In each case, a small settings details box in the dialog will provide information about the file type, bit rate, display size (resolution) and frame per second that the resulting video will utilize, so you can easily pick and choose exactly the quality you need. Since the release of WMV 9, I've been working exclusively in WMV 9 at 1.5 or 2.1 Mbps; the results are every bit as good as DV-AVI, especially for home movies, at only a fraction of the disk space. Using 2.1 Mbps WMV, a minute of video occupies just 14 MB of space; in DV-AVI, this same minute would occupy 178 MB. Do the math.

Once you've selected the format and quality, the wizard prompts you to decide how you want to record. With a DV camera, WMM 2 can automatically rewind the current tape and record the entire video from the beginning or you can manually capture just parts of the tape (Figure). The first option, obviously is completely automated. If you choose the second option, you'll be presented with an updated version of the Capture Video phase used in previous WMM versions (Figure). Here, you can start and stop the capture manually, or use the embedded controls to control your DV camera remotely (Figure). As before, you can choose to create clips when the capture is complete, which is handy for editing, or limit the capture time. A new option also lets you mute the speakers while capturing, which is a wonderful addition. Also, the wizard keeps a running tab of the length of the capture video as well as the disk space it occupies.

Capturing analog video is similar, with a few wizard changes. First, you can select from a variety of audio and video sources, depending on your capture device. In the case of the USB VideoBus II, the Capture Video wizard (Figure) offers up selection for choosing the audio device (sound card with audio in and microphone options, or the audio in on the USB capture device), video input source (USGB capture device composite or S-Video in), a line-in input level selector when appropriate, and a way to configure the video source. The Configure Video Capture Device dialog (Figure) lets you control camera settings such as color, brightness, and contrast, settings I had to fine-tune for my Christmas video conversions, as well as video settings, like display size and offset. If you're using a TV tuner card, you'll also get options to change the channel and video format.

After selecting a name for the raw video file you'll be capturing, you're presented with the same Video Settings phase that greats digital video capture. But because the wizard is intelligent about the limitations of your capture device, certain options might be turned off in this case. For example, because the VideoBus II is a USB capture device capable of just 320 x 240 resolution, the DV-AVI option is disabled, as are other capture options unsuitable for this format.

Once you've selected the capture format and quality, you're presented with the same Capture Video phase as with digital capture, but again with a single obvious change: The embedded DV camera controls are missing, obviously, because analog capture devices don't include the technology required to be remotely controlled (Figure). Just cue up the video source, click Start Capture, and you're good to go.

Importing video

If you have video content on your hard drive and would like to import it into WMM 2, you can do so. In fact, I did this with all of my home movies, stored in DV-AVI format, so that I could convert them to WMV 9 format and free up a ton of disk space. How much space did I save doing this, you ask? Well, my home movies from just the year 2001 previously occupied over 11 GB of space. After converting them to WMV 9 format, with no perceptible loss of quality, they occupy just 637 MB of space. And I have several years worth of movies: This is a huge deal, and a major reason why the combination of WMV 9 and WMM 2 blows Apple's iMovie out of the water. And while it's conceivable that a future iMovie version will let users work directly with the MPEG-4 video format which Apple backs, I've already discussed the problems with MPEG-4 in my Windows Media 9 Series review: From a technological perspective, Apple simply can't catch up.

To import video into WMM 2, simply select Import into Collections from the File menu. WMM2 will prompt you to select one or more video files; you can also import a variety of other content, including audio and image files. If you do import a video clip, WMM 2 will, by default, create clips, separating the video into digestible chunks that are more easily edited later. WMM 2's clip detection routine was developed by scientists at Microsoft Research, and it automatically detects the start of new scenes, based on drastic lighting or scenery changes (For digital capture, the program uses the time code information on the tape to perform clip detection).

Once you've imported video in this fashion, you can edit it just as you would any directly captured video.

Managing and editing your movies

Generally speaking, the time-consuming video capture and editing phase is usually enough to deter most consumers from working further with digital video. However, if you get this far, the fun starts: Now it's time to edit your raw video into a finished movie. In WMM 1.x, this was a simple process: You could only add the most basic titles, via handmade bitmap images, and add one kind of transition, the cross-fade. This simplicity had its advantages, however. I often used WMM 1.x to capture video and edit out unwanted parts, adding simple cross fades. But I'd then have to move the video to a more advanced editing package to add more sophisticated titling.

