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Software Review:    Encarta Reference Library 2003

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Top Pick With this 2003 edition, Encarta remains at the top of our list of electronic encyclopedias. We tested Encarta Reference Library 2003 for this review, although Encarta Deluxe is also available. The Reference Library is worth the extra money, however. It includes the Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe as well as:

  • Encarta World Dictionary and Thesaurus with Translation Dictionaries (translation dictionaries are new for 2003)
  • Encarta Interactive World Atlas
  • Encarta Africana
  • Homework Center and Homework Starter (new for 2003)
  • Literature Guides (new for 2003)
  • Quotations (new for 2003)
  • Chart Maker (new for 2003)
  • Encarta Researcher
  • Statistics Center

Beautiful to look at, filled with multimedia and helpful content, and easy to use, this reference library will help make any family's research efforts easier. The search feature is fabulous, with content from all titles in the suite seamlessly integrated together. Streaming live media and easy content updates (they're automatic) contribute to an exceptional product that feels alive and fresh. 

As with the 2002 edition, updates to the encyclopedia are automatic--any time you are logged on and fire up your Encarta CD-ROM, the program looks for updates. If hard drive space on your computer permits, users can install all content to the hard drive. This makes it that much easier to get the information you need, fast. Although we own current editions of Encarta, World Book, Grolier, and Britannica, we turn to Encarta first and, in most cases, only. Part of the reason is that we don't need to find the CDs and put them in the drive (although the same is true for Britannica). However, it has plenty of features that simply make it the most appealing to use. 

Searching in Encarta is easy. One search pulls up articles, maps, multimedia content, and more. In fact, as you type in your keyword, lists of results begin to appear and adjust as you keep typing. This is very handy for times when you don't know the complete spelling of a word. Alternate spellings also pop up for extra help.

Articles feature multiple links to other information within the encyclopedia as well as to handpicked web sites. Clicking on a web link doesn't open up a new window. This makes it easy to jump back and forth from encyclopedia content to web content. 

When students stumble upon a word in an article that they don't understand, they need only double-click on it and a dictionary entry pops up. Doing research for a school project is especially easy with this suite. Children can select any text and images from Encarta contents or the Internet, click "Add to Researcher", and the information is cataloged and stored. Researcher allows users to organize and edit the information they've collected ("note cards" can be clicked and dragged for easy organizing), and then export their work to a Word document. Citations are automatic with this handy tool. 

Our kid tester heard "Timbuktu" often, and wanted to research it. He didn't know the correct spelling, but Encarta helped him out. He quickly found a nice article for his search query that included a map, 2 multimedia items, web picks on the topic, plenty of related articles, and a link to a quotation with the word in it.

We love the new Quotations feature. Famous quotes are a great way to "dress up" a student's research paper or project, and Encarta makes it easy to find a relevant quote through a straightforward search or via browsing. Also new to this edition are literature guides--handy for researching classic and popular works of literature. We also love the easy-to-use Chart Maker. With this tool, kids can create pie, line, and bar charts for their projects.

The suite's World Atlas is superior to those found in other leading electronic reference suites. The atlas is dynamic and original. Users can easily customize their view of the world with map styles and customizer tools.

Encarta also features some fun and educational games, such as the multi-level Geography Quiz pictured at right. Timelines and both 2D and 3D virtual tours of various landmarks and natural wonders are also available in Encarta.

For children over approximately 12 years of age, this program will prove invaluable. Kids only just beginning to need an encyclopedia will do best with World Book 2003 (we have a review of this program) -- it is easier to read than Encarta. However, the whole family will enjoy Encarta. The presentation is excellent and invites users to stay in the program.

  • Contemporary, well-integrated suite
  • Rich with multimedia
  • Updatable content (until Oct. 2003) is automatic when users are online
  • Plenty of extras and special features
  • Gorgeous interface


  • Children under 12 might find the reading level a little too high. 


For more information, user reviews, or to buy:

Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003

Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003... (DVD edition)

Also available:

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe...2003 (this program is included in the Reference Library reviewed here)




Update: The latest edition of Encarta: Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 CD and Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 DVD





For Windows By: Microsoft  Ages 10-up Published: 2002



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To Buy this CD-ROM:

Buy Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003 (CD-ROM edition) and  Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003... (DVD-ROM edition) at

 Reviewed March 2003                                                                                                 Comments? Email us.

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