In this age of the internet, where all the information and misinformation you could ever wish for is just a Google search away, it's easy to question the value of such reference software programs as Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008.

But perhaps the clue to their existence rests on the idea that 'facts' posted on the internet require no verification. You can just as easily come across errors or downright lies as you can the accurate information you're looking for, not so with Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008.

See also: Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 DVD

There's also the down side of the free flow of information on the internet to take into account, particularly when dealing with younger children. Do you really feel secure letting a six-year-old loose on the world wide web? If not then Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008, and this type of software in general, will be ideal.

Like previous versions of the software Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 is divided into three main versions. You can access any of these when you fire up the program. Alternatively, you can check a box so it'll remember your selection. There's a version for adults, another for children aged 10 to 14, and a third version for 6 to 10-year-olds. Content in each is tailored to its audience.

In each version of Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 there are six different ways to access the information provided. Each has an age-appropriate atlas, dictionary, thesaurus and historical timelines.

The adult version of Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 adds Brainstormer, which offers visual links to different information to provide you with a clear way to find related research material. You also get the new Workspace tool. This works a bit like browser bookmarks, allowing you to save your research for multiple projects. Finally, Explore offers interactive tours of special topics, including the new Great Minds biographies section - complete with over 2000 articles.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008's 10-14 Student Library has a Homework Helpdesk. And while this is geared towards the US market (for instance, it guides you through creating a Science Fair project), it does have lots of useful tips that'll help out any UK pupil. There are also links to useful external sites – though again mostly US-focused. In this version you also get Workspace, Explore and a video library.

Finally, in Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008's Elementary Library you get the same line up of features as in the Student version, but with content tailored to a younger age group.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 interface is designed to appeal to each age group, although it is a little cluttered and Britannica never quite seems able to mimic the clean, intuitive layout of rival Encarta.

PAGE 2: online encyclopedias comparison and verdict >>

Online encyclopedias

While Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 can boast that all its articles are from trusted, vetted sources, it does have the drawback of being neither free, nor updated daily. If you want to keep your hard earned cash and make sure your research is bang up to date, you can't beat an online encyclopedia.

The best known is Wikipedia. It's maintained by its community of users, an approach that has its pros and cons. The pros are that it's packed with esoteric little gems on the likes of the life and times of Corrie stars, info that would never make it into a real encyclopedia. The cons are that anyone can post anything, and unless someone else steps in to correct them, it's easy for false information to creep in.

Another option is www.encyclopedia.com, which collates information from other encyclopedias (including Britannica Concise) and online articles. This means you can choose which entries you want to read while still being sure they're from a trusted source. It might not be as easy to use as Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008, but it's free and you get a much wider range of reference materials to choose from.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008: Specs

  • Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Intel Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor, 1.6GB hard disk space, 512MB RAM
  • Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Intel Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor, 1.6GB hard disk space, 512MB RAM

OUR VERDICT

Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2008 is undeniably a useful research tool, having sorted the wheat from the chaff for you in a way the web never will. But as ever it's let down by failing to tailor information geographically. The odd Union Jack or Welsh dragon is thrown in to appease the British users, but overall it's aimed firmly at the US market.

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