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Britannica in Your Briefcase


January 1, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Not so long ago, the famous Encyclopaedia Britannica was sold as a set of large books that took up several feet of bookshelf space, and was too heavy for one person to carry easily. It cost a couple o…

Not so long ago, the famous Encyclopaedia Britannica was sold as a set of large books that took up several feet of bookshelf space, and was too heavy for one person to carry easily. It cost a couple of thousand dollars, and many families bought it on an installment plan. It is currently offered at $250US down, and 24 monthly payments for the balance. Total cash cost is $1,295US, which is a large jump from the $750 that was advertised several months ago for the 2001 version. Pity the price of paper is not rising at this rate.

A few weeks ago, I purchased the 2002 version of Britannica on CD, and have installed it all in my laptop. So I now have the full edition in my briefcase, without adding any weight whatsoever. Cost? About $120Cdn, including shipping, etc.

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The venerable encyclopaedia is now available in various versions, all containing essentially the same text as the traditional print version, but the CD version contains more photographs and the DVD version many more still.

Like most reference works on CD or DVD, the volume of data is substantial. Britannica on CD requires about 2Mb disc space (it is delivered on three CD-ROM discs), and the DVD version requires 8Mb.

The best way to use such products is to copy the full data set to your hard disc, then you can access the information without shuffling CDs, or even carrying them with you. Operation from the hard disc is also faster than from a CD or DVD. However, the demands on hard-disc space are not trivial.

While the DVD version costs only about $20 more than the CD version, I bought the CD, since it can all be installed on my 20Mb hard disc, whereas the 8Mb required for the DVD would have taken more hard-disc space that I was prepared to give up. If I had 40Mb or more hard-disc space, I would have purchased the DVD.

HOW WELL DOES BRITANNICA RUN?

The principal feature of the disc version of the encyclopaedia is that it is much easier and faster to find specific information from the 94,000 articles than in a traditional encyclopaedia. There is both an alphabetical listing or articles, and a search engine to pick out all articles with any specific words you choose. The search engine accepts natural language queries, and the Boolean operators “AND” “NOT”, “ADJ” and “OR” are supported when typed in upper case.

The help system points out that it is worth looking for an item under both US and British spellings, and a list of equivalent spellings is included. It would have been better to just have the search engine include both versions in the search automatically.

DICTIONARY

The dictionary included with the encyclopaedia is excellent, and includes links that help when you find that you did not understand the meaning of one word in the definition of another.

There are many links in articles to associated text but only some seemed to work. It would be desirable to improve the number of links, as well as to correct the programming makes them unreliable.

WORLD ATLAS

The atlas included with the encyclopaedia is short on detail, but somewhat useful. Most of the maps show about 6 inches square on my screen, so that the level of detail for the 20 km long Emirate of Bahrain is good, while the map of Russia squeezed down to 6″ by 4″ is short on detail.

HOW RELIABLE

IS THE INFORMATION?

Britannica has long had the reputation as the leading encyclopaedia but I wonder if the editors are really keeping up with the times. Their descriptions of pulp and paper manufacturing are sadly outdated, referring to wool felts and Fourdrinier formers, but not to synthetics or twin wire formers. The most recent book listed under “additional reading” is Kenneth Britt’s Handbook of Pulp and Paper technology. Many older references are cited.

On the other hand, the discussions on computers are quite up to date, and cite references from 1999. Their review of 2001 is also up to date on many issues.

COMPETITIVE

ENCYCLOPAEDIAS

The principal competitor is Microsoft’s Encarta. It rates in the computer magazines as the best implemented computer encyclopaedia, with a range of ease-of-use features, and excellent graphics. I have only the 1998 version, and the graphics in it are better than in the 2002 Britannica. Encarta 2002 costs about 50% more

PC magazine rates Britannica as superior in total information to Encarta, but less convenient to use. For showing kids (and big kids) how things like car engines and the human heart work, etc., the Encarta graphics are far superior to the more detailed static pictures and words in Britannica.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft makes best and most imaginative use of the power of computers, but Britannica has the most comprehensive set of information.

SHOULD YOU BUY?

If you like to have a broadly-based encyclopaedia to hand, then I feel that the CD or DVD version is far superior to the traditional paper versions. The cost is very low, data is easier to access, the whole encyclopaedia can travel with you. Some of the multimedia presentations ease understanding of many subjects for young and old.

Most of the content of these encyclopaedias is available at no charge on the internet, but access can be rather slow, and the screen is encumbered with commercial messages.

CONTACTS

Britannica is sold directly from www.britannica.com. Encarta is available from computer stores, and some discount stores, or through http://encarta.msn.com/.


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