This year, SuperKids' review teams looked at four 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 kid reviewers to suggest a list of three questions for which they might turn to the encyclopedia for answers. Their list:
How does a battery work?
What is the Dow Jones Average, and what companies are included?
What is the deepest spot in the ocean, and who were the first explorers to reach it?
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 Encyclopedia 2000 Deluxe found two and one-half answers in our three question trial. Nonetheless, content scope is impressive, and generally well-suited for junior high-school level and above. Some usability issues, like unintegrated updates, pop-up windows, no forward button. Windows 95/98 only.
Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2000 found answers to all three of our kids' research trial questions, with some help from an Encarta-supplied web link. Encarta now clearly provides the most well-designed user interface -- a combination of intutitive navigation and basic look-and-feel. The writing level is better suited for older users. Mac and Windows 3.1 users, however, are out of luck - Encarta 2000 is for Win95/Win98/NT only.
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 2000 Deluxe correctly answered all three of our trial questions, albeit with significant hunting, and one out-of-date answer. Grolier offers a solid search engine and functional display layout. Generally provides less detail than Encarta, but in language more suitable for middle school and above students. If you have a Mac, and want a 2000 encyclopedia, this is the one for you. Available for Windows 3.1/95/98/NT and the Mac.
World Book Millennium 2000 Deluxe Edition found answers to two and one-half of our trial questions, missing a list of companies that make up the Dow. The level of detail and writing is most appropriate for grade school students and above. Available 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 Ask Jeeves natural language 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.