I got tired
just reading the title! But this handy DVD is
packed with reference tools including an encyclopaedia,
atlas, dictionary, thesaurus, translation dictionary,
quotations, statistics, virtual tours, photos, videos,
and much more.
encyclopaedia has over 68,000 articles. There are
over 26,000 photos and illustrations, over 400 videos and
animations, over 3,300 sound and music clips, links to
over 29,000 web sites, and 32 Discovery Channel
videos. The atlas includes over 1.8 million
At first, I
found the user interface a little quirky. When
Encarta loads, the main screen is dominated by the Visual
Browser, which is a spinning wheel of 120-odd cards
of various subjects from Aboriginal Australians to
World War I. As you move the mouse away from
the centre of the screen, the wheel spins faster.
Clicking a card returns a new spinning wheel with related
subtopics. Another click will jump you to the
actual material on that topic.
But it is
not very likely the topic you are interested in is one of
these initial 120 cards. I found the Visual
Browser somewhat more useful as I dug down into
articles. When accessing the Visual Browser
from within a topic, it brings up cards related to just
that topic. Me thinks Microsoft is experimenting
with a new user interface for locating information.
In my opinion, the jury is still out.
function is quite powerful, allowing you to search across
all content or just within selected sections. Each
line in the search results window has an icon indicating
the type of content, such as map, chart, picture, 3D
virtual tour, quotation, etc.
There are a
couple of things that annoy me about the search function.
results window cannot be resized, which is a bit
awkward. It does provide a tooltip with the full
text if you hover the mouse over a truncated line.
See the example search result of Frank Lloyd Wright
in the search on Architecture. It would be
nice to be able to adjust the width to avoid having to
move the mouse around to see complete lines.
think some of the search functions are broken. I
was looking for quotations by Yogi Berra, who had a
wonderful flair for unclear language. From the main
screen, I clicked on Quotations under Cool
Tools. Then, in the Find box, I typed Yogi
Berra. Encarta returned zero hits. I
tried Berra, Yogi with the same results.
instead did a search of all of Encarta for Yogi Berra
and jumped to the main entry, the Contents window
had various categories of information about the baseball
player. One section, labelled quotations,
contained 5 items, including "Baseball is ninety
percent mental. The other half is physical."
and "When you come to a fork in the road, take
it." It did not include one of my favourites,
"If the people don't want to come out to the
ballpark, nobody's going to stop them".
Dictionary Tools are really nice. The dictionary and
thesaurus seem to be quite comprehensive. If you
are unsure of the pronunciation, Encarta can speak out
words for you. Strangely, the Dictionary Tools
window is not resizable.
There is a
translation dictionary which can handle bi-directional,
single word translations between English and French,
Spanish, German, or Italian. It does a good job of
handling words with multiple meanings and therefore
the translation dictionary does not have the ability to
speak foreign words to help you with pronunciation.
Also, it cannot handle phrases or blocks of text, so it
will not replace my use of Google Translate.
Dictionary Tools are available from within Encarta as
well as from an icon in the system tray. I really
like the tray icon. This allows you to access these
tools quickly and easily while doing other work, such as
editing your magnum opus in Word. It would
be nice if Microsoft added an option to automatically
start the system tray icon for the Dictionary Tools when
Windows loads rather than when Encarta loads.
on country statistics is really cool. There are
many categories available and you can view things in a
variety of ways. For example, if you choose
population density, you can have a simple text chart of
all countries. You can sort the list alphabetically
or by population density. You can also call up a
globe with each country colour coded to show relative
population density. Hover the mouse over a country
and a graph at the bottom of the screen shows the ranking
for that particular country along with its specific
I am a map
junkie, so I was particularly interested in the atlas
section of Encarta. It is really fun and easy to
use. You can spin the globe around simply by clicking and
dragging. You can zoom in or out. You can pan
around. You can add pushpins and attach personal
notes to them. You can measure distances by
pointing and clicking. Encarta can display the
current latitude and longitude of the mouse
pointer. Maps can be displayed in a number of
styles, such as physical features, climate, languages,
tectonic, political, the world at night, etc. There
are even a whole bunch of historical maps.
has a surprising amount of detail. I zoomed in on
Ottawa and the map identified major streets such as
Bronson, Baseline, Carling, St. Laurent, and the
Queensway. Many points of interest were labelled
including universities, museums, major parks, Rideau Hall
and more. Considering there is this level of detail
world-wide, it is not too shabby.
the people don't want to come out to the
nobody's going to stop them".
week, Encarta comes out with updated content that can be
downloaded over the Internet. When I first ran the
update process, within a few minutes I had an additional
1,770 new and updated articles that had been released
over the past year.
electronic encyclopaedia is generally going to be more
up-to-date than a paper one, Encarta does have some
content that is out-of-date. For example, while
browsing the photos of Ottawa, I came across an image of
the American embassy. It was a shot of the old
embassy on Wellington.
is an image of the prime minister's residence at 24
Sussex. It appears to be a very old image, but the
information included with the image does not indicate the
age. In fact, few of the images have date
information. Most of those that do seem to be of
specific activities such as protests, celebrations and
clicked the option for web links about Ottawa, Encarta
jumped to the Web Center with the Encarta
Editors' Picks selected. While the entire
section contains just under 30,000 links, for Ottawa
there were only 17 links, some of which were only
marginally related to Ottawa, such as the HyperGrammar
site from the writing centre at the University of Ottawa
and a site on The Cambrian Explosion at the
Virtual Natural History Museum maintained by Carleton
University. From the Web Center, you can
also search Encarta.com, current events (which uses
MSNBC), periodicals (which uses HighBeam Research), or do
a general web search (which of course uses MSN Search)
Researcher is a very nifty tool that integrates into
Internet Explorer. It can be used to collect
information from anywhere within Encarta or on the Web
into a project. Source URLs are automatically
collected for Web information. Sections and notes
within sections may be easily re-arranged by dragging and
dropping. Information that has been collected can
be edited. Researcher can then build a
report, complete with source and bibliographic
information, in HTML, RTF, or Word format. Very slick.
many more aspects to Encarta. There is the homework
center, with tools such as advice on structuring
reports and literature guides. There are timelines
that lay out major milestones through the ages in a
linear fashion. There is the games center
with various quizzes and puzzles. 3D virtual tours
allow you to walk through locations such as Beamaris
Castle in Wales. Virtual flights allow you to
360-degree views allow you to look around the Taj Mahal
or the inside of the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal.
Encarta is a
powerful reference tool. It allows you to quickly
find information on almost any topic. The different
media types allow you to really explore topics.
There are lots of cross-references that can help you find
information related to the topic of interest. I
highly recommend Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD
other versions of Encarta that have less content and come
on CD-ROM rather than DVD. For a comparison of the
Reference Library 2004 DVD Plus is available around
town for about $80. As of this writing, Future Shop
had a $30 mail-in rebate, dropping the price to $50.
Windows 98/ME with 64MB RAM
Windows 2000/XP with 128MB
333MHz CPU (500Mhz
385MB disk space
2.5GB disk space to copy all
content to disk
800x600 video with 4MB video
Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD Plus
$80 from around town (Future Shop has a mail-in ebate of $30)
Originally published: June, 2004