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CD Encyclopedia Software Reviews

Encarta 97 Deluxe
by Microsoft

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other CD Encyclopedia, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of the PC and Mac versions.

Reviewed on:
Encarta 97 Screen Shot PowerMac 6100/60 with 8MB and 2XCD
Pentium90 with 24MB and a 2XCD

According to Encarta 97, an encyclopedia is "a comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects". We looked up four questions our kids reviewers suggested as typical problems they would head to the encyclopedia to research. Encarta 97 came up with a good answer for one, a partial for another, and drew a blank on the other two.

Encarta correctly answered a natural science question from a first grader ("Why do leaves fall off trees"), and partially answered a physical science question from a senior high student ("Why do some buried organic materials become coal, while others turn into oil?").

But Encarta struck out on two others: a biology question from an eighth grader ("Why does hair turn gray?"); and a history question that stumped all the programs we reviewed ("How did the ancient Greeks make perfectly cylindrical pillars?").

Internet Connectivity
After first encouraging the user to install the provided down-rev version (2.0) of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Encarta allows the user to identify any pre-installed browser and use that for accessing the Internet features of the program, including: free, downloadable monthly updates; links to the World Wide Web; and the subscription-based Microsoft On-line Library.

We successfully updated our copy of Encarta, at a rate of about 5 minutes per month of updates downloaded. This is a painless procedure, if you remember to do it once a month.

Ease of Use
How easy was it for our testers to find the answers? Encarta offers users multiple search methods and sources. Basic searching begins with title searches and can easily be expanded to full-text searches for the occurrence of single words or combinations of words. A "Search Wizard" can help, if the user is unfamiliar with search techniques. In addition to searching the encyclopedia, the user may search downloaded monthly updates, links to the World Wide Web, or a $6.95 per month subscription service called the Microsoft On-line Library.

Our reviewers found keyword searches relatively simple to perform, "no more difficult than going to the shelf and looking something up in a conventional encyclopedia." However one parent noted that she wished "it was easier to find the keywords in the articles once they were identified."

Ease of Installation
The last time we looked at Encarta, it was one of the easiest to install programs in this category. Unfortunately, that is no longer true for owners of machines running Windows 3.1, or Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

Once installed, clicking on the Encarta 97 icon produced an error message, warning the user of a software conflict between Encarta and something it called "Intellitype for the Microsoft Natural Keyboard." It told us that we must uninstall this software for Encarta to run. Since our reviewers weren't using the offending keyboard, they consulted the accompanying manual. No mention here of this problem.

An 8 minute phone call to Microsoft's telephone support line (we note that this is *not* a toll free call), led us to a recorded answer to a "frequently asked question" stating that Encarta 97 users with Windows 3.1 or 3.11 would have to remove a command from their win.ini file, then restart Windows. Consulting Microsoft's website produced different instructions. Here, the instructions tell users that they should download a bugfix patch tape that will fix the problem by temporarily removing the instruction from win.ini every time the user fires up Encarta 97. Unfortunately, to return the user's system to it's previous condition, the user must restart Windows! We chose the patch tape solution, and it successfully enabled our use of Encarta.

Nonetheless, we believe that home users should not be expected to install bug fixes for known problems between products produced by the same company. Because the conflict was between two Microsoft-produced products, we rate ease of installation as unacceptable for Windows 3.1 and 3.11 users.

Encarta continues to offer the cleanest format of any of the CD encyclopedia we have reviewed. The articles it contains are detailed and well-written, and provide information suitable for high school and college students. If, however, you are considering purchase of this program for use on a computer running Windows 3.1 or 3.11, we would recommend waiting for a version that doesn't have the installation bug we encountered.

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other CD Encyclopedia, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of the PC and Mac versions.

Children's Software System Requirements


Operating System Windows 3.1, Win95, Windows NT System 7.1 or later
CPU Type and Speed 486DX/33 or faster 68030/25 or faster
Hard Drive Space 21MB for Windows 3.1; 14 for Win95 or NT 16MB
Memory (RAM) 8MB for Windows 3.1 or Win95; 12MB for NT 8MB
Graphics SVGA 256 color 640x480x256 color
CD-ROM Speed 2X or faster 2X or faster
Audio Windows compatible sound card
Other Needs local bus video with 1MB VRAM;
optional - modem and Internet access

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