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CD Encyclopedia software
Potential encyclopedia buyers must know if the product they are considering will provide the information required to fill their families' needs. Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 99 succeeded in answering only one of our kidís research trial questions, however the answer is so delightfully complete, and the encyclopedia itself so amazingly thorough, that our testers raved about the product despite this shortcoming.
In searching for an answer to our middle school studentís question ("What is the difference between mitosis and meiosis?"), we began with a whole language search, using the programís "Natural Language" feature which allows a user to type in a question using complete (and proper) English. Although this seems like a nifty addition to the standard search options (searching alphabetically by topic, by category, or using Boolean operators) the result was basically the same. Any article that contains one or more of the words in our sentence was listed in the results screen. We decided to begin with the article on meiosis, and were delighted to not only find the answer to our question, but an animated video describing the process of meiosis in detail. Our teacher reviewers lauded this feature, "This is something I might use in my classroom as a teaching tool."
Unfortunately, Encarta 99 was unable to answer our other two trial questions. An article on impeachment was distressingly brief, not even touching on our high schoolerís U.S. history question ("How many federal officials have been impeached in U.S. history and how many were convicted?"), and searching for the words "liger" and/or "tigon" (for our elementary studentís "What is a liger, and how does it differ from a tigon?") was unsuccessful. Students needing an answer to either of these questions would need to try an alternate source.
In addition to content concerns, the prospective CD encyclopedia buyer must ask "Are the answers easy to find?" There is no greater frustration than being unable to access information that clearly exists.
The articles themselves are displayed full-screen with grey text on an off-white background. Text appears in a fairly thin, sans-serif font, causing some of our testers to complain that it was not as easily readable as it could be.
As mentioned above, Encarta 99 not only allows for the standard search options: category, media and specific word searches featuring the use of Boolean operators, it also includes a new "Natural Language" option. Our testers were not impressed by this feature and overwhelmingly felt that it was helpful only when the number of articles including the highlighted word or topic was so large that further refinement was necessary.
Additional features include a "Homework Center" with tools to make research projects interesting and successful, "Command and Control" voice technology for verbal finds and brief dictation, "Text-to-Speech" tools, a timeline, interactive collages, world maps, and even a multimedia "MindMaze" game.
SuperKidsí testers raved about the multimedia features in this program. Sidebars bring selected topics to life with historical documents, guest essays and first-hand accounts of events being scrutinized. The 360-Degree views and virtual tours are not to be missed. One tester reported: "The virtual tour of Alcatraz Penitentiary is awesome! My son used it in his high school report on prisons in America."
PC: Windows 95, 98 or Windows NT Workstation operating system 4.0 or later , Multimedia PC with a Pentium or faster cpu, 45 MB available hard drive space, 16 MB RAM for Windows 95 or 98,24 MB for Windows NT Workstation, Super VGA, 256-color monitor supporting 640x480 or higher resolution display, Double-speed or faster CD-ROM, 16-bit sound card. Additional needs: Research Organizer: 2 MB additional hard-disk space; Microsoft Natural Language: 40 MB additional hard-disk space; Encarta Speech Recognition: 15 MB additional available hard-disk space; Encarta Text-to-Speech: 17 MB additional hard-disk space.return to top of page
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