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The Encarta incorporates numerous third-party texts and visuals (including dozens of Discovery Channel videos, hundreds of newspaper articles, and a plethora of Scientific American features). The Encarta's multimedia offerings are also impressive with thousands of video and audio clips, maps, tables, and animations. The Britannica provides considerably more text - though it has noticeably enhanced it non-textual content over year (the 1994-7 editions had nothing or very little but text).
Both reference products would do well to integrate with new desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. A seamless experience is in cards. Users must and will be able to ferret content from all over - their desktop, their encyclopedias, and Web - using a single, intuitive interface.
The new Encarta Search Bar, which was integrated into product this past year, enables users to search any part of Encarta application (encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, etc) without having application open. Definitely a step in right direction.
Having used both products extensively in last few months, I found myself entertaining some minor gripes:
The Encarta offers 3-D tours which gobble up computer resources and are essentially non-interactive a limited. Is it worth investment and risk to stability and performance of user's computer?
The editorial process is not transparent. It is not clear how both products cope with contemporary and recent developments, minority-sensitive issues, and controversial topics (such as abortion and gay rights).
The Encarta tries to cater to needs of challenged users, such as visually-impaired - but is still far from doing a good job of it. The Britannica doesn't even bother.
The atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus incorporated in both products are surprisingly outdated. Why not use a more current - and dynamically updated - offering? What about dictionaries for specialty terms (medical or computer glossaries, for instance)? The Encarta's New English Dictionary dropped a glossary of computer terms it used to include back in 2001. All's pity.
Both encyclopedias consume (not to say) hog computer resource far in excess of official specifications. This makes them less suitable for installation on older PCs and on many laptops. Despite hype, relatively few users possess DVD drives (but those who do find, in both products, entire encyclopedia available on one DVD).
But that's it. Don't think twice. Run to closest retail outlet (or surf relevant Web sites) and purchase both products now. Combined, these reference suites offer best value for money around and significantly enhance you access to knowledge and wisdom accumulated over centuries all over world.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.