Vol. 1. No. 2 MR-2 August 1994
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Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia
Comptons New Media, Inc.
2320 Camino Vida Roble
Carlsbad, California 92009 USA
Phone: +1 619/929-2500; Fax: +1 619/929-2555
Price: $149.95 US.

Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia (CIE) Version 2.01VW is a CD-ROM-based program that comes with a 71-page booklet. To run the program you need a 386 SX 16 or better processor, Windows 3.1, a CD-ROM drive, 4 megabytes of RAM, and a SVGA monitor set for 640x480x256 colors, a mouse, a sound card and speakers, and you may use an optional printer. In other words, you can forget about those Pre-386 stone-age computers if you want to use this state-of-the-art software. Get a real computer if you want to enter the amazing world of images, colors, and sounds of multimedia.

It was a breeze to install the programmostly you just install the icon, because the program is all on the CD, and it can be easily run in Windows. (I have several CDs that I use with the computer, and am looking forward to using those new multidisk units where you can put maybe 10 CDs into a cartridge and load them at once. Then the computer can select the one needed for the program. Maybe in a few years this dream will come true, too.) However, let us go back to the program itself.

After the initial screens, featuring a moving logo and a montage of photographs of famous places and exotic animals, the screen turns into a plain white page listing all the encyclopedic entries starting with A, THE LETTER. On the right side of the screen a list of colored icons shows some promise of encyclopedic adventure. The list includes: Idea Search, Articles, Multimedia, Info Pilot, Topic Tree, Atlas, Time Line, Picture Tour, Dictionary, and Backtrack; the last one is to make sure you can also navigate backwards, and follow Ariadnes thread so you do not get lost in this maze of information. The program has Easy and Expert operating modes. As an expert you miss out on the Backtrack button. The assumption, obviously, is that experts do not take wrong turns.

The program opens in the Articles path and allows you to go through an alphabetical list of entries. The Users Guide suggests Space Travel in the tutorial section, so I went with it. The Starts with: window allows you to type in the item you want to look up. The new text-screen about Space Travel included some special icons to the left of the text. A clock switched the program into Time Line mode where important events were listed and pictured along images of Space Travel milestone events. I tried to print out the Time Line using the convenient print button. What I got was pages with about six horizontal lines on top. It seemed that the Time Line function [-1-] should be printed in landscape mode. So I switched to landscape mode and tried printing it again. Then I realized the top and bottom bars were covering up the years, and the images did not get printed. That was disappointing because the Time Line entries and the images looked impressive on the screen. I gave up on printing more of the Time Line features. I wanted to close Time Line and get back to the article, but that is not possible. There is no easy way to get back to the article. Although I tried Backtrack as well, it did not work and I had to start from scratch. Apparently, opening Time Line closes the article window.

I called the Help Line (not a toll-free number) to find out more about the problems I encountered, but it was just another entry into a labyrinth of lines, this time telephone lines. The automatic switchboard transferred me to automatic answering machines. I was finally connected to the department dealing with the correct version of the CD-ROM, and the correct part of the program. There I expected to hear somebody ready to answer my questions. No such luck. A pre- recorded message answered the most commonly asked questions about the program, but not those I needed to know. I had no chance to talk to anyone, and after being on the line for fifteen minutes and having listened to about thirteen problems and answers that did not have any relation to my questions, I was promptly disconnected. We have arrived at the computer age, where computers answer questions the programmers think you have. That is high tech.

Back to the program. I explored Idea Search, which looks for articles connected to the main idea. It found an impressive set of 268 articles, pictures, and facts combined on the topic of Space Travel. The Multimedia function allows you to pick pictures, sounds, video clips, slides, and animation one at a time. The CD-ROM based video showed the characteristic features of digitized video images: a small screen on the middle of your monitor, jumpy images and sound that was on and off when a lot of movement took place on the screen. This is where technology is at present, and if you do not want the extra expense of a laser disc player, then you have to accept the jumpy images of CD-ROM based video. This will improve in the coming years, as there are new ways of storing information which will allow more data to be stored on CDs or on similar storage media.

Info Pilot gives you a nice new desktop view with five main areas and sixteen more connected areas of research. It allows you to focus on several articles at the same time.

The Topic Tree lets you approach a topic from a global point of view and focus it in any direction you wish, within the given areas of interest. A 3D-view helps you see where you are in your search and how far you have stepped down in your search for the needed topic. [-2-]

The Atlas section allows the user to access information either through a map, using a global approach, or through a name that may match one of the items of the Atlas database system. Good maps with gridlines help you locate places anywhere on the earth.

Time Line can also be accessed through the main menu and will allow you to see how, in time, events from various areas have followed each other. However, once you look at an article related to a title on Time Line, Time Line is closed. I could not find a solution to this problem.

In advanced mode, a virtual workspace will help you organize your desk, where you can put many articles and arrange them in various ways. This is a useful feature that can help you work through the different pieces of information you want to include in a report, for example.

The Dictionary feature includes a Thesaurus, and a Foreign Words and Phrases Function which comes in really handy.

In general I was impressed by the versatility of the program and the information that it provides. It is a big step up from the books I used to use to locate information for a topic. I have not had the opportunity to evaluate in detail other encyclopedia programs, but this collection of articles, images, and videos is a great start towards a future that will bring us voice-activated answers, with projected flawless videos from a single chip that will store information from all sources available. Our dreams are becoming reality.

This concludes my first adventure using Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia.

Tamas G.K. Marius
University of Central Florida
< FDMarius@ucf1vm.cc.ucf.edu>


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