eBay Purchase Price: $5 AUD
Country of Origin: Australia
This was the first in the Encarta World Atlas series. As the name implies this was very much an expansion to the Encarta encyclopedia product line with an emphasis on geography. The maps were much more detailed than what was provided in Encarta, though still no substitute for planning your next interstate road trip. Understanding how the world lives, its statistics, and cultures were also focal points utilising Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia as the data source.
Unlike Encarta 96 itself you missed out if your PC was running Windows 3.1. A 486 DX 33MHz PC with 8 MB RAM and Windows 95 installed were the required minimum, with a slight increase in RAM needed if one was using Windows NT 3.51. Encarta 96 World Atlas is also not dependant on having Encarta previously installed either, though the user base were likely to have it anyway.
Loading up Encarta World Atlas for the first time shows the globe in full, and a little assistant named Cosmo pops up to provide help. This was a time when Microsoft was thinking how fabulous animated assistants would be for replacing boring Help files. It wasn’t long before I gave Cosmo the flick and asked him to leave.
Initially I went to look around the vicinity of where I live in southern Australia. Zooming in on the regional city of Ballarat there was enough detail to show a number of localities, even those that are just farming areas and not towns as such. Red lines represented roads, though there’s no highway route numbers or names to differentiate. Really the maps are good to get a feel of overseas locations, then interrogating how to get somewhere in your own backyard.
Larger cities such as Melbourne get the option to view a closeup satellite image of around a 5 km (over 3 mi) radius of the city centre, and a photograph of its skyline. Given the poor quality of the images, the photo at ground level is more interesting.
I went to check the Geolibrary providing a relatively brief overview of Melbourne, from the 1850s gold rush era through to the completion of the Arts Centre in 1984. According to the UN, the population was 3.2 million in 1992. Now approaching 2020, the city is edging 5 million thanks to a large intake of overseas migration in recent years. If the map of Melbourne represented what it is today, much of the green wedges – west to Werribee and Melton, north to Craigieburn, and south east down to Cranbourne and Pakenham would be largely depleted.
From using the Locator, you may access longitude and latitude coordinates, country statistics, and the legend to help make sense of the map. The statistics feature allows searching on all sorts of categories. I chose the percentage of electricity generated by wind, only to find most countries were either ‘N/A’ or zero. Eventually selecting The Netherlands on the map it came up as having a measly 0.1%.
Beyond the maps, Culturgram gives insight to the people, cultural values, lifestyle, and society at large. This time the location chosen was Japan with the Ukita family, who shared a glimpse into their daily life. Several photos and a short video clip filmed around Tokyo were included. Perhaps cliché, busy subway stations and drinking nihonshu (日本酒) consumed most of the video. (On a side note, what westerners typically refer to as sake, is correctly known in Japan as nihonshu. Sake typically pronounced as osake (お酒) translates to alcohol. The kanji character (酒) is commonly seen around convenience stores that sell beer, spirits, etc. and not just nihonshu.) Content for Culturgrams was sourced from Brigham Young University.
Typical of products in the Microsoft Home range, there’s very little included in the retail box. The included guide had basic troubleshooting giving preferential treatment to Windows 95 users. Users of NT 3.51 were told to look in the Windows manual instead.
Encarta World Atlas isn’t an application that ages well given the speedy pace of change. Nowadays, it could be looked back as a time capsule on CD capturing how the world was circa 1995. Sometimes it’s still relevant today to an extent such as reading on Japanese gestures, whilst Melbourne’s demographics have considerably changed.