By Monte Ferguson
I remember the day a young man came to our family's door. He was lugging this large box around. He was the last of a dying breed, the door to door sales man. But what he was lugging around caught my interest. He had Encyclopedias! A wealth of information about far off places, people, animals and religions! Thankfully my parents were convinced that the encyclopedias were a good value, and they bought them on the spot. I fondly recall opening the pages at random, just to see what could be found within those tomes. It truly opened up a whole world to a young man's eager imagination.
These days the door to door sales men is extinct. For the most part so are the hard bound editions of the encyclopedia. After all, the internet has supplanted the role of the encyclopedia, right?
To a degree, the internet has become something of a community library. But finding the information you need, and making sure it's accurate, can be daunting on the web.
Now, as then, the main market for this type of product, encyclopedias, are families with school age children. Attracting, and keeping, the interest of youngsters these days is quite a challenge. For an encyclopedia to appeal to kids these days it has to be more than a collection of dry facts. It has to be engaging.
World Book Jaguar Edition certainly engages you from the moment you start up the program. First, the interface is gorgeous, images float above a liquid background which is in motion. Secondly, the program automatically starts playing music, which is composed of material contained in the Encyclopedia. Thirdly, images tend to ripple across the lower portion of the applications screen. The rest of the interface is clearly labeled and easily understood. It invites you to explore, rather than daunting you with the sheer breadth of material you can access.
The way this program is arranged you can tell, from the outset, that it was designed to be a multimedia rich environment. In the opening screen, if you click on the Just Listening player program, images which are appropriate for that culture or region in the world begin to float across the screen below. Opening articles also lists images, movies and audio files pertinent to that article. It really encourages exploration. I found myself happily clicking on topics and images that took me to a wide variety of different interests. But best of all it felt like fun. The element of play and discovery made the whole process a pleasure rather than a chore.
What caught me by surprise about this program was that it was more than just a collection of facts. In fact, it's more than just an encyclopedia. In reality the World Book Encyclopedia is a suite of apps. This increases the value of the program as you can do more than just look up facts. There is a bundled dictionary, a notepad (word processor), sticky notes, and a 3D atlas.
The built in dictionary displays the definition of any word in an article in the encyclopedia (in a floating window next to the content of the article itself.) You just double click on a word in an article. Sticky notes allow you to quickly jot down ideas or copy information from various articles. You can use these notes as , well, notes, or as bookmarks. You can also use the Rendezvous feature, built into Jaguar, and share your sticky notes/bookmarks with others on your same local network. What's more, if you drag info from an article to a sticky note, it's smart enough to include the bibliographic info along with the information. Speaking of dragging and dropping, World Book Encyclopedia allows you to drag and drop any and all content throughout the program, and with external programs like AppleWorks. Teaching geography, or just figuring out where an item is on the globe, is made fun through the 3D atlas that ships with the encyclopedia. Taking advantage of the display technologies built into MacOS X, this globe is semi transparent, and completely photorealistic. You can also use the atlas to calculate the distance between two points on the globe. The built in word processor, Notepad, has been enhanced in this release. It now supports page breaks, margins, spell-checking-as-you-type, send as e-mail, resize graphics, and more. It also allows you to easily add headers and footers from the format menu, great for formatting reports.
Other features included in this release are: Speech capabilities which allow you to navigate World Book by voice and have articles read aloud to you. Just Listening, a completely new feature, gathers World Book's rich collection of music and sounds into themes from national anthems to bird calls. It allows you to browse the contents of the encyclopedia by audio selections. The Just Looking browsing tool has been enhanced with preset “themes” such as Sports Heroes, Famous Women, European Art, Dinosaurs, Explorers, and more. It can also act as a search tool allowing you to browse the entire contents of the encyclopedia. Back in Time allows you to view articles written on a subject at a previous point in time, great for offering historical context (say for an article on the end of the Cold War.)
There are many powerful features to this program. What stood out to me was that this wasn't just a stuffy collection of facts. It's a fun cornucopia of information. But an encyclopedia quickly loses relevancy if it isn't kept up to date. Thankfully World Book allows you to update the program's information. Updates can be downloaded over the internet. This means that the program isn't instantly obsolete. You can gather new articles and additional content over your internet connection. (Although the downside is you might want to have a fast connection to do so.) A dock icon alerts you to new updates for the program. It's both a welcome feature and very unobtrusively implemented. The 3D atlas makes geography much more interesting. It becomes more of a hands on exploration. You can even turn on the feature to see the day/ night divider. The programs that make up the encyclopedia were snappy performers on our flat panel iMac. This application looks gorgeous and makes good use of MacOS X's features. This is NOT a port of a windows app. This is a program written from the ground up for the Mac. Lastly, the entire program took up 115mb of space on our hard drive, quite conservative.
The program takes up the whole screen. This isn't bad if you are only using the built in apps that come with the encyclopedia. But if you're trying to use other apps this can be a pain, as you switch back and forth between them. Another annoyance is the fact that you must have the app's cd in your CD ROM drive at all times just to use the program. Laptop users will want to have their machine plugged into an AC outlet or they will drain their battery rather quickly. If you prefer your apps to be quiet until you invoke a command, then World Book might annoy you. The default behavior is that the app will automatically play music from a built in sampler of musical material. (This is only the case on the opening screen of the app.) Finding the built in word processor wasn't straightforward to me. I ended up having to dig through the menus to find it. Thankfully everything else is easily found, in fact most times it's right in front of you.
Parents with school age children know what a time saver it is to have a reference library at home. Parents also know that the more fun something is, the more likely it will be used. The World Book Encyclopedia offers a wonderful selection of information, wrapped up in a fun and easy to use interface. The program is responsive and easy to learn. Software MacKiev has done a wonderful job of building this app from the ground up to be a native Macintosh application. This is NOT a quick port from a Windows version. This is a polished, MacOS X application, which takes advantage of several MacOS technologies to good effect.
Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2005