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Encarta is a digital multimedia encyclopedia published and updated by Microsoft Corporation. As of 2005, the complete English version, Encarta Premium, consisted of more than 68,000 articles, numerous images and movies, and homework tools, and is available on the World Wide Web by yearly subscription or by purchase on DVD-ROM or multiple CD-ROMs. Many articles can also be viewed online for free, a service supported by advertisements.
Microsoft publishes similar encyclopedias under the Encarta trademark in various languages, including German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese language and Japanese. Localized versions may contain contents licensed from available national sources and may contain more or less content than the full English version. For example, the Dutch version has content from the Dutch Winkler Prins encyclopedia.
Following the first multimedia encyclopedia, Microsoft initiated Encarta by purchasing non-exclusive rights to the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, incorporating it into its first edition in 1993. (Funk & Wagnalls continued to publish revised editions for several years independently of Encarta, but then ceased printing in the late 1990s). Microsoft had originally approached Encyclopædia Britannica in the 1980s, but Britannica, believing its print media sales would remain strong, declined. Encyclopædia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias for over a century, was forced to sell the company at below book value in 1996 when its print sales could no longer compete with Encarta and the Microsoft distribution channel which gave away free copies with computer systems.
In the late 1990s, Microsoft bought Collier's Encyclopedia and New Merit Scholar's Encyclopedia from Macmillan and incorporated them into Encarta. Thus the current Microsoft Encarta can be considered the successor of the Funk and Wagnalls, Collier, and New Merit Scholar encyclopedias. None of these formerly successful encyclopedias are still in print, being unable to adapt to the new market dynamics of electronic encyclopedias.
Encarta's standard edition includes approximately 50,000 articles, with additional images, videos and sounds. The premium editions contain approximately 68,000 articles and other multimedia content, such as 25,000 pictures and illustrations, over 300 videos and animations, and an interactive atlas with 1.8 million locations. Its articles are integrated with multimedia content and may have a collection of links to websites selected by its editors. A sidebar may display alternative views or original materials relevant to the topic.
Encarta's Visual Browser, available since the 2004 version, presents a user with a list of related topics. Its multimedia includes virtual 3-dimensional tours of ancient structures, for example the Acropolis; 2-dimensional panoramic images of world wonders or cities; and a virtual flight program which moves the user over landscape.
Encarta also includes a trivia game called "MindMaze" in which the player explores a castle by answering questions whose answers could be found in the encyclopedia's articles.
For years, Encarta came in three primary software flavors: Basic, Premium, and Reference Library (price and features in that order.) Beginning in 2005, however, Microsoft added Microsoft Student as the premier Microsoft educational software program, bundling Encarta with graphing calculator software and templates for Microsoft Office. In addition, the Reference Library was discontinued, absorbed into a newer, more comprehensive Premium package.
 World Atlas
The dynamic maps are generated with the same engine that powered Microsoft MapPoint software. The map is a virtual globe that one can freely rotate and magnify to any location down to major streets for big cities. The globe has multiple surfaces displaying political boundaries, physical landmarks, and statistical information. One can selectively display different sized cities, various geological or man-made features and reference lines in a map.
The maps contain hyperlinks to related articles ("Map Trek") and also supports a "Dynamic Sensor" that provides the latitude, longitude, place name, population and local time for any point on the globe. Encarta also generates a visible-light moon atlas with names of major craters and hyperlinks. However, it does not include a planetarium.
In addition to database generated maps, many other illustrative maps in Encarta ("Historical Maps") are drawn by artists. Some more advanced maps are interactive: for example, the large African map for Africana can display information such as political boundaries or the distribution of African flora.
 Encarta Dictionary
When Encarta was released as part of the "Reference Suite" in 1998 (through to 2000), Microsoft bundled "Microsoft Bookshelf" with the other three programs (Encarta Encyclopedia 98 Deluxe Edition, Encarta Virtual Globe '98, and Encarta Research Organizer). However, this was problematic.
Microsoft Bookshelf (Reference Edition) already contained "Encarta Desk Encyclopedia" and "Encarta Desk Atlas", thus becoming redundant with the full editions provided as part of the suite.
