Britannica – Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate 2009 review

more dollops of reference wisdom from Britannica
Photo of Britannica – Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate 2009

The DVD-based version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is back for its yearly regeneration. A bit like Doctor Who, but with a little less pizzazz. Interestingly, the promotional blurb for the package states the advantages of Britannica over using Internet search engines (mentioning no Wikipedia). It stresses that its search results are returned on relevancy not popularity, and that Britannica’s fact checking processes make it more reliable. Fair enough points, we feel.

As with last year’s version, the suite is divided into three sections: the main encyclopedia, the student library (for 10 to 14 year olds) and the elementary library for younger children. It keeps the same professional looking browser style interface, with a navigation bar at the top, search sidebar to the left and main window which opens articles in tabs.

The stalwart sections of the DVD are naturally still here. There’s the atlas, dictionary, thesaurus, plus several different ways of exploring the main encyclopedia content. The timeline lets the user delve through various topics using a historical date-line, but our favourite remains the brain-stormer, which throws up a tree of dynamic links that you can ferret through.

So what’s new for 2009? Of course the content itself has been updated and there’s shed-loads of it here, from written articles to illustrations, audio clips of famous musical compositions and an impressive video archive. Some of the footage is rather old, but there’s some compelling viewing (our favourite was the short clip of a mongoose attacking a snake).

A section of world leader biographies has been introduced, although this feels like a bit of an afterthought. It’s not well presented and scrolling through long lists of obscure rulers is rather painstaking. A Spanish-English dictionary has also been added, but our favourite innovation is definitely the Britannica Book of the Year.

This is a compendium of notable people and important events in all fields from art through to religion and the environment. It runs from 1993 to 2007 and the yearly overviews are thorough and include some interesting topical essays. For instance, last year’s batch boasts debates on climate change and the “perils of China’s explosive growth”. While perhaps not as hard-hitting as they might initially sound, they’re very interesting nonetheless.

Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate 2009 still suffers from the predictable US bias and localisation issues, but that will probably always be the case. We were also slightly disappointed that the links to online content didn’t return much, and unless you’re after extra resources on a major subject, you’re likely to draw a blank in that respect.

Company: Britannica

Contact: 01889 570156

The 2009 edition of Britannica continues to represent good value for money with a vast amount of content on offer. The Book of the Year is a worthwhile addition to the package, although some of the other introductions for this version don't make such an impact.