This year, SuperKids' review teams looked at five traditional CD Encyclopedia packages. For comparison purposes, we also took a quick look at a potential alternative to CD encyclopedia -- the World Wide Web.
To evaluate the programs' content and ease of use, we asked our kids reviewers to suggest a list of three questions for which they might turn to the encyclopedia for answers. Their list:
What is the difference between mitosis and meiosis?
How many Federal officials have been impeached in US history, and how many were convicted?
What is a liger and how does it differ from a tigon?
Our recommendation? Each of the programs we reviewed would make an excellent reference tool. But some are better suited for certain users -- and certain computers.
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1999 only found one complete answer in our three question trial. Nonetheless, content scope is impressive, and generally well-suited for junior high-school level and above. Background color may cause some difficulty in reading. Usability declined from predecessor version. Windows 95/98 only.
Encarta 99 found information helpful to our kids' research trial on only one of our three questions. What differentiates Encarta is the level of detail provided, and the writing level -- Encarta is better suited for older users. Mac and Windows 3.1 users, however, are out of luck - Encarta 99 is for Win95/Win98/NT only.
Encyclopaedia Britannica 1999 found answers to two of our three questions. Very limited report writing tools. The deluxe multimedia version only runs on Windows 95/98, requires the installation of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.01 browser for use, even if never online, and takes 80MB of hard drive space. The standard version additionally runs on Windows 3.1, NT and the Mac -- but requires Netscape's 4.03 browser.
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1999 correctly answered two out of our three trial questions, one with the help of a link to the Internet. Grolier offers a solid search engine and functional display layout. Generally provides less detail than Encarta or Britannica, but in language more suitable for middle school and above students. Available for Windows 3.1/95/98/NT and the Mac.
World Book 1999 gave the broadest coverage, providing at least some information on all three research questions. The level of detail and writing is most appropriate for grade school students and above. New in 1999 is the availability of a version for the Mac, in addition to one for Win95/98/NT.
We also took a look at what some parents might consider as an alternative to purchasing an encyclopedia -- the World Wide Web.
The World Wide Web, searched using the Excite! search engine, provided answers to all three questions. To be fair, however, our test was done by one of SuperKids' editors, who is an experienced Web surfer and searcher.