Ultimate Reference Suite 2006
The Australian edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2006 is an impressive resource. Available as a single DVD or multiple CD set, it's actually three products rolled into one. Primarily, it includes the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (replete with over 75,000 articles), a Student Library with 15,000 articles aimed at school-age children, and Britannica Elementary Library, which is pitched at primary school students and designed to foster an early habit of looking up information.
- Comprehensive, well presented
- Huge footprint
Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2006 is undeniably of value to school students, but equally for adults looking to further knowledge on a range of subjects – or even to more deeply understand how the world works.
Price$ None (AUD)
As expected of such a comprehensive resource, installation demands a fair chunk of hard disk space. The minimum footprint is around 1.1GB, and a complete installation will swallow 4.3GB. The latter is recommended if you can spare the drive space, as it dramatically reduces search times and increases responsiveness over relying on the DVD. Mac and Windows platforms are supported from the box.
The kit also includes the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus, an interactive world atlas that links to articles, images and timelines, and Britannica BrainStormer - a mapping feature that allows you to run through subjects and view all the related topics on screen at once. It works much like a brain map that shows relationships between topics - type in a search query to bring it up on screen, with all related topics appearing as small links around the original subject. From here you can click on other 'nodes' and view all articles and entries related to them. It's a great way to research an unfamiliar topic, as it clearly shows how one subject relates to another.
The application relies on a browser-style interface with links presented in a column on the left of the screen. Tabs along the top of the pages allow you to move quickly between the encyclopaedia itself to the Student and Elementary libraries. The interface is quick and easy to use and is a snap for anyone that's ever used a web browser. It's possible to search by keyword, and articles offer Related Topic boxes on the right hand side of the screen to link to other relevant articles. It speeds browsing for information, as you can start out with generic search terms and use the Related Topic sidebars to drill down into other fields.
Another handy feature is the Timelines. The disc includes detailed timelines plotting significant historical advances in a particular field like architecture, religion or medicine. A chart is presented along the bottom of the screen, showing dates running from left to right. Click on a date to see what happened in a particular field at a certain time, and the visual presentation style makes it easy to understand how human knowledge has evolved.
Articles are well written, and the suite overcomes one of the biggest problems with presenting so much information in the one place - how to illustrate relationships and show "the big picture". The BrainStorm feature is especially useful for this as its interface allows the user to visually make connections between subjects. The disc is undeniably of value to school students, but equally for adults looking to further knowledge on a range of subjects.
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