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Once again I have been asked to review Encarta, and this year Microsoft has already reached the 2005 edition. This year, the additions include Encarta Kids!, an online math tutor and more, so once again things have kept on improving. Here are some of the new features that have found their way into Encarta 2005:
Installation and Settings
Once again Encarta ships on a Single DVD, thankfully in an easy to store DVD box too, so you can dump the overly large cardboard box that contains the DVD box after you have installed it as it's a waste of space. You can either do a full install of the program which takes up about 4 GB of drive space, or just go for the option of installing the main files, this takes up around 200 MB of space and seems the best option; based on the assumption that you don't mind the DVD-ROM being in the drive all the time. Loading times of files are improved if it installed on the hard drive, but not enough to warrant the large space used.
Once more Encarta Reference Library 2005 is filled full of various documents, topics, illustrations, sounds, video, 3D views and more. This is the best DVD encyclopedia around, but I have to say yet again, does it actually add enough to the library when compared to the previous 2004 edition?
Well first we have the usual Internet connected content, this has once again been improved with the web center increasing in size thanks to more sites being added. Included yet again is an one year of Encarta.com access as well through your passport account, this also needs to be used to download the weekly updates that come out for improving articles, adding more content and just generally keeping Encarta up to date.
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 2005 has stayed the same as last year's release. For a start we have the visual browser in full effect spinning around the screen, we also have the remnants of the "Encarta Today" section which has gradually been improved with each release. All of these bits and pieces are updated via the Internet when you load up Encarta each time.
As previous users of Encarta will know, the reference library contains bucket loads of well written articles from entertainment to business. Each item that you click on is streamed directly off of the DVD, and when compared to some of the older versions of Encarta DVD, the articles load up quick every time; which include sound and video. Every article contains various additional bits and pieces such as photos, sounds, video footage, 360-Degree views, charts, and tours.
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 which come as one single download, 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. As I mentioned earlier, the web center has had a number of new sites added to it, and I assumed it would do each year.
Kids, Research & Homework Tools
In the new 2005 addition to the Encarta series, Microsoft has once again made some steady improvements to the already excellent homework and researcher side of Encarta. As usual there are some excellent pieces of information on how to write essays, poems, do research and more. With the dictionary and thesaurus still at hand, you can't go wrong with letting your child or yourself use Encarta for studying.
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. With so many interactive parts to Encarta I won't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the world around us.
The main new section that has been added to Encarta 2005 above all others is "Encarta Kids" and it is just that, for Kids. It uses large colorful icons that children love, has loads of pictures in place of the large amounts of text the regular Encarta has and is generally a good application for young kids to use and explore.
The Encarta 2005 Reference Suite Dictionary hasn't gone through any changes, it still has the translation tool which works 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 dictionary contains over 31,000 synonyms and antonyms. It's hard to say much more about the Encarta Dictionary each year, especially when there is little added to it, but overall it is a very useful tool, updated or not.
It is hard to go into all of the details that Encarta has to offer to you, it has excellent chart makers for students to use, live media, news and weather reports (which is spot on every time I check it here in the UK), it has the brilliant world Atlas which I never seem to go into detail with. The web center as I have mentioned in previous reviews contains lots of links to sites that have been reviewed by the Encarta editors. You also have the great 3-D and 2-D tours that have been with us over the last few years, but once again haven't had an overhaul like they really should do in this age of fantastic 3D graphics.
The only side to Encarta that annoys me a bit each time is the quality of the videos, we're using the DVD version of Encarta yet the videos are far too blocky which is a disappointment, if it is to save space then ok maybe that's a good thing, but I would still prefer improved video and audio than anything else as things have moved on in the video areas far more than anywhere else in the last couple of years thanks to the onset of DVD.
So again we have an excellent version of Encarta with enough improvements to have me recommending it to users of Encarta 2004 as well. If you have a child at school then it is well worth getting for them as there is a mass of information here and some excellent homework tools too. The addition of Encarta Kids! has given Microsoft access to another generation, and it works well, and once more I expect that to improve even further with next years release. The only downside has been the videos again, but I can look past these when you see the quality of the photos and the information that is here in Encarta 2005.