Britannica offers a lightweight package which is perfect for heavyweight research.
A good thing about PCs is that you don't have to lug them around the library, something which also means that the days of the reference book are behind us too.
Many people can now add a comprehensive reference library to their home by simply buying a CDRom or DVDRom from one of the established encyclopaedia publishers. The granddaddy of them all is Britannica.
Britannica has been making encyclopaedias since 1768 but computer versions have only been available in the last decade. The most recent edition, Britannica 2002, is without doubt second to none as an invaluable study tool. In some ways it leaves Microsoft's Encarta standing.
It doesn't have the intuitive and navigational excellence of Encarta, nor some of its nicer touches such as the vast visual and interactive content. So if you believe a picture is worth a thousand words, Britannica's 5,274 images can't compete with Encarta's 19,000 plus.
That said, Encarta just cannot compete with the volume, level and depth of information offered by Britannica. The benefits of multimedia, media clips and panoramic tours are ignored. Users can browse through the world's ecosystems or explore the human body.
While not bad, we found these bitty and a tad disappointing. The World Atlas again doesn't have some of the nicer touches offered by Encarta but is still extremely informative.
The information-first approach of Britannica suggests it is aimed at a different audience to Encarta. At £70, it's cheaper than the Encarta DVDRom equivalent. It's a serious piece of software that should appeal more to students than families looking for an interactive saunter through history.
The DVDRom includes all 32 volumes found in print, as well as a dictionary and world atlas. This means that Britannica has entries on practically everything in existence. The effort saved on not including huge amounts of interactive content has gone into the search facility.
Britannica is designed like a website with an intelligent search engine and homepage. From this, three main ways of accessing this treasure trove of information are offered: a normal search; an A-Z of Britannica; and a Knowledge Navigator.
These are housed within the same pop-up window with tabs at the top, so users can search once and click between the results on all three of these interfaces. Not only are the articles and entries themselves authoritative, well written and interesting, there are some 613,000 internal hyperlinks which cross-reference the content to Britannica's website and 300,000 links to external websites.
These links have been painstakingly hand edited and add a whole new depth of exploration. Importantly, Britannica has included the ability to add quarterly updates so that content is always topical.
Apart from the wealth of information, one feature we particularly liked was the ability to organise your research and produce very professional reports and study materials simply by typing notes, entering bookmarks and capturing pictures which can then be formatted into a report.
If you favour hard facts over polished presentation, Britannica is definitely the way to go.
Contact: Britannica 0845 075 7000 www.britannica.co.uk
Also consider: Microsoft Encarta 2002 Reference Library.
A vast resource that's hard to fault. £100. Excellent. Computeractive issue 96.
Easy to navigate with clear instructions and tools throughout, this is a superb package for the serious student.
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