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Microsoft Embraces the Web - Encarta
 Premium 2006

Word Count:

Microsoft was long derided by its c
ritics for having failed to fully g
rasp the Internet revolution. It wa
s late in developing Net technologi
es such as a proprietary search eng
ine and in coping with security thr
eats propagated through the Web.

Article Body:
Microsoft was long derided by its c
ritics for having failed to fully g
rasp the Internet revolution. It wa
s late in developing Net technologi
es such as a proprietary search eng
ine and in coping with security thr
eats propagated through the Web.

Not any more. Earlier this year MSN
  rolled out a great search engine a
nd now Microsoft has fundamentally
revamped its reference products. By
  committing itself to this overhaul
, Microsoft embraced reality: nine
out of ten children (between the ag
es of 5 and 17) use computers (USA
figures) - and 85% of these get the
ir information online.

The Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006
is a breathtaking resource. It cate
rs effectively (and, at $50, afford
ably) to the educational needs of e
veryone in the family, from childre
n as young as 7 or 8 years old to a
dults who seek concise answers to t
heir queries. It is fun-filled, int
eractive, and colorful.

The 2006 Encarta's User Interface i
s far less cluttered than in previo
us editions. Content is arranged by
 topics and then by relevancy and m
edium. Add to this the Encarta's Vi
sual Browser and you get only relev
ant data in response to your querie
s. The Encarta Search Bar, which wa
s integrated into the product two y
ears ago, and is resident in the Ta
sk Pane even when Encarta is closed
, enables users to search any part
of the Encarta application (encyclo
pedia, dictionary, thesaurus, etc).

The Encarta's new Web Companion is
a (giant) step in the right directi
on. It obtains search results from
all the major search engines withou
t launching any additional applicat
ions (like a browser). Content from
 both the Encarta and the Web is pr
esented side by side. This augmenta
tion explicitly adopts the Internet
 and incorporates it as an importan
t source of reference.

It may raise important and interest
ing issues of intellectual property
, though. Web content copyright-hol
ders may demand royalties from Micr
osoft for the use it makes of their
  wares in its commercial products.

Encarta would do well to also integ
rate with new desktop search tools
from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and
others. Users should be able to sea
mlessly access content from all ove
r - their desktop, their encycloped
ias, and the Web - using a single,
intuitive interface.
The Encarta Premium includes a dict
ionary, thesaurus, chart maker, sea
rchable index of quotations, games,
 32 Discovery Channel videos, 25,00
0 photos and illustrations, 2800 so
und and audio clips, hundreds of ma
ps and tables, and 400 videos and a
nimations. It incorporates numerous
 third-party texts and visuals (inc
luding hundreds of newspaper articl
es and a plethora of Scientific Ame
rican features).

The Encarta is augmented by weekly
or bi-weekly updates and the featur
e-rich online MSN Encarta Premium w
ith its Homework Help offerings. Un
fortunately, the Encarta still cond
itions some of its functions - nota
bly its research tools and updates
- on registration with its Plus Clu

The Encarta is the most comprehensi
ve, PC-orientated reference experie
nce there is. No wonder it has an a
ll-pervasive hold on and ubiquitous
 penetration of the child-to-young
adult markets. Particularly enchant
ing is the Encarta Kids interface -
 an area replete with interactive q
uizzes, pictures, large icons, hund
reds of articles, and links to the
full version of the Encarta. A veri
table and colorful sandbox. Those k
ids are going to get addicted to th
e Encarta, that's for sure!

Encarta actively encourages fun-fil
led browsing. It is a riot of color
s, sidebars, videos, audio clips, p
hotos, embedded links, literature,
Web resources, and quizzes. It is a
 product of the age of mass communi
cation, a desktop extension of tele
vision and the Internet.

Inevitably, in such a mammoth under
taking, not everything is peachy. A
 few gripes:

Regrettably, installation is not as
 easy as before. The Encarta 2006 m
akes use of Microsoft's .Net techno
logy. As most home computers lack i
t, the installer insists on adding
it to the anyhow bloated Windows Op
erating System. There is worse to c
ome: the .Net version installed by
Encarta 2006 is plagued with securi
ty holes and vulnerabilities. Users
 have to download service packs and
 patches from Windows Update if the
y do not wish to run the risk of ha
ving their computers compromised by

Fully installed, the Encarta Premiu
m 2006 gobbles up more than 3.5 Gb.
 That's a lot - even in an age of e
ver cheaper storage. Most homestead
s still sport PCs with 20-40 Gb har
d disks. This makes the Encarta les
s suitable for installation on olde
r PCs and on many laptops. Despite
the hype, relatively few users poss
ess DVD drives (but those who do, f
ind the entire encyclopedia availab
le on one DVD).

The Encarta DVD 3-D tours have impr
oved but they still hog computer re
sources and are essentially non-int
eractive. Is it worth the investmen
t and the risk to the stability and
 performance of the user's computer?

The Encarta tries to cater to the n
eeds of challenged users, such as t
he visually-impaired - but is still
 far from doing a good job of it.
The atlas, dictionary, and thesauru
s incorporated in the Encarta are o
utdated. Why not use a more current
 - and dynamically updated - offeri
ng? What about dictionaries for spe
cialty terms (medical or computer g
lossaries, for instance)? The Encar
ta's New English Dictionary dropped
 a glossary of computer terms it us
ed to include back in 2001. All's t
he pity.

But that's it. Encarta is a must-bu
y (especially if you have children)
. The Encarta is the best value for
  money around and significantly enh
ances you access to knowledge and w
isdom accumulated over centuries al
l over the world. The amount and qu
ality of content squeezed into a $5
0 package (before rebate) defies be
lief. I am a 44 years old adult but
  when I received my Encarta Premium
  2006, I was once more a child in a
  land of wonders. How much is such
an experience worth to you?

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