So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Mindscape Australian Infopedia 3.0
- Easy to use interface, ten separate packages in one
- Out of date, poor multimedia offering, not enough detail
The Australian Infopedia isn’t very good, but it’s certainly cheap
Price$ 14.95 (AUD)
Australian Infopedia 3.0 should in theory be a great product. It brings together a plethora of useful reference tools into one easy to use package. There's an encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, atlas and even a medical guide. Better still, this is an "Australian" encyclopedia, so we were hoping to leave behind the irritating Americanisms that so often plague reference works such as Encarta.
Unfortunately there is one major flaw that leaves the Australian Infopedia as all but useless: it's terribly outdated. The fact that the encyclopedia comes on a single CD-ROM should immediately set off alarm bells. For a multimedia product such as this, it is virtually impossible to squeeze an acceptable number of images and video onto one CD-ROM. Worse still is that some areas of the product have not been updated since 1992. The world has changed a great deal since 1992, yet if you were to use this product as a reference guide you would never know.
The Australian Infopedia is split into ten basic components: Compton's Encyclopedia, a trio of Macquarie volumes, Compton's Atlas, the 1997 World Almanac, Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, Holt's Encyclopedia of History, Compton's Internet Directory and finally, the Columbia University Home Medical guide. An easy to use search tool provides simultaneous access to all the products and can also filter out videos or images. This initially sounds very promising, especially given the bargain price tag. Yet each product is flawed in such a way as to make the whole package of little use.
We have several issues with the encyclopedia. Firstly, it hasn't been updated for nearly ten years. For a supposedly "complete" reference collection this is a huge flaw; anyone hoping to browse recent events will be sorely disappointed. However, even the older articles simply aren't up to scratch. The information provided just isn't in great enough detail. We looked at a random selection of articles and compared them to articles from the freely available Wikipedia. Without exception the Compton's articles offered far less depth and minimal analysis. Wikipedia also offered a far broader range of related articles than Compton's. While Compton's has the benefit of being reliably sourced and properly edited, we'd pick Wikipedia any day.
Macquarie Dictionary, Thesaurus and Quotations
We were hoping that the inclusion of these Australia-specific volumes might save the package from obsolescence, but unfortunately they too proved to be thoroughly mediocre. The main problem here is not so much their outdated nature but the lack of content. The publishers have chosen to use the concise version of the Macquarie Dictionary meaning that many definitions are not included. Similarly the thesaurus and book of quotations suffer from a lack of entries. This is a shame as their inclusion would have been worth the price tag alone.
Other Packages and Multimedia
The remaining packages are similarly disappointing. The Atlas offers far less detail than we would have liked. Using free online alternatives such as www.multimap.com.au or Google Earth would prove far more useful. The World Almanac, Geographical Dictionary and Encyclopedia of History again prove to be too outdated and not detailed enough to be of much use. The Internet directory aims to provide a database of Web sites that is searchable by category, but like most of the package, these are outdated and many no longer even work.
The final package, the Home Medical Guide offers entries that may transcend time but we still felt the package could have been better implemented. There is little help to self-diagnose ailments and, once again, the content can all be found for free online. Our final complaint to round off a thoroughly unimpressive package is the poor multimedia showing. The distribution on CD-ROM severely limits the Infopedia's possibilities. A paltry 68 videos are offered with a miniscule viewing window and grainy footage. Many of the videos are also accompanied by American voice-overs, which seems odd considering the package's Australian credentials. The 5000 or so images are also small and of low resolution. Once again Wikipedia was able to match or better the multimedia efforts of the Infopedia.
Overall we can't recommend any single part of the Infopedia on its own. Put together, however, you may feel the collection of substandard packages is worth the relatively small asking price. Two wrongs don't make a right, but perhaps ten do.
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