Triple threat. (Microsoft Corp.'s introduction of three Multimedia PC applications) (Column) (Product Announcement)
by David English
Seven years ago, Microsoft began preaching the gospel of CD-ROM when no one wanted to listen. Two years ago, Microsoft began pushing multimedia when most people thought the technology was at least five years away. Now that multimedia is here and beginning to catch on, what has Microsoft done lately to promote the Multimedia PC (MPC) standard?
Of course, we wouldn't have MPC without Microsoft's Windows with Multimedia. It's the foundation on which all the MPC titles are built. While the MPC standard is oficially set by the Multimedia PC Marketing Council, it was Microsoft that developed the original standard. Fortunately, Microsoft designed Windows with Multimedia to be an open platform, so it can be easily extended with new hardware and software drivers. Microsoft also continues to sponosr the annual International Conference & Exposition on Multimedia and CD-ROM, an important meeting place for swapping ideas and displaying new CD-ROM products.
In addition to its contributions on the systems side, Microsoft is committed to developing and selling its own MPC applications. The company has recently released three MPC titles: Microsoft Works for Windows, Multimedia Edition; Microsoft Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony; and Microsoft Bookshelf for Windows.
Microsoft Works for Windows, Multimedia Edition (Microsoft, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington 98052; 206-882-8080; $199) is essentially the same program as Microsoft Works for Windows except that the multimedia version comes on a CD-ROM and includes a multimedia-based tutorial. Using sound, video, and animation, the tutorial actually makes learning fun. Clearly, some talented people were involved in creating these highly entertaining lessons.
Microsoft Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony ($79.95) is actually a port of a Macintosh CD-ROM created by The Voyager Company. It's a multifaceted and detailed look at the greatest symphony ever written. Robert Winter, a music professor at UCLA, wrote the text for each of the four sections.
The four sections are Beethoven's World (a vivid look at Beethoven's life and times), The Art of Listening (a short course in musical concepts, using the Ninth Symphony for examples), A Close Reading (a listening tour of the entire symphony with information displayed at various points in the symphony), and The Ninth Game (a game that tests your knowledge of the material in the other three sections).
The recording itself is a 1966 recording with the Viennese Philharmonic. You can hear it through your CD-ROM drive's audio outputs or through any sound card that meets the MPC specs. You can even play the symphonic tracks in a regular audio-CD player.
Multimedia Beethoven is a terrific example of how to bring high-quality music to an MPC title. The software lets you easily compare musical themes and hear individual instruments. The only flaws in this otherwise stellar product have to do with its translation from Macintosh to MPC. Originally based on a low-resolution, black-and-white Hyper-Card stack, the graphics are still mostly low-resolution and black-and-white. In addition, rather than rebuild the program from the ground up, Microsoft chose to translate the Macintosh-based Hyper-Card stack into a PC-based ToolBook 1.5 book and touch it up a bit. That's fine, except that ToolBook can be slow, so Multimedia Beethoven is sometimes slower than it should be.
Microsoft Bookshelf for Windows ($195) is a reworking of the popular DOS-based Microsoft Bookshelf. It's practically a full reference library on a single disc, including as it does The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, The American Heritage Dictionary, Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus, The World Almanac and Book of Facts, Barlett's Familiar Quotations, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, and Hammond Atlas. Added to these text-based works are over 1000 images and maps, 20 animations, and over 65,000 audio pronunciations. You can also hear many speeches, national anthems, and snippets of music. The interface is easy to use and allows keyword searches through one or more of the seven reference works.
For those of us who thrive on information, Microsoft Bookshelf for Windows is like a gift from heaven.