Encyclopedias for the Bookshelf Challenged

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, August 20, 1993

Microsoft has been pushing CD-ROMs for years... well before the current multimedia
craze. Even before Bill Gates unveiled his "Information at your fingertips" catch-
phrase, the company saw the little laser disks as vital to their view of the future
of personal computing.

(Some people have claimed that Microsoft lacks vision, and is always playing catch-up
with their competitors ideas... in this case, however, Microsoft spent several years
playing missionary).

One of their first products to make use of the 600 megs or so space that each CD-
ROM disk offers was the Microsoft Bookshelf. This presented a collection of well-
known desktop books, available for easy, on-screen access. Over the years, the
Bookshelf has been updated, but maintained that idea-- that it should be a single
source of handy reference information.

The Bookshelf made the big jump from DOS to Windows. This let it more easily mix
text and graphics, and gave it the ability to be easily kept in the background,
waiting to be used by writers, journalists, or anyone looking for facts on the fly.

The latest version comes bundled on a single CD-ROM disk with Microsoft's well-
known word processor, Word for Windows. Alone, either would be a useful, powerful
application. Together, each gains from the lniks between them.


The program is packaged simply. Instead of the big box full of floppy disks and
multiple manuals found in the traditional version of Word for Windows, there's
simply a CD 'jewel box', just like an audio CD. A 20 page mini-manual in place of
the lyric sheet found in your music best seller. Hmmm... no documentation?

Installing this duo is a joy to anyone used to the floppy disk shuffle. Insert the
CD-ROM disk, and run the SETUP utility on it. Fill out your name, choose a
directory for each application. Pick an option for how much to install on your hard

Yes, even with CD-ROMs, you have to install to your hard disk. Some parts of the
program HAVE to be on your disk, other parts are optional. Choosing to install it
means those parts will be accessed faster-- CD-ROM players get data at about 1/10th
the speed of most hard disks, but at the price of taking up hard disk space. For
this package, you can choose to install as little as 5 megs, or as much as 17 megs
on your drive.

So far, it seems identical to a floppy install. But when you click okay, you can
just go away and get a cup of coffee. In a few minutes, it's done. No pauses to
"INSERT DISK 3 IN DRIVE A:". When you come back, you've got two new Program Manager
groups, one for Word for Windows, and another for Bookshelf.

But wait... what's that in the W4W group? Along with the program, and the expected
README, there's an icon labelled WORD USER'S GUIDE. Clicking on it brings up the
familiar Windows Help engine, and your CD-ROM player lights up. On disk, you've got
the complete documentation. It's all there, from "First Things to Know About Word"
to "Error Messages". It can also be accessed from the Help menu in Word for
Windows. You can't read it in bed, but you do have it right at hand when you're
working with the program.

There're a couple of other surprising icons in your Word for Windows group. Without
telling you, the program installed the Media Player, and software to run Video for
Windows clips. The Media Player and one sample video, "Windsurfing" have been
installed. (Well, not a complete surprise... if you'd chosen CUSTOM INSTALL and
paid attention during setup, you might have noticed that one of the option boxes
was labelled something like 'Sound and Video').

You can use the Media Player to watch videos in a small (1/16th of your screen)
window... complete with sound and action. As well, you can insert videos as OLE
objects in a Word document (or any other Windows application that supports OLE).

You can't make your own videos, however, without getting additional software, such
as the $199 Microsoft Video for Windows package, as well as, in most cases,
additional hardware, such as any of the new video capture boards ($500-$2000). But
even if it's not immediately useful to you, the Media Player is a fun toy, and a
vision of the near future. And there are a total of five sample videos 'hidden' on
the CD-ROM (in a directory called WINVIDEO), ranging from a Martin Luther King
speech to a 'rock video' starring Bill Gates titled "Cool".

