Magazine article Information Today

Dreaming of a Multimedia Christmas? Let Your IT CD Columnist Guide You to Fun and Valuable Gifts

Magazine article Information Today

Dreaming of a Multimedia Christmas? Let Your IT CD Columnist Guide You to Fun and Valuable Gifts

Article excerpt

Last December I dedicated my Multimedia Medley column to databases that are not in the mainstream of Information Today's coverage but are worthy of its readers' attention in the hectic days of holiday shopping for family and friends. (I hope you left that issue - properly marked - in a prominent place in your home so that your family members knew what to surprise you with.) This December, my Multimedia Medley column (p. 29) is devoted to the third part of a series, so with the approval of the editor I'll discuss this year's best multimedia gifts here in CD-ROM Commentaries. After all, full-fledged multimedia for the home still spells CD-ROM, as I don't know of anyone surfing on a T-1 or T-3 pipeline from home.

Of Prices and Platforms

Just as at last Christmas' shopping season, the prices of the products recommended are between $40 and $50, so I'll mention prices only for those with a significantly lower price tag. Shop around, as always, for the best prices. Recently, I found the lowest prices at the Office Max, Computer City, Office Depot, and Borders chains. They cannot beat mail-order companies, of course, many of which can now be accessed via the Web (although that's not the most efficient way to find out whether and at what price a title is available). Good old 800 numbers are easier for such large CD-ROM warehouses as Tiger Software (800/238-4437), CD-ROM Access (800/959-5260), and now Columbia House (800/792-1000). Always ask for today's special, competitive, or version upgrades, or any other kind of discount; double-check that it is the latest version of the product; and determine whether you have the right operating system and hardware resources for the product.

With the proliferation of titles that run only on Windows 95, the platfonn issue is getting more confusing. (For now, I'll still ignore the Windows NT platform, which has not yet made it to homes.) On many boxes you may see the Win 95 logo. Read the small print closely, as often it means that the CD-ROM was designed for Windows 95 but also runs under Win 3.1. But it may mean that the product in question will not run under Windows 3.1 at all. And in some cases it means that not all of the features are available for Windows 3.1 users. For example, Encarta World Atlas '97 runs only with Windows 95, while Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe runs on both platforms - but its new features, the collages and the panorama view images, are available only for Windows 95 users. On the Macintosh platform, System 7.1 is becoming a prerequisite. As usual, caveat emptor. Find out from the box or the ad the exact hardware and software requirements. If a title is available only for Windows 95 but not Win 3.1, or - at the other extreme - if the same disc runs on Macintoshes and on wrindows PCs (i.e., if it's a hybrid), I will specifically mention it. Otherwise, the assumption is that there is a separate disc for Macintosh and that the Windows 3.1 disc also runs under Windows 95.

And the Winners Are ...

In the general encyclopedia category, Microsoft and Grolier are a draw. Microsoft offers two releases for its impressive encyclopedia: Encarta '97 and Encarta '97 Deluxe. The latter is beyond our $50 price tag for first-time buyers, but you get two discs. The text is the same on both versions. It is the type and volume of multimedia and the hot links to Web sites that are extra on the deluxe version. The new types of multimedia elements (the collages and the 3-D panoramic view images that make you feel as if you were standing in the middle of, say, Times Square and turning around) don't run under Windows 3.1. The deluxe edition's higher price is well justified also by the fact that you get free download privileges for the spiffy Yearbook updates throughout the year.

While Encarta is good for anyone, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia '97 is meant for young and not-so-young adults. While there is no eye-popping breakthrough in the '97 edition, Grolier increased its fortes (beyond the respected textual content): the excellent maps (topical, geographical, political, and city maps), and the "interactivities" - combinations of slide shows and interactive animations. …

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