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In the depths of the desert

SONORAN DESERT Ransom Publishing, Ransom House, 2 High Street, Watlington, Oxon OX9 5PS. Tel: 01491 613711 Pounds 39.95 + VAT and postage Age range 11-16

Each new educational CD-Rom takes us one step further down the IT road. Sonoran Desert may lag behind the more sophisticated game packages in terms of graphics and levels of interaction, but it far outreaches anything that could be produced in either a video or print format.

For pupils and adults who feel comfortable using a mouse, this works as an exceptionally full resource which explores the Sonoran Desert - the "Cactus Desert of Arizona". The presentation takes you first to the National Park Field Centre, where you can hear talks by a variety of experts or inspect the vast photo library, moving image store or data resource bank. From here you can strike out into the desert, either on foot or by jeep. Once in the desert you can inspect items at close hand, listen to extra information or simply wander around.

A number of helpful features makes this field trip "real". In your rucksack you have a notepad and camera, allowing you to record jottings as you build up a photo store of your own. There is an element of fun too, with danger, in the form of snakes and poisonous plants, waiting for the unsuspecting traveller.

The temptation, naturally, is to "play" with the CD-Rom and this is fine for finding one's way around the various options. After the initial rush, however, students will need guiding to ensure they derive maximum benefit. There are only brief notes supplied with the disk, which means that the teacher has to make the "trip" first before taking the pupils along.

It's worth pointing out that the CD-Rom runs best on a fast computer with 86 or Pentium Processor with at least 8MB of RAM. It's also best to have a 256+ colour display.

One drawback of CD-Rom publications, particularly those that are largely unsupported by documentation, is that the punter isn't always aware of what's available in the depths of the programme. For example, the opportunity to see the desert at night is a feature that may well be missed, which would be a shame.

What you do know you are getting with Sonoran Desert is over 100 video features from the BBC Natural History Unit, 400 sound clips and narrated tours and 300 photographs and diagrams . . . which makes the price seem reasonable.

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