Business-like, isn't he?



The Tale of Peter Rabbit: How NOT to design children's software

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, May 20, 1994.

Kids Can Read:
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
from Discis Knowledge Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 66
Buffalo, NY
14223-0066 USA

Kids and multimedia seem made for one another. And with the 600 megs or
so of space on a CD-ROM, there's enough room to make really interactive
books, make kids software engaging, educational in a seductive, subtle

Broderbund's Living Books provide a good example. Titles like "Just
GrandMa and Me" and "Arthur's Teacher Trouble" include all the text
and pictures of the children's classics, but go much further than just
a read-along. Click on everything in sight-- almost everything becomes
an unexpected animation.

While the package is covered with awards and seals of approval, "The
Tale of Peter Rabbit", one of Discis's "Kids Can Read" series,
provides the opposite example... a book on CD-ROM that makes me long
for a printed volume.

To start with, I found the installation misleading. While the box
claims to be DOS, Macintosh, and Windows compatible, there is, in
fact, no Windows version. Instead, the manual suggests that after
installing the DOS version, the user create an icon for the program in
Windows' Program Manager. More sophisticated installation programs at
least have the courtesy of doing this automatically... and the task is
not clearly explained for Windows novices.

And when I tried to run the program under Windows, it complained that
my sound card was in use elsewhere (meaning by Windows itself), and
the program refused to start. I might be able to get it to run by
fiddling with new sound drivers, but I didn't bother... I quit Windows
and ran the program from DOS (which meant that I couldn't get any cute
screen-shots to illustrate this article).

The disk DID run from DOS. And we get a straight-forward copy of
Beatrix Potter's children's classic, complete with original
illustrations. A pleasant, female voice reads the text.

My two children, who at ages 13 and 10 are too old for the program, have both had the
experience at school of taking part in a 'buddy reading program',
reading to the grade ones and twos. Their expert opinions were that
the story was being read too quickly for a new reader to follow along.

You can click on the text to have it reread, or to have a different,
male voice, read individual words and phrases. And when you click on
different parts of the pictures, things happen. Unlike the animations
in "Grandma" and the other Broderbund volumes, however, here you get a
label such as "Peter Rabbit", and the same male voice, reading the
label. Ho hum.

There is another version of Peter Rabbit, produced by Knowledge
Adventure... I haven't seen that one, but I have been impressed with
that company's other products, which also are released in both CD-ROM
and floppy disk based versions.

This CD, however, doesn't provide enough added attractions to justify the extra
cost over buying the original book. And if mommy or daddy read to
their child, they can often be convinced to slow down to the child's

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan