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Microsoft Encarta 2006 review: Microsoft Encarta 2006

Microsoft Encarta 2006

Laurie Bouck
4 min read
Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006
Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006 jettisoned last year's Homework Help to make a cheaper product for users who don't need features such as online math help and who don't want to spring for Microsoft Office. Encarta's intuitive interface makes it easy enough to click your way through the software to find what you're after, but Microsoft should have included a user guide to explain the gamut of features for those who want to make the most of the product. Microsoft also mars the experience by aggressively trying to collect data from users during setup. But with features such as a translation dictionary, an interactive atlas, a video library, and a Web Companion, you can easily search both Encarta and the Internet for the information you need. For families, the included Encarta Kids provides a lighter, peppier take on topics that kids are most interested in, such as animals and history.

Although Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006's new features include a clean, easy-to-use interface and a handy Web Companion that lets you do research through a search engine and Encarta at the same time, these redesigns aren't the biggest change. At $49.99 (before a $10 mail-in rebate), Encarta Premium 2006 offers most of the same features as Student. The Homework Help, the articles, and the dictionary tools from last year's Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 essentially make up this year's new $99 Microsoft Student 2006. But Encarta Premium 2006 doesn't require Office to run and costs half the price of Student 2006.


Microsoft Encarta 2006

The Good

Cleaner interface that lets you better search and sort information; useful Dictionary Tools; extensive articles and multimedia; lower price than last year.

The Bad

No user guide; no Homework Help; intrusive data collection.

The Bottom Line

Encarta is an addictive multimedia treat, once you figure out how to use it and fend off the long arm of Microsoft's marketing team.

Unfortunately, when you use Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006, you'll have to log in with a Passport account and put up with Microsoft's intrusive data-collection practices. At the beginning of installation, you're asked to join its Customer Experience Improvement Program, which collects information on how you use your hardware and software. Microsoft says that this is not spyware because the data collection process protects your anonymity. You can opt out of this program, but you must provide personal contact information to register with Club Encarta for weekly content updates. These are free until October 31, 2006, when you'll have to pay $4.95 per month or $29.95 per year to continue the service.

The Visual Browser breaks down subjects into information clusters.

The thoughtful Encarta interface groups data logically so that you can find the type of information you want on a given topic, such as articles, maps, or videos. For a search on San Francisco, for example, you can choose from articles, dictionary entries, Web links, Photos And More, and maps.

You get two installation choices for your Windows 98-or-higher PC: either six CD-ROMs or a single DVD-ROM. Installation took us a quick-and-easy 10 to 15 minutes, which is fortunate, because Encarta arrives without a printed user guide, and Microsoft does not provide one online. The Help and Explore pull-down menus let you learn more about some features and basic troubleshooting, but otherwise, you're on your own.

The lack of a user guide is a shame, because you could miss some of the great features within Microsoft Encarta Premium 2006. The Search Bar, for instance, adds an icon and a small text box to the bottom of your screen. This feature lets you quickly look up words and phrases in Encarta's Dictionary Tools, which include a dictionary, a thesaurus, and translation dictionaries (for English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish). You also get a password-protected parental-controls option that lets you set a password and limit the dictionary access to what the program calls "family-friendly content," though this control isn't customizable and doesn't explain what's covered.

Encarta's 68,000 articles, its small collection of riveting animation and Discovery Channel video clips (such as the collapse of Washington's Tacoma Narrows Bridge), and its interactive atlas with political, physical, and statistical information make it a delight to browse. It organizes home-page information by knowledge area, such as History, Geography, and People And Society, which makes it easier to begin a search. The Visual Browser feature provides a series of floating icons that you can click to narrow your search on certain topics. Some users may find this feature distracting; if so, you can turn it off.

Encarta Kids presents subjects in a colorful, easy-to-follow format for children.

The separate, colorful and friendly Encarta Kids interface for kids age 7 to 12 provides 10 knowledge areas (Animals, Science, and History, for example) with more than 2,500 pieces of multimedia (such as interactive educational games, diagrams, and videos) and over 500 perky and kid-targeted, if somewhat sanitized, articles.

Quick and friendly unlimited toll-free telephone help is available weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT. You can also e-mail questions for a 24-hour turnaround and browse the Microsoft site for Encarta newsgroups. Although we were disappointed by the lack of a user guide, Microsoft provides three generous years of tech support, with a $35-per-incident fee thereafter.

Microsoft Encarta 2006

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 8Support 6