While the W4W program group has these multimedia treats, the Bookshelf program
group is more straightforward. There's an icon for the Bookshelf as a whole, and
icons for each separate volume. There's also an icon for a Bookshelf Overview,
which brings up the Help viewer again. This time, however, the Help topics include
a series of animations, using our old friend the Media Player. These animations
combine sound and cartoons on topics ranging from an introduction to Windows and
using the mouse, to how to find information in the Bookshelf. To fully make use of
them, you should have a sound card installed under Windows. I was out of luck... I'
d given back the Pro Audio Spectrum card I'd reviewed last issue, and was back to
my internal PC-speaker. The narration was understandable, but frustrating, listened
to like that.

As well, there's an icon labelled QuicKeys. Clicking on it seems to do nothing. But
searching through the Help file, I discovered that this can be a very powerful
feature indeed. With QuicKeys running (for example, if it was loaded automatically
from Win 3.1's StartUp group), if I select a word in ANY Windows application, then
click on the QuicKeys icon, the QuicKeys program will search the Bookshelf's indexes
for any reference to that word. You can choose which books to search, and you can
search for multiple items at once.


I'm not going to go into detail about Word for Windows. You get the current
version, 2.0c, with some additional import filters, and a bunch of extra clipart.
Version 2.0 has been out for about a year now, and along with AmiPro and Word
Perfect for Windows, is one of the power-hitters among word processors for Windows
or any other environment. Anything you can imagine doing with a word processor can
be done with this product. Add-ins include the obvious spell-check and thesaurus,
along with an equation editor (in my day job, I sometimes create math tests), a
basic draw program, a charting utility, and Word-Art, for creating custom logos
by bending text around circles. Like all its competitors, there are built in hooks
to a grammar checker.

You don't need the CD-ROM version for any of that. What's special in this version
(aside from having the documentation on disk) are the links to the Bookshelf. You
can get to the Bookshelf by selecting a menu item, or by clicking on a button in
the Toolbar. And the Bookshelf recognizes Word. If you've found a topic in
Bookshelf that you want to use, clicking on Edit/Send in the Bookshelf menu sends
that information, or a part of it, into your Word document. You can even get
automatic footnotes.

You can copy and paste from Bookshelf to other Windows applications, but the
automatic Send feature only works with Word... in fact, if Word isn't running, it
will start it up, inserting your chosen information.

On a more frivolous level, there's the Quote of the Day, found via Word's VIEW
menu. The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations randomly told me "Ah, good
taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness."-- Pablo Picasso,
1881- 1973. You can even choose to have a quote automatically appear whenever
you start WinWord up for the first time each day.


So what have we stocked our bookshelf with, then?

You'll find seven reference books:
-- the American Heritage Dictionary is, as you'd expect, words, with pronunciation and
definitions. Choose a letter, choose a page, select the word you want. In addition
to the stuff you'd find in your traditional version, click on the little speaker
icon, and a voice will pronounce your word. Even on my tinny PC-speaker, it was
undertandable. There's a separate list of 'Sights and Sounds'... words, ranging
from AARDVARK to ZYGOMATIC BONE that include black and white line drawings.

-- Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus. No bonus extras... just a solid thesaurus.
Identical interface to the dictionary for finding your word. (Why a thesaurus, you
ask? Doesn't my word processor already have one? Yes, it does... but not as big as
this one. Remember, you've got over 500 meg on your CD-ROM to fill up... that's
room for a lot of synonyms!)

-- The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. I've had a red, paperback copy of this for
years. A one-volume encyclopedia, with relatively concise explanations. Again, you
can hear your word sounded out. Again, there's a SIGHTS and SOUNDS option, but it's
much more elaborate than the dictionary's. You have several levels of choice:
NARRATED ANIMATIONS (Circulatory System to Volcano) gets a traditional page with
the addition of a VCR like control panel. Click the > to play, and a voice explains
the concept, while the drawing changes. Plain ANIMATIONS (Arteriosclerosis to Wind
Tunnel) give you an animation without voice-over to accompany the text. MUSICAL
EXAMPLES (Canon to Scale) let you hear the music that illustrates the more traditional
explanation (but not on my PC-Speaker... I suspect you need a sound card that supports
MIDI). Finally, IMAGES are articles with pictures (Aaron, Hank to ZR-- what? Oh,
the element Zirconium). Nicer than the dictionary's line drawings. In fact, nicer
than in my red paper edition, which also lacked animations and music.

