SuperKids Educational Software Review. The parents' and teachers' guide to educational software
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Reviews of CD Encyclopedia Software

The Big Picture and The Trial

SuperKids' review teams looked at three traditional CD Encyclopedia packages, plus an all-in-one-CD reference library, and a new encyclopedia for younger children for this ratings comparison. We also took a quick look at two alternatives to CD encyclopedia: the traditional paper model, and the World Wide Web.

To evaluate the softwares' content and ease of use, we asked our kids reviewers to suggest a list of four questions they might go to the encyclopedia for, for answers. Their list:

  1. Why do leaves fall off trees in the autumn?
  2. Why does hair turn gray as we age?
  3. Why did some buried organic materials become coal, while others became oil?
  4. How did the ancient Greeks and Romans make such perfectly cylindrical pillars?
Our findings might surprise you. We also took a look at two polar extremes when it comes to reference material: what some people think of as a dinosaur, a tradional print encyclopedia, World Book; and what some people refer to as the 21st century version of the Library at Alexandria, the World Wide Web.

* * *

Take a look at the ratings table below, click on the titles of the software you are interested in to see a complete review, or click on "PC" or "Mac" in the Buyers Guide column to see current market prices in our Buyers Guide.

Finally, don't forget to look below the table to see the results of our encyclopedia test.

SuperKids Ratings Ratings Key
Title Publisher Education
Ease of Use Buyers Guide
(Price Survey)
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1997 Compton's
New Media
* * * * * * * * * * * * * PC

Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia 1997 Grolier Interactive * * * * * * * * * * * * * PC
Encarta 97 Microsoft * * * * * * * * * PC
Student Reference Library Mindscape * * * * * * * * PC

The Ultimate Children's Encyclopedia The Learning Company * * * * * * * * * * * PC

World Book Encyclopedia
[print version]
World Book * * * * * * * * * * * *

World Wide Web
[via Excite!]

* * * * * * * * * * *

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The Trial

The two most important factors in determining an encyclopedia's value are its content, and the ease with which users can find the content they are looking for.

Content. We asked our kids reviewers to give us four examples of recent problems where they could have turned to an encyclopedia for help, producing these test searches:

Ease of Use. SuperKids asked our kids reviewers to give these titles a test run. Their conclusion: the top three were reasonably easy to use, and selection of a favorite among them was a matter of personal preference, rather than superior design. Here are several key differences you may want to consider.

Comptons: Easy to install, even with limited disk drive space. CIE 97 offers a full range of search options, including specific word and word combinations on the full text of all articles.

Microsoft: Difficult to install on PC's running Windows 3.1 or 3.11, or on Macs with only 8MB of memory. Once installed, Encarta provides the ability to do searches for specific words and word combinations in the complete text of all articles.

Groliers: Easy to install on a Mac or a PC. Minimal install requires 10MB of hard drive space. Searches can be easily performed on titles or within the full text of all articles.

Mindscape: Easy to install on a PC, although requires over 6MB of hard drive space. Searches are awkward to perform because user must select which resources to search, and which of many different search techniques to use. Lack of Boolean "near" operator produced very broad search results.

Ultimate Children's: Easy to install. Easy to search, but can be confusing or frustrating to a young child when answers are not found.

[paper] World Book: No installation required! However, a large shelf is desirable, within easy reach of all potential visitors. Searching can require multiple trips to the bookshelf. Cost and ability to remain current are the biggest obstacles here.

The WWW (using Excite!): If you already have a web browser installed and an account with an Internet service provider that gives you access to the World Wide Web, a search engine like Excite! is similar to those in the CD encyclopedia we reviewed. However, because of the vast size of the WWW, and the nearly limitless number of sources, accuracy -- as well as availability when you need it -- is inconsistent.

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