Click here for a curate's egg

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia. CD-Rom for Multimedia PCs Pounds 39.99p. Published by The Learning Company Tel. 0181 964 9149.

This CD-Rom is good in parts, not so good in others. The main resour-ces on The Oxford Interactive Enyclopedia are drawn from The Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia, The Electronic New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, The Concise Oxford Thesaurus, The Oxford Dictionary of the World and The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Biography. The dictionary, revised and updated in 1993, and thesaurus are particular delights and can be accessed by clicking on words in any of the articles.

On the home screen, the starting point, viewers will find a large text window and a smaller multimedia viewer. The advantage of this design is that textual and multimedia information can be posted up simultaneously. Children can read, say, an article on castles and, at the same time, scroll through a collection of relevant photographs, videos or animations.

Running down the left of the screen are nine icons offering different ways of retrieving information. In addition to standard features such as Search, Atlas and Timeline, viewers will find Topic Tree and Planetarium. The latter (which works only with Windows 95) presents a simulation of the night sky in any area of the world and will identify stars, constellations and galaxies. By clicking on a list at the side of the screen, one can select a location from which to observe the heavens.

Welsh astronomers intending to stargaze from the virtual Principality, however, will experience more than a slight discomfiture on learning that, at least according to the Oxford Interactive, Cardiff, Swansea and those most Welsh-sounding towns, Llanelli and Machynlleth, have relocated to England.

Some of the multimedia material is disappointing and suggests lack of both development and financial commitment. The video screens, for example, are woefully small, the clips themselves short and the use of synthesisers in some of the musical illustrations quite inappropriate.

Overall, the quality of textual information is very good and, being home-grown, doesn't bear signs of the tweaking and re-jigging that is sometimes apparent in "localised" American encyclopedias. Unfortunately, the Oxford Interactive is being marketed at a price which puts it in with the big multimedia players - notably World Book and Encarta. Whether it can flourish in such a competitive environment remains to be seen.

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