In WMM 2, the bar has been raised dramatically with regards to the capabilities you now have at your disposal. Likewise, the complexity has also risen. To counter this problem, Microsoft has built-in some fascinating technologies that make working with movies easier than ever. Before we get to that, however, we need to discuss the ways in which you manage the movie collections on your hard drive.

Working with collections

When you capture or import a video, WMM 2 creates a collection, as it did in previous versions. A WMM 2 collection represents the underlying raw video, but you can also add other content to a collection, including images and audio files. One confusing aspect of WMM 2 is that the Collections pane is sometimes obscured by the Task pane, though the center of the application, the Collections view, will always display the contents of the currently selected collection. Remember that you can toggle between the Collections pane and the Task pane by clicking the Tasks and Collections buttons in the WMM 2 toolbar.

Collections are named after the video you've captured or collected. So if you give the video the unimaginative title of untitled during the Capture Wizard, you're going to get a collection called Untitled, and it's going to contain clips labeled Untitled 1, Untitled 2, and so (Unless it's a digital video, that is. Clips captured from DV use time code information for the clip names). The point here is, be descriptive. If the video you're importing is a summer vacation in Vermont, label it as such.

Collection clips, naturally, are displayed in the center Collections view. If you drag one or more clips to the Storyboard/Timeline, you've started what WMM 2 calls a project (you can also start a project by initiating the AutoMovie wizard, described below). A WMM 2 project is an arranged sequence of clips and their associated soundtrack, narration, background music, titles, video effects, and transitions. You can save projects, of course, and come back to them later as you would any other document type. But projects are basically just pointers to other files, as well as information about the changes you made. If you move a raw video file, or other content required by a project, the project won't load properly.

From a file system perspective, you typically save raw movies, WMM 2 project files, and, often enough, your final edited movies in the My Videos folder (Figure). You can navigate to this folder, found under My Documents, to manually manage your video files if you'd like. However, if you rename or move any files around, you might have to re-import them into WMM 2 later.

Using AutoMovie

In my discussions with various companies that create video editing packages for the PC, one theme has arisen: Consumer say they want to edit home videos on the PC but often find the task too time consuming and tedious. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft experienced the same problems in its user experience studies: People have the best of intentions, but video work is just frustrating, time consuming, and boring. So with WMM 2, the company adopted a task-based interface that walks you through the steps. Looking at the default task pane, you'll see three main movie tasks: Capture Video, Edit Movie, and Finish Movie. And no step is more automated than the AutoMovie option under Edit Movie.

AutoMovie is another advance from Microsoft Research. It is a wizard that analyzes the video and audio content in your movie, finds the best content, takes at least a segment of each clip, and intelligently arranges it into a finished movie. The results, put simply, are astounding, and AutoMovie has default editing styles that should please just about everyone. For the purist, AutoMovie can create a highlights movie, with clean edits and simple cuts, fades, and titles. But AutoMovie offers other exciting choices, such as music video, where you can select the background music and have the wizard edit your video to the length of the music, adding transitions that match the beats of the music. There are also flip and slide, old movie, and sports highlights editing styles.

But AutoMovie doesn't have to be an end-point. That's because AutoMovie creates a standard WMM 2 project that you can edit later to your heart's content. You don't like the title style the wizard chose? No problem: Just change it to any one of the 43 title styles supplied by WMM 2. Want to change a video effect, or a transition? Add a clip? Again, no problem. You can edit the AutoMovie as often as you'd like.

That said, you'll probably be pretty happy with AutoMovie as-is, especially if you want to make music videos. Here are the steps you might go through to make a typical AutoMovie.

After you selected a collection with which to make a finished movie, select Make an AutoMovie from the Movie Tasks pane. The display will change, letting you choose an AutoMoive editing style. I selected Music Video. Then, you can enter a title (Figure) and select the background music (Figure). In this second option, you can select the audio level on a slider between the audio from the video and that from the song; for example, you might want the song to completely replace the video's soundtrack, depending on the source material. This is what I did. Then, just create the AutoMovie.

The first time you run AutoMovie on a particular collection, the wizard will analyze the video, looking for obvious break points and clean video. This process could take a while on the first run, say up to 15 minutes for 30 minutes of video, but it only has to do this once: After AutoMovie analyzes a collection, the results are saved on disk, so future AutoMovies will be made nearly instantaneously. In the case of a music video, AutoMovie will also analyze the background song you've created, a process that takes just seconds on a typical pop song, and then create the Storyboard/Timeline. And here's a tip: Before starting the AutoMovie wizard, be sure to start a new project. If you leave any clips in the Storyboard/Timeline by mistake, AutoMovie will just add its movie to the end of the content that's already there. Doh.

