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Review CornerSoftware
Microsoft Encarta Reference Suite Deluxe 2001
Rating: Five Stars
The Bottom Line
This reliable and powerful reference tool will astound any user. It is not only easy to use, it is versatile, comprehensive, and will quickly become a staple in any family's software library.
Award of Excellence
Subject: Utilties/Reference  Brand: Microsoft
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Design  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
This extraordinary suite contains the following titles:
  • Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe is an interactive, multimedia encyclopedia.
  • Microsoft Encarta Interactive World Atlas is more than just maps – this contains detailed information about places in the world along with the people and animals that live there. Cultural and geographical information is included here.
  • Microsoft Encarta Africana allows users to explore and research the history, culture, and geography of Africa.
  • Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary includes a newly written English dictionary, thesaurus, quotations, computer dictionary, almanac, and quotations.
  • Microsoft Encarta Researcher assists users in the creation of reports by incorporating information from the program as well as Internet sources.

We consider Microsoft Encarta Reference Suite Deluxe 2001 the ultimate reference tool and believe that families will quickly regard this program as a staple in their software library – it can help with homework, report writing, and more.

At the heart of this suite, of course, is the Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2001. This interactive encyclopedia brings information to life with video, sounds, photos, illustrations, interactive media and animations. Whether you are simply browsing or you have something specific in mind, Encarta will not disappoint. It sports an easy-to-use interface and search function. Some interesting tools are featured, such as the Dynamic Timeline that allows users to not only explore history, but to create custom timelines that match their interests and a Homework Center that holds the program’s handy Encarta Researcher as well as a curriculum guide.

Finding information is easy – simply run a search on a topic of interest (and note that the Microsoft Natural Language Search feature is here) to bring up articles and media. Within these articles, you’ll find text as well as links to related content in the suite’s other programs and to relevant web sites on the Internet. If you simply want to browse the program’s content, you can use Encarta Explorer that contains handpicked articles and media.

Download new updates from the Internet on a monthly basis – all-new content is automatically integrated into the program. Using this program with an Internet connection is best, as its online tie-ins are numerous and greatly expand the program's value.

Everything writers need to enhance their work can be found in the World English Dictionary. Besides its quality content one of the best features of this program is its accessibility. While working in a Windows application or while on the Internet, QuickShelf is available, producing quick results without even having to start Encarta Dictionary. All of the offerings are well-integrated so that, for example, if you want to explore a word or phrase in detail, you can do a search on it and get thesaurus entries, definitions, quotes including the word or phrase, and articles. If you are simply looking for a quotation featuring the word or phrase in question, for example, you can search only the Quotations instead of the entire collection.

The Encarta Interactive World Atlas features cultural and geographical information about different areas of the world with multimedia components. Either navigate the detailed map of the world and click on the area of interest or use a Pinpointer text search tool to get to the information you need quickly. Special features include a map gallery, geography quiz, world compare (compare two countries and discover geographical standouts), statistical center, world tours, and virtual flights.

Encarta Africana allows users to explore the history, geography, and culture of Africa, as well as learn about people of African descent. Multimedia features include a library of Black America (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction by African-American authors), history timeline, music timeline, map of Africa, virtual tours, and topic treks – all of which incorporate exciting images and sounds.

Encarta Researcher is an invaluable tool for creating reports. Collect information from the Encarta program or from the Web and save it as notes in a project. This information can be organized using simple click-and-drag functions. All of this information can be saved as an html or Word file, and bibliography/footnote information is automatic!

Finding specific information on the Web can be, at best, a frustrating experience. Too often, kids and their parents are led astray when running Internet searches, are overwhelmed with information, and are in the position to question the validity of the information they do find. This program contains trustworthy, quick, and relevant information and includes handy links to pertinent websites as well. Additionally, it supports Internet searches with its Researcher report-writing tool. It even has a leg up on the criticism that Internet sources are more current with its obsolescence-busting feature of monthly downloadable updates (note that these montly downloads are available free until Dec. 31/2001).

For kids starting at about 4th grade (and for their parents who are helping them with homework and projects), this tool is invaluable. Entering keywords into the program’s search function is certainly easier then paging through hard-copy encyclopedias. Electronic encyclopedias have some clear benefits over their competitors -- namely hard-copy and online encyclopedias. With most set-ups, they provide information faster than both their online and away-from-the-computer counterparts, and have the advantage of multimedia and up to date content over books. Granted, the physicality of paging through hard-copy encyclopedias has its inherent sensory charm. And, it should be noted that those families that don’t have significant information needs might be content with either of these alternatives. However, the convenience, speed, and instant cross-referencing capabilities of electronic encyclopedias are undeniable.

Note that a DVD version of this suite is available that eliminates the annoyance of disk-swapping, contains more multimedia, and integrates all of the programs into one experience, making the additional cash outlay well worth it.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98/NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5 or later/2000 Professional/Me, a Pentium 133 processor, 32 Mb RAM for Win95/98/NT/Me, 64 MB for Win 2000 Professional, and 4X CD ROM. This title requires a whopping 215 MB of hard drive space, but if you intend to use the Copy to Hard Drive feature for the World English Dicitionary, you'll need an additional 125 MB; an additional 10 MB is required for Encarta Researcher. To use Encarta Researcher and the Interactive World Atlas, Internet Explorer 5.5 is required, which is included on the CD and requires an additional 45 MB. An Internet connection is recommended.

It doesn't hurt to read the printed manual and the help files on the disk to ensure effective use of the product. However, the interface is extremely intuitive, and many users can easily skip this process altogether.

Dollar Value
This package retails for $74.95 US, and will quickly be considered invaluable.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: November 2000