-- The World Almanac and Book of Facts (1992) is everybody's old favorite trivia
volume. I found that the small town in New Jersey where I grew up (Hillside, zip
code 07205) still had about the same population (20,000 more or less) according to
the 1990 census as when I left in 1968. Lots of information ("Young America's Top
Heroine: Julia Roberts"), all in traditional almanac lists. All text, no multimedia
bells and whistles.

-- Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Arranged by author. SIGHTS and SOUNDS again,
this time a choice between spoken quotations and portraits. The quotations are
either famous poets or John F. Kennedy, speaking their own quotation, while the
portraits are black and white photos.

-- Concise Quotations, which we've already seen in action with Word's Quote of the
Day. Why two volumes of quotations, I hear you ask? Well, while the Bartlett's
volume is arranged by author, these are selectable by topic. You want a quote about
DOGS? You'll find nine of them, ranging from Lee Marvin ("If your home burns down,
rescue the dogs. At least they'll be faithful to you.") to Mark Twain ("If you pick
up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal
difference between a dog and a man.")


-- Hammond Atlas. As a 1992 edition, you can see maps of recent chaos... the
Commonwealth of Independent States or the Balkans. You choose an area on a world
map, and focus into more detail, choosing a political or attractive topographical
map. But no, you can't focus in infinite detail... I could focus from the World to
the United States to the Middle Atlantic states, but I couldn't see my old home
town, or the street where I lived, or... (there IS a CD-ROM Street Atlas of the
United States that would let me do just that). Click on a city name on a map, and a
voice pronounces it; click on a little picture of a flag on a map and a window
opens with a picture of the flag, and buttons that let you find out about that
country in the encyclopedia or the almanac. A sound icon would play the country's
anthem, but not on my PC-Speaker.


The target for this product is anyone who does a lot of writing. You can use the
Windows clipboard with all of the books on the bookshelf and paste information into
other Windows applications. (Unfortunately, you don't seem to be able to copy and
paste maps from the Atlas). It's especially designed to work
together with Word for Windows. The Bookshelf, however, can be used by copying and
pasting, with any Windows application. The QuicKeys feature makes this especially
easy and powerful.

Regardless of choice of word processor, this makes it a natural for all of us formerly
ink-stained wretches. Definitions, synonyms, statistics, facts, background information,
and of course, all those quotations. All just a few clicks of the mouse away, and all
easily insertable into whatever we're writing.

School children... my 9 year old likes the maps, but doesn't really have a use for
this product. My 12 year old, however, has already had to do projects on Peru and
Ecuador this year, and says her class is studying Japan right now. While there's
not enough information on its natural resources in the encyclopedia, she could see
the usefulness of having the maps, flag, and encyclopedia's overview readily

Bill Gates' "Information at your fingertips" quote isn't listed in the Microsoft
Bookshelf. I couldn't find reference to him in the Alamanc, either. He is listed
in the encyclopedia, however... along with a photo, it
says: Gates, William Henry, III, 1955 - , American businessman. At 19 Gates founded
(1974) the Microsoft Company with Paul Allen. By purchasing the rights to convert
an existing software package, Gates built Microsoft into one of the largest
microcomputer software companies in the world."

With the Word for Windows/Bookshelf package, Microsoft is successfully using the
power of CD-ROMs to help make that "Information at your fingertips" dream an
attainable reality.

NOTES: The 1993 edition of MS Multimedia Word & Bookshelf package has a
suggested retail price of $729 CDN. The upgrade from the 1991 edition
is $249.95, Word 2.0 users can upgrade for $129. If you have the
1992 edition, the upgrade is $19.95, while customers who obtained it
after March 29, 1993 can obtain an update for free. The MS Bookshelf
CD can also be obtained separately.

All tests were carried out on a homemade 386-33DX with 8 megs of
RAM, using a Mitsumi CD-ROM player.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from Bookshelf fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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