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Another year - another version of Encarta hits the stores. It must be getting harder for Microsoft to come up with ideas on how to improve on each version, the most recent additions to the series have been aiming to add better internet options and news feeds, this latest version (2003) aims to improve on those features as well as adding new literature guides, chart makers, homework starters and translation dictionaries for students to improve their coursework or homework. Here is a run down of the latest features:
As the most complete reference resource from Encarta, Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003 continues Microsoft's tradition as a leader of integrating technology and education. Encarta Reference Library 2003 is a student reference resource on DVD-ROM that combines current and complete information with innovative powerful homework tools that allow students to spend less time searching and more time learning. Encarta integrates leading vast multimedia reference content with the best of the Internet, delivering a rich variety of trusted information all in one place. Its collection of up-to-date content, combined with its innovative homework tools, makes Encarta a powerful source for learning and exploration at home and in school.
Installation and Settings
The Encarta Reference Library 2003 usually comes on 5 CD's, which is identical to last years release. With the DVD version there is no need to spend time swapping around the CD's when you are searching for information. Encarta again only has a couple of different installation choices for you to pick from compared to the numerous ones with previous releases. You can also choose to copy the whole of the Encarta DVD to your hard drive if you feel your can spare 4.5 GB's of space but does allow you to use it without the DVD in the drive! Installing the Encarta 2003 DVD can take a while but it installed without any problems.
There is very little to improve installation wise over the previous versions, yet again there are no problems with the installation what so ever and that is after installing it on 3 different PC's here at ActiveWin.
I have decided to break the review down into separate components just like Encarta itself is. I will begin with the Encarta Reference Library 2003. Encarta Reference Library is filled full of documents, topics, accounts, illustrations, sounds, videos and 360 Degree views, everything you would want from a computer encyclopedia. This latest release of Encarta yet again increases the amount of information you can gain access to, both via the DVD and via the internet.
The main noticeable change the first time you load up Encarta Reference Library is that the colour and style of the program has been changed, it is a simple change - the basic design looks a bit brighter than it did before, the navigation icons have also been improved in looks. For those of you who have not seen the layout and design of Encarta I will explain the basic layout for you. The basic design is similar to that of the old MSN that Microsoft used to use a long time ago, the borders and menus are in black and gray, while the main area you read, view articles, images etc from changes color depending on what you are reading, although it is usually a white background. At the top of the Encarta layout are the main menus, they include the following:
The main area from which you search from is called "Find" once you click on this option via the menu (the first time you load Encarta it is already on the side for you), a bar appears on the left hand side of the layout, from here you can enter letters/words to find items you are looking for. You can also search by type of information, this way you can filter out items and only choose a certain type such as an image or some video footage, something that is very useful and can be accessed via the "Advanced Search" feature at the bottom of the panel. With the new DVD version you can also search through various categories of the Library such as Africana, Religion etc or the dictionary from just one place.
The main homepage in Encarta Reference Library 2003 has also been improved slightly over last years release. While the basics of the previous "Encarta Today" is still apparent, we have a new "What's Inside" table on the right hand side of the screen and a stylish three circles which contain photos and links to various articles in Encarta Reference Library 2003. All of these bits and pieces are updated via the internet when you load up Encarta each time. The main reason it is an improvement is because the previous version looked a little empty while the addition of the new links on the right side fills it up a bit more.
As previous users of Encarta will know, the reference library contains bucket loads of well written articles from entertainment to business details, each item that you click on is streamed directly off of the DVD, the 2002 edition seemed a little slow in this respect, but I can thankfully say that the 2003 Reference Library really flies off of the DVD just like the old CD-ROM versions used to. Every article contains various additional bits and pieces such as photos, sounds, video footage, 360-Degree views, charts, and tours.
The 3D tours that were added in the last release of Encarta have been given a very slight update in graphical terms and speed, although this is hardly noticeable and they are just as good as they were last time round,They are no where near as detailed as the photo realistic 2D versions are, but these offer music from the time period and setting along with animations and some great lighting (especially in the mummy tombs), and again they give a very good feeling of "being there". But once again a powerful PC is needed to get them running at the best speed possible.
The other features improved over the last release are weather and news reports that are integrated with the various cities that you look up in Encarta Reference Library. I searched for my home town of Cambridge, UK and went to the main section for it and low and behold it showed up the weather for my area. We also get internet integration via news stories that are happening in the various cities you look up, such as New York etc. These are all instantly updated when you visit the article on the DVD if you have your internet connection on. Finally we have links to local radios stations for the various locations in Encarta Reference Library 2003, such as the U.K and America.
So what else do we have, well all of the Africana articles are still blended in with the rest of the program, which is a good thing and easy to get to if you want to read them. The excellent library of black America is still here too. One part missing this time round is Factfinder - I thought it was quite useful when it was in the last release of Encarta - but for whatever reason, it is no where to be found in Encarta 2003.
Updating Encarta & Web Stuff
Next we have the "Update Encarta" option. This means you can keep your version of Encarta up to date with the latest articles and web links regularly. There are about 3/4 updates per week, these update articles and add new ones, while also adding a number of new "Web Center" links for you to go through. The Encarta web center has links from all over the world, these are all checked first by people in the know to make sure that all the information is valid and correct (well almost).
Encarta Researcher helps you to quickly find, collect, and organize information so you can write first-rate reports. With Encarta Researcher, you can:
They are very useful tools for those who have children still at school or anyone studying at college. Or those who want to write articles for websites! What you do is if you find an article you like in Encarta you can either drag over the specific text you want to put into your work or add the whole page by clicking on "Add to Researcher". It adds all of the text you want and informs you what the source of the writing is. You can then later save your work as a document or a web page.
The Encarta 2003 Reference Suite Dictionary is updated again, with more tools including for the first time a translation dictionary. The translation tool works very well, and is a great tool for those wanting to know the most basic of terms, words and sayings for difference languages. The computer dictionary from a couple of years ago is still not back, shame, I quite liked that one.
There is so much information here, it will take years to go through it all, it is all really well detailed, full of links and a really great read. Yet again the only downside in Encarta 2003 Reference Library is the fact that a lot of the images and videos are a rehash of the old ones, but in saying that - they can't really be improved on. If you have a DVD-ROM drive and you want an encyclopedia - get this one.