When AutoMovie completes, your completed movie is laid out in the Storyboard/Timeline. You can play it in the video preview window (Figure) or edit it further if you like.

Titles, transitions, and effects

If AutoMovie isn't your thing, or you just want to use AutoMovie as a starting point, you can always editing your movies manually. To that end, WMM 2 offers a stunning collection of 43 built-in titles, 60 built-in transitions, and 29 built-in video effects. It also offers a variety of improvements to both the Storyboard and Timeline views that makes editing video much easier. Let's take a look at the process of manually editing video in WMM 2.

First, the WMM 2 application is far more configurable than before. You can resize the video preview window and Storyboard/Timeline area, as noted previously, a huge boon for those with large displays or specific requirements. You can also take a screenshot from the preview window, a nice feature. Improvements to the core Storyboard and Timeline views are also appreciated. In previous WMM versions, Storyboard view wasn't good for much other than a simple view of the clips in your project. In this version, Storyboard view displays each clip in your project using a simple box-like well, separated from other clips by a box that represents a transition between the clips, if any. In the corner of each clip well is another box, denoted by a star graphic, that represents the video effects, if any, that have been applied to that clip (Figure).

Here's how it works. Say you want to add a transition between two clips. All you have to do is select View video transitions in the Edit Movie section of the Movie Tasks pane, and the Video Transitions view will appear in place of the Collections view (Figure). If you double-click a transition, a preview of the transition is displayed in the video preview window, so you'll know what it's going to look like before you add it to the project (Figure). Once you find a transition you like, you simply drag the transition down to the box between two clips and, voila, you have a transition (Figure). And there's no rendering time at all, as there is with iMovie.

Video effects work in a similar manner. Select View video effects in the Edit Movie section of the Movie Tasks pane to view the available video effects (Figure). Again, you can double-click on any effect to preview it in the video preview window (Figure). And when you're ready to apply an effect, simply drag it down to the box in the corner of a video clip well in the Storyboard; When an effect has been applied, the box turns blue (Figure). However, you can add more than one effect: As you drag effects onto the effects box, it changes to denote that you've applied two or more effects (Figure). When you mouse over the effects box, a yellow tooltip appears, letting you know which effects have been applied (Figure). You can delete the effects with a right-click option.

Titles work a bit differently. When you select Make titles or credits from the Edit Movie section of the Movie Tasks pane, WMM 2 displays a wizard-like list of choices (Figure). Here, you can decide to add titles at the beginning or end of the movie, on the selected clip, after the selected clip, or you can add credits at the end of the movie. Credits are typically multi-line and multi-column, and WMM 2 supplies a nice form for making this type of title (Figure).

So let's say you want to add an opening title to the beginning of the movie. After you select this option, WMM 2 supplies a form where you can add the title (Figure). Then, you can select the title animation from Movie Maker's library of 43 titles, using a handy list that previews the title type in the video preview window (Figure). There are one-line and two-line title types, and most are quite professional looking. You can also configure various aspects of the text formatting, including font, font attributes, color, transparency, alignment, and size. When you add a title to your movie, a text field is added below the clip where you added the title (Figure).

In Timeline view, there are now separate gutters for video, transitions, audio, audio/music, and title overlay, giving you a nice graphical overview of the project, with clips shown in their correct dimensions, according to length (Figure). You can add transitions, effects, and titles to Timeline view as well, and it's likely that most advanced users will prefer this mode of working as it gives you more fine-grained control. For example, in Timeline view, you can trim clips with a simple mouse drag operation (Figure) and zoom in as needed. You can also visually create transitions by simply dragging the end of one clip over the beginning of the next clip, as you could previously.

There are other editing tasks you can perform in WMM 2 too. For example, you can add a narration track to the timeline, or fade audio in and out, mute, or adjust the volume on a clip-by-clip basis. And of course, you can create movies out of photo collections, adding music or narration. It's a pretty amazing tool that covers virtually any consumer-level editing need.

Sharing and distributing movies

Previous Movie Maker versions were almost single-mindedly dedicated to sharing movies via the Internet. Though this was by design, WMM 2 dramatically expands your sharing and distributing capabilities by offering a much wider array of choices. And, again, because WMM 2 supports WMV 9, your locally stored movie files are going to be much, much smaller while offering visual quality that is often indistinguishable from DV-AVI.

