With Microsoft Encarta discontinued on the Mac and other encyclopaedias offering primarily US content, Encyclopædia Britannica 1999 is a welcome addition to the Mac’s knowledge base.
The Standard Edition offers the texts from the full 32-volume Encyclopædia Britannica along with 4,000 photos and illustrations. Netscape Navigator is used as the front end, offering a friendly, well known ‘face’ to the program that can be updated as new versions of Navigator appear (the latest incarnation, 4.5, seamlessly replaced the CD version of 4.04).
Aside from the CD-based product being much cheaper than bound volumes, it offers a number of features that are impossible on a book-based system. The Search box supports both free-form questions and answers or Boolean queries, with a controlled number of searches delivered. Additionally, hot-links within each article move you seamlessly from area to area – after a time, it feels as though you’re simply browsing the Internet. In fact, this is another facility on offer – there are around 30,000 embedded Internet URLs.
Another impressive facility is the compass navigation where you can explore the geography, politics and culture of the world’s nations. Not so impressive is the online US dictionary – next to useless in a UK product.
While it’s a shame that the full Multimedia Edition – double the number of pictures plus multimedia presentations and filtered search, isn’t available on the Mac, Encyclopædia Britannica 1999 is user-friendly with a good search engine. It can also be updated, though at a cost of $40 per year via the Web site. Given the retail price, surely the first year’s downloads could have been free of charge? Slight gripes aside, Encyclopædia Britannica is the most authoritative source of knowledge on the Mac.