Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 11, Number 1: January 2011

The CD-ROM Project

The Parks

Remember when there were CD-ROMs to build routes from one place to another? Those weren’t title CD-ROMs as such; they were one of the cases where the web (and non-internet solutions relying directly on GPS) seem indisputably better than CD-ROM, quite apart from being free.

There are location-related title CD-ROMs that might still have value. The three CD-ROMs discussed here are all about national parks: One focusing on some national parks in the western United States (and the two non-contiguous states), one about all of the national parks and one on the Grand Canyon. As I remember the last one, it was so computationally intensive that it ran sluggishly on the most powerful PCs I had at the time. But times have changed. Let’s see what still works, how well they work and whether there are good replacements. (Caution: This is a discouraging trio, which you might just as well skip.)

Know Before You Go: Western, Alaskan and Hawaiian National Parks

This Everest Multimedia CD-ROM appeared in June 1996. It’s part of a supposed series of “Know Before You Go” CD-ROMs and says it’s compatible with Windows NT (3.51 to 4.0 or ’95) and Windows 3.1x—so it might just work.

I gave it an excellent rating in May 1997, calling it “beautifully-done” with a wide range of information on each of 28 parks, including quite good general essays, although the maps of the parks were weak. There are 171 full-screen photos; the interface uses Windows conventions (with one key exception) and takes up the entire screen, using it all well. The exception: The middle Windows icon is grayed out—you can only minimize the window or run it full screen. That meant I couldn’t move it to my larger display, but that’s not too surprising.

How it works now

The install is fast and minimal, although the claimed need for a Windows restart shouldn’t be there. It only installs about 2MB (I left out the screensaver); basically, this runs entirely from the CD-ROM. It works just fine—such as it is.

I’m less enthralled now than I was 13 years ago. The photos, while still good, seem less impressive. The sound effects seem intrusive rather than helpful. Most “category” information—lodging, dining, etc.—dates rapidly. And, of course, the total lack of integration with the web, while not unusual in 1997, is odd in 2010. It’s still a “polite disc” but considerably past its prime. If your library has a copy of this disc, it should still work just fine, and the general information is sound, noting that the 28 parks covered are nowhere near all the national parks in those states. The text is fully searchable.

Contemporary alternatives

The CD-ROM is still available; it’s not clear whether it’s been updated. One vendor has it for $19, down from the original $30.

Better yet, start at for all the national parks, offering more up to date text, more and better photos and, of course, weblinks as appropriate and fully compatible operation on Windows, Mac, Linux or anything with a browser. A little judicious Binging or Googling on park names will yield all the dining, lodging and travel advice you could want, considerably more up to date.

The disc was good for its time. That time has gone. You’re better off at and beyond.

Exploring America’s National Parks

This 1995 disc from Multicom says it deals with “hundreds of America’s parks,” features “inspiring photographs by the legendary David Muench, spectacular videos and vast data search capabilities” and is designed for both Windows and Macintosh. I reviewed it in December 1997, giving it a Very Good rating and saying it “shows its age slightly” but had a superb set of photographs and a good interface and fairly extensive information. At the time, you could buy the disc alone for $30 or the disc and a first-rate book of photos for $40. Comparing the two discs at the time, I found that this had better photos and covered more parks—but had less information on most parks. It also ran in Macromedia Director, which put an error message on each slide if your computer was set for more than 256 colors.

How it works now

It doesn’t. Autorun causes Windows to ask you for permission for an unknown application to change your disk. Say yes, and a version of the CD’s cover takes over your entire screen—no window controls, no nothing. And that’s it: The install never continues, at least on my machine. By right clicking on my secondary screen, I was able to restore the toolbar and close the window. However this actually installs, it’s incompatible with modern versions of Windows. (I tried it a second time, directly double-clicking on the SETUP.EXE file. Same deal.) I’m guessing it would do no better with Mac OS X.

Contemporary alternatives

Did I mention

Overstock appears to have a newer (?) version that claims compatibility with Windows 95, 98, ME and XP, selling for $6.49, but based on user reviews, I’m guessing this version also doesn’t work with Vista or Windows 7. Amazon has the book and CD-ROM combo, used, for $17; although it lists a different publisher (Multimedia 2000), it’s the same version. Best guess: It probably won’t work, but the book might be worthwhile.

You can find lots of David Muench’s glorious landscape and nature photography on the web, to be sure, along with some of the dozens of books he’s worked on.

Explore the Grand Canyon

This 1995 Coriolis Group Media title came with a 72-page 7x8.5” user’s guide. It claims compatibility with Windows 3.1 and Windows 95—and a sign of its advanced implementation is the video requirements for 1995: at least 800x600 resolution with 65,000 simultaneous colors, but “true color” (24-bit color) and a graphics card highly recommended. It wants a Pentium PC and at least 16MB RAM; it will only run on Windows 3.1 and 8MB RAM if you disable networking.

CD-ROM Professional had an article about the making of the CD-ROM; in September 1996, I reviewed the product there and noted the “incredible difficulties I had reviewing it at all.” By June 1997, I had a more powerful PC, one that considerably exceeded the minimum requirements, and reviewed it again. I called it a tour de force with its remarkable creation of 3D Grand Canyon landscapes from a digital database, “but that creation process is so computer-intensive that it’s uncomfortably slow even on my new system. A high-definition image takes five seconds or longer to appear; anything less than a high-definition image won’t include the hotspots that make the disc so interesting.” The disc includes more than 3,000 “excellent photographs,” hours of narration, music and sound, USGS navigation maps, a “charming elapsed-time river trip” and the 3D Virtual Landscape itself. There’s no real searchable database, however—you could only find things by exploring the maps and following hyperlinks. I gave it a Very Good rating as a way to enrich your understanding of the Grand Canyon once you’ve been there—and “where else could you see 3,000 high-quality pictures of details of the Grand Canyon?”

How it works today

My current computer doesn’t have a graphics accelerator card, but it certainly far exceeds the other requirements of the disc and, of course, runs in 24-bit color mode. The install seemed to go just fine. Startup works as advertised, opening a small title screen and two other windows—but the other two windows, while movable, aren’t really Windows windows: they can’t be resized and have their own quixotic minimize button.

One window has pictures on the left and a text stream on the right with some links. You can play a narrated version of that introduction or you can click on the links, which bring up other text and pictures (sometimes with sound in the background).

What you can’t do: Get back to the introduction…or make anything in the control window (the smaller window) work, including Exit. For whatever reason, the program, while recognizing the cursor, doesn’t actually do anything in the upper window (or in the lower window except for hyperlinks), so most of the program is effectively not there. Exploring the disc itself shows that photos are in an unrecognized format and most .AVI files are sound-only. The topo data and maps are all also unrecognized formats.

Bottom line: 99% of the program simply doesn’t work in Windows 7. What a shame.

Contemporary alternatives

You’ll find plenty of sites, including at least one with scores of high-quality photos. And, of course, you can use Bing for a bird’s-eye view or Google maps satellite images, and either search system will provide thousands of photo.

Is there an equivalent to the generated 3D images on this CD-ROM or the combined sets of images and text? There might be, but in limited searching I didn’t find one. In any case, the product no longer really works at all—and I didn’t find a contemporary version.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 11, Number 1, Whole # 136, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

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