Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 72 / MAY 1986 / PAGE 48


Philips CD-ROM And The Electronic Encyclopedia For IBM

Tony Roberts, Production Director

Requirements: IBM PC with at least 256K RAM. Versions for other personal computers expected soon.

Recent years have unleashed an information explosion-an uncoordinated, unmanaged proliferation of data. New developments, however, indicate that we stand poised to harness this data and place the immense power of the information age at the fingertips of anyone with access to a personal computer.
    The harbinger of this new era is the hardware/software combination of a CD-ROM (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory) player and a compact disc containing up to 600 megabytes of digitized data. The first such combination available is the Philips CM100 player and Grolier's The Electronic Encyclopedia. Available now for the IBM PC and compatibles, this package is an exciting look at the future of information retrieval.
    The Electronic Encyclopedia is a 20volume, nine-million-word encyclopedia with cross-referenced index encoded on a five-inch plastic disc (with about two-thirds of the disc to spare). Using this disc, a CD-ROM player, and an IBM PC running Activenture Corporation's Knowledge Retrieval System, it's possible to access any article in the encyclopedia in seconds. In fact, you can find every occurrence of any keyword throughout the entire encyclopedia.

The System
The Philips CM100 system consists of the CD-ROM drive itself, a tan box about 14 inches wide, 6 inches high, and 10 inches deep; an interface card, which occupies one of the full slots in the IBM PC; and a connecting cable. Everything can be set up in a matter of minutes. The disc player, incidentally, cannot play audio compact discs, although the technology is quite similar.
    Activenture's Knowledge Retrieval System is the link between you and the CD-ROM. It's so simple to operate that the 94-page instruction manual is practically superfluous.
    The left quarter of the screen shows the commands available by pressing one of the ten function keys on the IBM. For instance, the F1 key, labeled About Keys, displays a map showing you where you are in the program and offers help on any of the functions available. The remainder of the screen displays options for your searches and the articles you call up.

A Simple Search
After viewing the title screen and pressing the function key labeled Word Search, you're ready to begin sifting through the encyclopedia. Let's say you're looking for references to the subject "information age."
    Following the onscreen prompts, you can ask the computer to search for the word information along with the word age occurring anywhere in the same article. Within seconds, a message is flashed on the screen that 1,472 occurrences of the word information have been found. Then the display indicates that 3,221 occurrences of the word age have been located. Putting the two words together, the program finally reports that there are 228 occurrences of the words information and age in 117 articles.
    That's probably more than you bargained for. To narrow things down, you can instruct the computer to look only for occurrences of the two words within the same paragraph. Seconds later, the program reports finding 33 occurrences in 15 articles, including pieces on animal behavior, insurance, census, and poison.
    Narrowing the search parameters further, you can specify that information and age must appear in exact order: that is, "information age." This time, the program finally reports that there are two occurrences in one article. When you press F4, Show Titles, the program loads and displays the titles of the articles located during the search. In this case, the article you're probably interested in is "Information Science."
    Pressing F2 loads the article and displays the paragraph containing the first reference to the search words. The search words are highlighted throughout the article, so it's easy to scan it using the function keys labeled Next Page and Previous Page to find your information quickly. As it turns out, the "Information Science" article has only one relevant paragraph relating to "information age" (the other occurrence of the phrase appears in the bibliography at the end of the article). To print out a hardcopy, you can press F7, Make Copy. The result is the following paragraph:
     It is common to speak of the present as the Information Age, or to refer to the information explosion. About 50 percent of all workers in the United States today are in some way involved in information processing. Many people do not receive the right information at the right time, however, because they are not aware the information exists, because they do not know where to look for it, or because it is buried in a mass of extraneous information and is difficult to find.
Plenty Of Options
There are many options available after choosing Make Copy. You can copy the article or parts of it to a printer, or save it to disk. You can select printer margins, line spacing, hyphenation, and justification, if you like. If you're saving to disk, you can save it in ASCII text format, in a WordStar-compatible format, or in a PRINT format.

Only A Beginning
This description of using The Electronic Encyclopedia, and the encyclopedia itself, are only beginnings. Much more complex searches are possible by using wildcards and negating certain words. For example, you could search for horse but not iron to eliminate articles about steam engines from your research on equestrians. Another timesaving feature is the Outline option. If you find yourself mired in a complex article, press the function key labeled Outline. Within seconds, an outline of the entire article is before you. Move the cursor to the topic that interests you, press Enter, and you'll go directly to that section.
    Though it contains more than 30,000 articles, The Electronic Encyclopedia is, by its very nature, general. It is not detailed enough to be particularly helpful in serious research, though it does quite well at answering general questions. Thanks to the compact disc format, however, it is practical and economical to update regularly, another advantage over its paper counterparts. Grolier promises to update the encyclopedia each year for $24.95.
    Having all the information in 20 volumes available on a single disc is exciting, but even more thrilling is what it promises for the future. Imagine a whole library of compact disc databases-indexes to law libraries, census data, technical journals-and imagine what it might mean to have the key to all that information-the key to the information age.

Philips CM100 CD-ROM
The Electronic Encyclopedia
Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.
Sherman Turnpike
Danbury, CT 06816
The Electronic Encyclopedia
(without drive) $199