Microsoft Student 2006

If your parents ever had any pretension to giving you a better education than they ever had, you’ll have grown up with a full range of encyclopaedias gathering dust on a shelf. Thankfully, those books can now fit onto a DVD and even better, they’re interactive so don’t come across as dry and boring.

Naturally, the main focus of this package is Microsoft Encarta 2006, which at one time was a standalone package but has been integrated here into a suite of tools to help children get the most from learning. With over 70,000 articles it’s as comprehensive as it needs to be. You do get the feeling that it’s aimed at secondary schools though, as some of the entries seem a little too overstated for younger users to use. As with other encyclopaedia, all entries are backed with linked articles along with a host of images and videos.

You’ll also find a World Atlas, which allows you to move around the planet and locate areas with ease. This feature definitely helps younger users get to grips with maps as you can change the visual look to suit your aims.

Once away from Encarta, you load the program up you’ll be presented with the Learning Essentials for Students page, which allows you to launch into anything from a simple report to a full homework assistant. What really impresses about the package are the number of tutorials and templates that are in place to help develop learning. The one problem that quickly arises is that many tasks link through to Microsoft Office, which doesn’t come with the package so you’ll need to own a copy to get the most from Student 2006.

Two sections in particular have been crafted to make learning easier. If your child is having difficulty getting to grips with foreign languages there is a slew of tools to help out. Rather than having to struggle with the application, it’s designed to help you, so you concentrate on getting to grips with learning French or Spanish, for example, without it getting in the way.

The same can also be said of the Mathematic tools, with a host of tutorials designed to aid maths and science. You get the feeling that Microsoft wants to add a touch of tools to the Mathematics section, as you can use an onscreen Graphing Calculator that can be skinned to reflect your own personality. Essentially, it’s there to help with maths and science classes and you can even set the graphing tool to illustrate in 3D mode - through any numbers at it and you’ll get instant results.

That’s not to see that the package will actually generate reports and homework for you. You’ll still need to put the effort into finding out the facts, but with its emphasis on search and assistance, it’ll help you children to help themselves.

Verdict

On the surface, the asking price of £60 is a bargain that is impossible to ignore but if you're really going to get the most from this package then you'll need to already be in possession of Office 2003 or be willing to spend the extra money to get a copy.