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Microsoft's Student 2007
The previous versions of Encarta included a host of homework tools. Last year, these have been made into a separate product called Microsoft Student. It has now been gainfully repackaged and very much enhanced. Among the new or revamped features: free online access to MSN Encarta Premium, Step-by-Step Math Solutions calculator, Step-by-Step Math Textbook Solutions, Triangle Solver, Equations Library, tutorials, and foreign language help. MS Student comes replete with the entire Encarta Premium encyclopedia! Homework assignments are the bane of most students I know (not to mention their hard-pressed and nescient parents). This is mainly because of the tedious and mind-numbing chores of data mining and composition.
Additionally, as knowledge multiplies every 5-10 years, few parents and teachers are able to keep up. Enter Microsoft Student 2007 - a productivity suite which, as we mentioned, includes the Encarta Encyclopedia, English and foreign language dictionaries, thesaurus, quotations library, assignment templates, tutorials, graphing calculator software and a Web Companion. Similar to the Encarta, MS Student's Web Companion obtains search results from all the major search engines without launching any additional applications (like a browser). Content from both the Encyclopedia and the Web is presented side by side. This augmentation explicitly adopts the Internet and incorporates it as an important source of reference - as 80% of students have already done.
I am not sure how Microsoft solved the weighty and interesting issues of intellectual property that the Web Companion raises, though. Copyright-holders of Web content may feel that they have the right to be compensated by Microsoft for the use it makes of their wares in its commercial products. MS Student would do well to also integrate with new desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. Students will benefit from seamless access to content from all over - their desktop, their encyclopedias, and the Web - using a single, intuitive interface. MS Student's templates are actually clever adaptations of the popular Office suite of products - Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They help the student produce homework plans and schedules, projects, book reports, presentations, research reports, charts, and analyses of problems in math, physics, and chemistry. Detailed step-by-step tutorials, Quick Starters, and pop-up toolbars (menus) guide the student along the way in a friendly, non-intrusive manner. The graphing calculator is a wonder. It has both 2-D and 3-D capabilities and makes use of the full screen. Aided by an extensive Equations Library, it does everything except cook: trigonometry, calculus, math, charting, geometry, physics, and chemistry.
And everything in full color! For the student keen on the liberal arts and the humanities, Student 2007 provides detailed Book Summaries of almost 1000 classic works. Besides plot synopses, the student gets acquainted with the author's life, themes and characters in the tomes, and ideas for book reports. MS Student 2007 is a great contribution to learning. Inevitably, it has a few flaws and glitches. Start with the price. As productivity suites go, it is reasonably priced had its target population been adult professional users. But, at $70-100, it is beyond the reach of most poor students and parents - its most immediate market niches. MS Student 2007 makes use of Microsoft's .Net technology. As most home computers lack it, the installer insists on adding it to the anyhow bloated Windows Operating System.
There is worse to come: the .Net version installed by MS Student 2007 is plagued with security holes and vulnerabilities. Users have to download service packs and patches from Windows Update if they do not wish to run the risk of having their computers compromised by hackers. Fully installed on the hard disk, MS Student 2007 gobbles up less than its predecessors but still a whopping 4 Gb. That's a lot - even in an age of ever cheaper storage. Most homesteads still sport PCs with 20-40 Gb hard disks. This makes MS Student less suitable for installation on older PCs and on many laptops. Finally, there is the question of personal creativity and originality. Luckily, MS Student does not spoon-feed its users. It does not substitute for thinking or for study.
On the contrary, by providing structured stimuli, it encourages the student to express his or her ideas. It does not do the homework assignments for the student - it merely helps rid them of time-consuming and machine-like functions. And it opens up to both student and family the wonderful twin universes of knowledge: the Encarta and the Web.
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