In later editions (Encarta Suite 2000 and onwards) Bookshelf was replaced with a dedicated Encarta Dictionary, a superset of the printed edition.
There has been some controversy over the decision, since the dictionary lacks the other books provided in Bookshelf which many found to be a useful reference, such as Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (replaced with a quotations section in Encarta that links to relevant articles and people) and an Internet Directory (although now a moot point since many of the sites listed in offline directories aren't around anymore).
Before the emergence of the world wide web for information browsing, Microsoft recognized the importance of having an engine that supported a multimedia markup language, full text search, and extensibility using software objects. The hypertext display, hyperlinking and search software was created by a team of CD-ROM Division developers in the late 1980's who designed it as a generalized engine for uses as diverse as interactive help, document management systems and as ambitious as a multimedia encyclopedia. Encarta was able to use of various Microsoft technologies because it was extensible with software components for displaying unique types of multimedia information. For example, a snap in map engine is adapted from its MapPoint software. More information on the hypertext and search engine used by Encarta may be found in the Microsoft Bookshelf article.
Unlike Microsoft Office, Encarta software only supports Microsoft Windows with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Encarta 98 was the last version to be released for the Macintosh. However, an Apple Macintosh or Linux/Unix user with Internet connection may still access Encarta's website.
Encarta uses database technologies to generate much of its multimedia content. For example, Encarta generates each zoomable map from a global geographic information system database on demand.
 User editing of Encarta
Early in 2005, the online Encarta started to allow users to suggest changes to existing articles. Articles are not immediately updated. Instead, user feedback is submitted to Encarta's editors for review, copyediting, and approval. Contributors are not paid for their submissions.
 Using Encarta via a robot
Encarta's content is accessible using a conversational interface on Windows Live Messenger via the MSN Bot "Encarta Instant Answers". The bot can answer many encyclopedia related questions directly in the IM window. It uses short sentences from the Encarta website, and sometimes displays full articles in the Internet Explorer-based browser on the right. It also can complete simple math and advanced algebra problems. This service is also available in German, Spanish, French and Japanese.
Robert McHenry, while Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica, criticized  Encarta for differences in factual content between national versions of Encarta, accusing Microsoft of "pandering to local prejudices" instead of presenting subjects objectively . An article written by Bill Gates addressed the nature of writing Encyclopedia for different regions.
- ^ For the free service, one should use the URL http://search.msn.com/encarta/results.aspx (MSN Search Encarta) rather than http://encarta.msn.com (MSN Encarta : Online Encyclopedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework)
- ^ The Crisis at Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/greenstein/images/htm/Research/Cases/EncyclopaediaBritannica.pdf
- ^ http://www.microsoft.com/brasil/encarta/
- ^ Microsoft Encarta Product Details
- ^ Microsoft Encarta Adopting Wikiesque Process, Slashdot.org, April 8, 2005, accessed May 26, 2006
- ^ How to Edit Encarta Encyclopedia--the Easy Way!
- ^ MSN screenname: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
- ^ MSN screenname: email@example.com
- ^ MSN screenname: firstname.lastname@example.org
- ^ MSN screenname: email@example.com
- ^ MSN screenname: firstname.lastname@example.org
- ^ "The Microsoft Way", essay by Robert McHenry
- ^ Página
- ^ "The facts depend on where you are coming from", essay by Bill Gates reprinted in The Sunday Times of South Africa, April 6, 1997, accessed May 26, 2006.
 See also
 External links
- MSN Encarta Online — with limited free access and features.
- Microsoft Encarta product
- History and some other information about Encarta by Microsoft
- Encarta SupportZone A website run by Stephen Stakey, a Microsoft MVP for MSN Encarta, that gives support and tips for Encarta users.
- Review of Microsoft Encarta Africana A review by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Professor, Department of African American Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia
- To wire or not to wire? Encyclopædia Britannica vs. Microsoft Encarta A comparison of the two encyclopedias, by Panagiota Alevizou, published by the Educational Technology & Society journal
- A blast of nostalgia: Screenshots from Microsoft Encarta, 1994 Edition - Fourteen screenshots from an early CD-ROM version of Microsoft Encarta.
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