There was a time when all good homes had a row of books on a shelf that could be referred to whenever a question or homework topic arose. Technology condensed this to DVD form but now that we have the Internet and all the information we could ever need at our fingertips is there any need for such as product as the Encyclopaedia Britannica on disc?
On a practical level, the answer has to be yes. After all, the information on the Internet isn’t infallible and as no one is checking it, is it really right? Also, if you’re letting your child loose to look for research information, the information on this won’t lead them in to "adult specific" areas of the web.
Britannica has acknowledged the Internet has stolen some of its thunder and has reacted by changing the focus of the encyclopaedia, so this new version comes with the Britannica Workspace. This tool allows you to save off information, images and articles so gathering information for a project is easier to manage. There is a note taking function and you can bookmark pages, for future reference.
Another new addition is Great Minds, which is aimed at adult users and is biography notes from 2000 leading thinkers. These are interactive with a range of notes and media clips and bring what could potentially be dry subjects a little more to life.
As with previous versions you can scan the encyclopaedia as a whole or choose one of three modes, one for adults, a second for pre-teens and a final version for the under-10s. As you would expect content is tailored to each group and on a basic level works reasonably well. For instance, each age group has its own version of a word atlas, a dictionary, thesaurus and even a timeline of world events. The interface of each section suits the appropriate age group but it’s not as clean or intuitive as we’d like and certainly not as easy to use as rival Microsoft Encarta, for instance.
There is a helpdesk for students, which can help with topics. However, the focus of these feels far too American so won’t be applicable to most users. If there is information not covered on the disc, there are links to over 160,000 vetted online articles, which is a great help and certainly brings the encyclopaedia closer to an online tool.
Online encyclopaedias can be updated daily but a DVD can’t so Britannica supply this program with a year’s subscription to Britannica Online, so as long as you have an internet connection you can check for the latest changes.
Whatever your opinion of the information the Internet provides, if you have children looking to complete projects for school it pays to have one central body of information.
On this level, Encyclopaedia Britannica 2008 more than lives up to expectations as we found it easy to use and with the specific zones for different age groups, your child will get the information they need in an appropriate format.