Put succinctly, WMM 2 lets you output movies directly to your computer, to CD (including compatibility with a new generation of HighM.A.T-compatible CD players), via email, to the Web, or back to a DV camera. You can also indirectly target Pocket PC devices and recordable DVDs, to make your own DVD movies, though this is last item is the weakest option, since Microsoft doesn't yet supply its own DVD burning solution. Each of these options is accessible through the Save Movie Wizard (Figure), though you skip the first step of the wizard by accessing the supported output options directly from the Finish Movie section of the Movie Tasks pane (Figure).

However you do it, you'll see slightly different options depending on the target movie location option you select. Lately, I've been saving most movies to the computer, since I've been converting old home movies and those holiday videos I mentioned previously. When you select this option, WMM 2 suggests the best quality playback for the current system by default (Figure), but you can select other choices as well (Figure). For example, you can fit the video to a specific file size, or select specific settings, which will be nice for the bit rate and display size crowd.

If you select a recordable or rewritable CD, WMM 2 prompts you to name the saved movie and CD, and then tries to give you the best quality for the size of the CD, though you can also select the other choices noted above if you'd like. CDs created with this method are compatible with HightM.A.T. (Figure), a new CD standard that will let compatible players display metadata information such as the name of the disc and movie.

Answering the critics

As I mentioned early on, a number of Mac-friendly folks on the Internet took exception to my original articles about Windows Movie Maker 2, and I'm sure they'll feel similarly threatened by this review. Most of the Mac-oriented feedback I've received so far has been almost maniacally insane, full of comparisons to high-end products such as Apple Final Cut Pro, which has nothing to do with the consumer market, or hilarious claims about the capabilities of MPEG-4, the erstwhile savior of Mac video. We can dismiss these responses as the craven lunacy of the blindly faithful, however: As I previously stated, MPEG-4 falls flat in the face of Windows Media Video 9 format, and iMovie now falters at the feet of Windows Movie Maker 2.

Still, some still try to argue otherwise. David Baugh, a UK educator, has even set up an unintentionally funny Web page that attempts to discredit Microsoft's claims regarding Windows Movie Maker 2. Here, I'll explain why Mr. Baugh's arguments are incorrect across the board.

Argument: Contrary to Microsoft's claims, both iMovie and WMM 2 support analog video because you need an analog converter card on either system.
Why it's wrong: iMovie can only capture video over FireWire (IEEE-1394). In fact, Baugh notes this fact on his DV FAQ page, when he writes: "There are two alternatives [for getting old video tapes transfered to your Mac]. Firstly, an analog camcorder can be connected to a DV camera capable of analog in and out and the video is transferred from the analog camera via DV camera to the computer. Secondly, an analog to digital converter van be purchased from companies like Formac." You'll note that neither of these solutions include direct analog video capture, as Microsoft has correctly argued. You can import analog video directly into WMM 2 without an expensive converter.

Argument: WMM 2's 60 transitions are useless, since fewer transitions make for a better movie.
Why it's wrong: Microsoft isn't suggesting that you use all 60 transitions in a single movie. Choice is good. Besides, Apple previously touted its 6 transitions, compared to just 1 on previous WMM versions, as a benefit.

Argument: The access to 43 titles in WMM 2 is "not intuitive" because it uses "many screens."
Why it's wrong: It's called a wizard, David. And its much easier, and thus more intuitive, than Apple's interface.

Argument: iMovie may offer only 7 effects, compared to 30 in WMM 2, but the effects in iMovie are more "configurable." In WMM 2, you "get what you are given."
Why it's wrong: By "more configurable," Baugh is referring to the fact that 4 of the 7 effects in iMovie let you adjust 1 to 3 different settings, such as brightness, contrast, or amount; the other three offer no adjustments at all. In WMM 2, however, similar effects offer similar fine grained control, but because WMM 2 works differently than iMovie, Baugh didn't see them. For example, let's say you want to increase the brightness of a clip. In iMovie, you would select Effects, then Brightness/Contrast, and then adjust the Brightness property via a slider control. To apply the change to the current clip after you've fiddled with it a bit, you will need to click Apply and wait while iMovie re-renders the clip. In WMM 2, the process is much simpler, and much quicker: Simply drag the "Brightness, Increase" effect to a clip in the Storyboard view. The change shows up immediately in the video preview window, with no rendering time involved at all. Not bright enough? Drag another copy of the effect down to the Storyboard. Repeat as necessary. What could be easier?

