Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The 1997 Editions of General Interest Encyclopedias

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The 1997 Editions of General Interest Encyclopedias

Article excerpt

The 1997 editions of three of the four general interest encyclopedias that I reviewed in detail in last year's April issue of Computers in Libraries are here. The only one not available in time for my deadline was World Book, Inc.'s encyclopedia, which was recently sold to IBM and should appear in a new edition in late spring.

These CD-ROM encyclopedias are clearly selling very well, if the way the publishers keep lowering their prices is any indication. While new users can buy the 1997 editions of Microsoft Encarta, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, and Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for about $50-$60, those who update from the 1996 editions get them for about $30. And those who take advantage of the publishers' "competitive upgrading" offers--i.e., those who switch from one product to a competing product--may also get special treatment. Even at full price, these encyclopedias represent exceptionally good value. I've had a good look at the new editions, so I'll discuss their new features and remaining shortcomings here. For more detail about each product as a whole, see my April 1996 CIL story.

Microsoft Encarta '97

Microsoft's most obvious novelty is that it released two versions of Encarta, a standard and a deluxe edition. The latter costs only about $25 more than the former and is the better deal--provided you're running Windows 95. The reason is that the deluxe edition has two new types of multimedia files that Windows 3.1 does not support. It also has nearly twice as many images (14,000) as the standard edition, 10 percent more audio clips (2,300), more videos (68 vs. 27), 5,000 Web links (vs. 2,000), and a few more charts and maps.

Of course, it also has a second disc so that it can accommodate all the extra multimedia. For those with a single CD-ROM drive, the swapping of the discs is well implemented, and Microsoft has included the text of the entire encyclopedia on both discs to reduce the need for swapping. Users of the deluxe edition get free monthly online updates, which are nicely integrated with the CD-ROM content. For others, the updates cost $20, so this boosts the value of the deluxe edition even higher.

The two new types of multimedia are the collages and the panoramic pictures. The collages are more than passive slide shows. They are interactive presentations covering 20 major topics, ranging from the most recent Summer Olympics to the history of television to coral reefs. Each collage consists of a series of images. Clicking on an image displays an interesting story and occasionally produces a short sound clip. For example, in the Summer Olympics collage there are pictures of famous Olympians and events. Clicking on the jubilant Dream Team, you learn why Michael Jordan wore the American flag in a sort of Indian sari fashion. (It was to cover the Reebok logo on his Olympic uniform.) Articles in the encyclopedia related to Jordan, the Olympics, and basketball are hotlinked from this collage. The multimedia and editorial content of the collages is excellent and is certain to increase the amount of time spent using Encarta.

Panoramic photographs are the other novel feature in Encarta Deluxe. Users can turn through a full 360-degree panoramic view from a point where photographs were taken and then "fused." The speed of the "turn" can be changed as you pan around. Most of the 32 panoramic pictures are very interesting, especially those that really offer a wide vista. I particularly enjoyed "looking around" Saint Peter's Square in Rome, the Grand Canyon, the Esztergom lookout near Budapest, and Times Square in New York. The one of Lombard Street in San Francisco didn't work as well, but the idea has great potential.

To accommodate the new media formats and the additional resources including Web links and online updates, the filtering options for Encarta's search screen have been revised (Figure 1).

One of my few wishes for improvement to the '97 Encarta has to do with cross-references. …

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