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spacer all reviews > > > CD Encyclopedia software

Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 1999

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Ages 12 to adult

Rating Scale
5 = great,    1 = poor
Ease of Use

Encylopaedia Britannica 1999 Screen Shot System Requirements

standard PC / Mac Prices

multimedia PC / Mac Prices

Product Support

When purchasing a CD encyclopedia, potential buyers must first know that it will provide the information their families need for work and school. Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) did well with our three studentsí research trial questions, answering two them completely.

Using a natural language query -- "what is the difference between mitosis and meiosis?" -- EB came up with a clear answer on our first search. In an article on Cell Division, EB noted that mitosis produces two genetically identical daughter cells, whereas meiosis produces cells which each possess one-half the number of chromosomes of the original cell.

A keyword search for "liger tiglon" quickly led us to the information we were looking for -- the first syllable of each word defines the male parent of these hybrid offspring of lions and tigers.

EB didn't fare as well with our simple US history question seeking the number and names of previously impeached Federal officals. We found lots of bits and pieces of impeachment history in the British Empire, but nothing relevant to our question beyond mention of Andrew Johnson's impeachment and subsequent acquital, and Richard Nixon's resignation.

Ease of Install/Use
Encyclopaedia Britannica 1999 would win SuperKids' award for "most frustrating installation" -- if we gave such an award. We don't, but we're thinking about creating one!

Our installation experience began with the surprise discovery that the Multimedia version requires the user to have (or install) Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.01 browser. Turns out that the program runs in the browser, and makes use of certain IE 4.01-unique features. A neat idea, except that most people use some other browser, or browser version, to access the Internet. Our first inkling that we needed to install this browser came when this error message appeared during installation:

sample error message

The closest the package comes to telling potential buyers about the probable need to change browsers, is a tiny "includes IE 4.0" logo on the bottom of the box.

A phone call to EB's excellent technical support staff revealed a surprise: the "standard" edition of the program uses Netscape's browser, rather than Microsoft's, and runs on the Mac as well as all versions of Windows from 3.1 to NT. We thought that sounded worth trying out.

Not so fast. It turns out that running on a Mac requires that the user have MacOS 7.6 or newer -- even though the hardware requirements predate MacOS 7.0. Never mind, SuperKids testers were now on a mission. Would the program run on Windows 3.1 as claimed? To make a long story short, with only one more phone call to Technical Support, and the careful removal and reinstallation of roughly seventy Win32S files, and the installation of Netscape 4.03, and three reboots, we succeeded. However, we grade this as unacceptable for most users. Caveat emptor if you own an older Mac or PC, or use any browser other than IE 4.01.

Once installed, EB proved virtually identical in use to that of most Internet search engine sites, except that only one site was being searched -- the complete Encyclopedia Britannica. If you (or your child) are comfortable with that search paradigm, you will find EB very easy to use.

The search engine supports natural language and Boolean (AND, OR, NOT, ADJACENT) searches, as well as title and index searches of its 73,000 articles.

Although the program includes a nice atlas, it lacks some of the "homework helpers" the other CDs we reviewed include. Key among these is the ability to easily copy and paste appropriately footnoted text from the encyclopedia to a word processor of your choice. The standard version of EB has no tool to do this; the multimedia version includes the ability to attach notes to articles that appear as bookmarks/favorites in the browser.

Internet Connectivity
Like the other programs in this category, EB includes the ability to extend the breadth, depth, and currency of the CD by accessing additional information on the Internet. In many respects, EB makes this easier than the others, because the user is already in a browser. The only trick: if you access the Internet through an ISP, you must establish your dialup connection prior to starting EB. So plan ahead.

Best for... / Bottom-Line
Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 99 is a work-in-progress. It offers great content, and a solid search engine. If you've never been able to afford what is regarded as the world's greatest encyclopedia, this is the way to do it for high school students and above. However, installation is problematic, and if your child would like to easily export selections to a word processor, one of the other programs we reviewed would be a better fit.

See SuperKids' comparisons with other CD Encyclopedia software titles, and the Buyers Guide for current market prices of the standard PC / Mac versions or the multimedia PC-only version.

System Requirements
PC Multimedia Edition: Windows 95/98/NT 4.0, 75 MHz Pentium or faster, 80 MB free hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, 32 MB recommended, SVGA moniotr/display card, 800x600 256-color display, 4X or faster CD-ROM, printer and modem (recommended).

PC Standard Edition: Windows 3.1/95/98/NT 3.51 or later, 486/33 MHz or better, 16 MB free hard drive space, 8 MB RAM for Win3.1 -- 16MB for others, 256-color VGA display, Double-speed or faster CD-ROM, printer and modem (recommended).

Mac Standard Edition: System 7.6 or higher, 68040 or Power Mac, 20 MB free hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, 256-color SVGA display, Double-speed or faster CD-ROM, Modem and Internet connection (required for online features only).

Reviewed on:

  • Pentium90 with 32MB RAM and 2XCD
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