Argument: Baugh claims that WMV's "industry leading compression" claim is controversial.
Why it's wrong: For someone claiming to be a DV expert, Baugh needs to bone up on the facts. WMV 9 offers the best quality and compression of any video format, including MPEG-4.

Argument: Baugh says that, with .Mac, iMovie users can publish to the Web more easily than WMM 2 users can.
Why it's wrong: Apple's .Mac service costs an additional $100 a year and is not part of the underlying operating system. Furthermore, you have to get outside of iMovie to publish to the Web, which was the point of this argument to begin with. In WMM 2, you can publish directly to the Web with no additional UI. Sorry, but that's easier.

Argument: Baugh completely misunderstands that "automatic movie creation" refers to the AutoMovie feature in WMM 2.
Why it's wrong: AutoMovie has no parallel in iMovie.

Argument: Microsoft's task-oriented wizards force you to do things the way Microsoft says you should. Because iMovie has no wizards, you do everything manually, which is the way you want to do it.
Why it's wrong: Spare me. The wizards in WMM 2 are excellent, but advanced users don't have to use them. This is one of many reasons WMM 2 is superior to iMovie: The tool is applicable to a much wider range of users.

Argument: iMovie lets you output to the widest range of file formats "imaginable with a great deal of flexibility," while WMM 2 uses WMV 9 format.
Why it's wrong: Apple iMovie actually supports outputting to camera (DV), to QuickTime, and to MPEG 2, for iDVD. WMV supports outputting to camera (DV), to WMV, and to DV-AVI. Either of the last two options will work in most consumer-oriented DVD movie makers on the PC. In other words, both Apple and Microsoft are supporting just a handful of widely used formats.

Then there's the "more information" part. This page is really funny. First, Baugh claims that "Movie Maker 2 is processor heavy," whatever that means, based on the system requirements for iMovie and WMM 2: Movie Maker, he says, requires a 1.5 GHz Pentium 4, 512 MB RAM and a FireWire or analog capture card, while iMovie2 "only" requires a 500 MHz G3, 128MB RAM and FireWire. Well, this is very interesting, but it's also incorrect. According to Microsoft, WMM 2 requires a 600 MHz Pentium III, 128 MB RAM, and some sort of video capture device. However, even this is misleading: You can buy a PC based on a powerful 2 GHz Pentium 4 processor for about $600 these days--I just picked up such a system at Dell for only $350 sans monitor. What's the price of the cheapest new Mac that can edit digital video?

Baugh also notes that iMovie "might be updated at MacWorld San Francisco in January 2003." Yep, it might be. But Baugh doesn't address the underlying problem Apple can never overcome: Sure, they could add more titles, effects, and transitions, and even make the product easier to use, but Apple is stuck using inferior MPEG-4 technology. Until Apple adopts the superior WMV 9, it will always lag behind Microsoft.

Baugh says that the WMM 2 user interface "looks very cluttered on a 800 x 600 monitor." This may be true, but like most Windows XP users, I'm running a much higher resolution than that. In fact, because I test a laptop each month for Windows & .NET Magazine, I know that PC makers have never shipped an XP-based system that runs at less than 1024 x 768 out of the box, making this highly subjective argument even more superfluous than it seems at first glance.

Baugh notes that iMovie includes a "nice big video viewer" (seriously). But the video preview window in WMM 2 is resizable so you can make it as large as you want.

Finally, Baugh says that "MovieMaker2 had a few bugs in it that caused a few things not to work." But even he had to admit, "It is a Beta after all." That's right. It is currently still a beta. And yet here it is, kicking iMovie's virtual butt.

Conclusions

Windows Movie Maker 2 is a stunning achievement and a heads-up that the battle for consumer video is now over. With the addition of Windows Media Player 9 Series and WMM 2, Windows XP now offers vastly superior digital media experiences when compared to any other operating system. For consumers interested in digital video, WMM 2 is a must have product. For those who have steered clear of this exciting but previously daunting digital media task, have heart: With WMM 2, it's now easier than ever. If Microsoft could just integrate DVD burning into the product, it'd be perfect. As it is, however, WMM 2 stands alone atop the consumer-oriented digital video editing world. If you're an XP user, you should run out and give this product a shot: It's free, it's fun, and it's best-of-breed.