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(Pocket-lint) - When we were young, Encyclopaedia Britannica used to be the be-all-and-end-all to our information needs - bound in leather and updated every five to six years the books, which spanned some 20 or so volumes would be a meaty component to any bookshelf. Now with the advent of the multimedia computer the same information can fit onto one DVD.

While Encyclopaedia's multimedia extravaganza is still a good product to invest in, Microsoft are hoping that its Encarta series will rule the roost. Teaming up with the Times of London and the Discovery Channel the aim is to offer a rich archive from all sectors of the media.

Encarta 2004 is all about options and the first one you'll have is whether to opt for full install or work from the four CD-ROMs in the box. Where possible we would opt for the first option as testing on the second proved lengthy as the need to change the discs constantly broke our rhythm

Aimed squarely at kids, this year's version includes a new visual selector and updated information.

The visual selector has been styled to supposedly suggest relationships between subjects within the encyclopaedia, for example, linking the Seven Wonders of the World to the pyramids at Giza to Egyptology to Henry Carter to England in one foul swoop. Think of it as the Kevin Bacon game of Knowledge. Of course this is just another way to spruce up content that already exists, but the results it turns up are so interesting that you can easy worm your way through the program without realising.

Virtually all moments of our colourful history has been covered and the information is given in short sharp bursts. As with previous editions, this program is presented as a starting point, not the complete story and the lengths of the entries show this. Some entries have the added bonus of cuttings from The Times newspaper archive and a select few (13 to be precise) have footage from the Discovery Channel.

As we mentioned earlier this package is aimed at kids and homework - there is even a homework drop down menu - and a number of elements such as easily pulling out data and images from the encyclopaedia or creating comparison tables are all catered for. Geography projects will never be the same.


While the Encarta package is a finely honed machine that is well laid out, this 2004 edition doesn't offer enough new elements to make it eligible for a pocket-lint.co.uk Hot Product Award. However, if you are new to the series, have children who question and homework to complete this is a fine product that will do the job nicely.

Writing by Stuart Miles.