Encyclopaedia Britannica 2005 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD review

2.5 out of 5
£60

For

It fits onto one DVD

Against

Slow, sluggish and out of date

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has always had a good name, volume after volume of information enough to fill anyone’s bookshelf. If it wasn’t the main volumes there was the macropedia and if it wasn’t the macropedia then it was the yearly volumes capturing and instilling a year for all to know.

The DVD 2005 edition promises all those volumes in one disc. The premise sounds great - even better if your bookshelf is already starting to bow with other titles, yet with the internet now so widespread in homes - hey, you’re on this site aren’t you - can an institution like Britannica still keep ahead?

We opted for the full install in our tests meaning the need for the DVD would be no longer required, It’s a large install totalling 4Gb of your hard drive space.

The software, like a console game is broken down into three different ratings to access the information. You can either choose the full Encyclopaedia Britannica, a student library or an elementary library. All three areas cover roughly the same topics but in different ways. Type in “tulip” for example on the elementary search and it will give you a definition in just over 40 words, the student level in 281 and the Encyclopaedia Britannica level in just over 300. All three sections are accessible at any time via a tab system (similar to Amazon.com) on the top of the window.

Information is accessed via either searching via the search tool, an A-Z listing or subjects like geography, history or arts. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for an additional window will appear and the information will be displayed, as we’ve already mentioned depending on the area you are searching and the information available will depends on how much information is given and every article has a number of tools like print, copy or make notes. Admittedly once you’ve got the information you are after then the information that is provided is very good, and in true Britannica style great for schoolwork or essays.

Aside from searching the database the software offers supposedly more intriguing ways of accessing the data however we were disappointed with the relevance of these. One such element is the brainstormer and tries to allow you to access the data via links within the database yet for the most part the choices are very strange. Type in Independence Day and you get a list of Oscar award listings. Others return information that then doesn’t have any additional information with it, which isn’t very helpful.

Another option is using the Timeline feature, but again the information is so random that you feel very disappointed. According to it, the only music entry for 2004 was:

“OutKast wins three Grammys, including best album of the year, for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It is the first time that a rap album won the top award.”

Surely more than just this happened? Likewise we are dubious about the entry for Technology:

“Spam (unsolicited e-mail) is a growing problem, some experts predict it will soon overtake the volume of legitimate e-mail”

The final annoyance was the yearbooks, something which the Brittanica has in the past been good for, what annoyed us was the not the information included but rather the lack of information. The yearbooks have been going for some time, yet it seems with this software you can only go back as far as 1993.

Verdict

Overall we were very disappointed. The interface is clumsy, while the information is hard to extract. At no point does there seem to have been any effort to make this a seamless interactive experience, which isn't something you could accuse Microsoft of doing with Encarta. Worst still even though we opted for a full install the software was very slow to react to our requests. Now in most cases you could put this down to the machine, but this was tested on a G4 1.25Ghz Powerbook with 512Mb of memory and for a program that is really only about accessing a database we would expect it to be a lot quicker.

For the child doing a school project the application does allow them to gain access to a wealth of information within a secure environment away from the web. What's more you should be able to trust the information given. But take it away from history and the software starts to fail. Already elements of this version are out of date. Its coverage on the latest Olympics understandably is non-existent. But more worryingly some of its video footage is blatantly out of date - an example being a video of Trafalgar Square without a pedestrianised North side and looking decidedly old judging by the fashion of people in the footage.

Where Britannica was strong was providing a wealth of information in your home, the problem now is that wealth of information can be found on the internet very easily from other sources and Britannica hasn't fought back hard enough. Yes there are links to stories on the Britannica website, but then if that is the case why would you want to invest in the software, why not simply register with the website in the first place and cut out the disk-based middle-man. Take this online and keep it up to date and you've got a package we might like, put it on a disk and we're not that pleased.