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

Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 10: Month 2012

The CD-ROM Project

The DK Touch

I’ve already noted a couple of Dorling-Kindersley CD-ROMs in this series of “do they work now?” commentaries, most recently in December 2010. In the interest of getting through this interminably delayed project before hell thaws out again, let’s look at half a dozen DK titles I thought were worth saving when I reviewed them the first time.

Just looking at the packages, I wonder: None of them mentions any Windows newer than 98, and five have the Qiss of Death icon (the Quicktime logo that usually means they require a specific installed version of Quicktime)—but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by DK titles in the past.

In the day, Dorling-Kindersley consistently produced title CD-ROMs that both entertained and informed, using CD-ROM multimedia techniques to good effect. The CD-ROMs showed some of the same design skills you see in DK books. I didn’t always give them Excellent ratings (and didn’t keep all the ones I reviewed), but they were almost always interesting and worthwhile. (When I reviewed four Eyewitness titles in a single August 1998 roundup, three of the four—including two noted here—got Excellent scores; one got a Good score because it didn’t run very well on Windows 95, apparently preferring Windows 3.1.)

Four of these are in DK’s “Eyewitness” series of topical histories and encyclopedias; one is in DK’s “Chronicle” series; and one is the second or third edition of David Macaulay’s wonderful “Way Things Work,” this time The New Way Things Work. I reviewed them in late 1997, the fall of 1998 and (in one case) late 1999, and the copyrights range from 1995 through 1998. Most of these listed for $39.95 new, although one or two came in at $29.95.

To save space and sanity, I’m not going to go looking for possible replacements for these CD-ROMs if they don’t work. They’re multimedia explorations: that’s their strength. You could certainly find the same facts and some of the same media on the web; I don’t believe you could wind up with the same sense of exploration, although I could be wrong.

Eyewitness Virtual Reality Earth Quest

That’s what the spine says; the front of the package just says Earth Quest in big type, followed by “The ultimate interactive guide to the forces and forms of our dynamic planet.” In December 1997, I gave the disk an Excellent score (93), calling it a “deep and well-presented panorama of information about the forces and forms that make up the planet.” I didn’t take the time to complete one major challenge, but I did find it interesting. It’s heavy on mineralogy and related topics.

Installing and operation

The installation routine came up with this friendly alert (on a blue background screen) [omitted here: see PDF versions]:

I like that: It doesn’t scare you off, but it does let you know there could be problems. Installation proceeded rapidly—and, of course, came to the QuickTime installation step, where it detected an “earlier version of QuickTime” and I told it not to replace it. After noting that things might not work properly, it finished. It doesn’t add a shortcut to the desktop, but the start menu had an Earth Quest icon.

Which, sigh, didn’t work. First it warned that QT wasn’t installed and videos wouldn’t played. Then it said the “sound decompression software” wasn’t installed properly and terminated. In other words, no luck: This disc just isn’t going to run under Windows 7. Too bad.

Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Nature 2.0

In 1998, this one got a low Excellent (91)—but that’s still excellent, with more than 700 primary articles, 200,000 words, ten panoramas to explore habitats, extensive “green” coverage and more—all arranged to encourage exploration.

Installing and operation

No Windows-version warning this time, but the usual Quicktime issue. Fast setup. Attempting to run yields a similar “sound software” message.

Once again, no luck. Once again, a shame.

Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Science 2.0

This disc earned a 94 (Excellent) in 1998 for its interface and content, offering a range of ways to find out more on quite a few aspects of science—not necessarily dumbed down. Forty videos, 800 illustrations, 80 animations. 3.5 hours of audio, and about 900,000 words in 1,800 articles. The retail package included a neat little 160-page pocket paperback, Science Facts.

Installing and running

Similar messages and QT issues, but this one copies a lot more to the disk—and wants to restart the computer before it can run. Does that help?

Nope—but this time, the failure’s a little more bizarre. The program won’t recognize the data path to the DVD drive. I suspect it would fail for other reasons, but that stops it cold.

This time around, the actual files on the disc are mostly viewable—the neat little biographies as image files, a variety of pronunciations and commentary as .wav files. But the whole thing doesn’t work. Again, a shame.

Eyewitness History of the World 2.0

Because of difficulties running on either Windows 95 (where it didn’t work at all for me) or Windows 98 (where it ran, but not perfectly), this disc only earned a strong Very Good (87). It earned that high a score because the graphics were stunning, the methodology encouraged exploration and there was loads of content (more than 450,000 words of text, 700 illustrations, 24 video clips and three hours of audio).

Installing and operation

The Windows-version warning screen, and the need to restart—but no QuickTime messages (this is one of two CD-ROMs that has an indeo logo for Intel video, this time alongside the QT logo). Will that help? Nope. Sound software again, even though there were no installation problems. At least this one uninstalls properly (perhaps not completely, but InstallShield goes through the steps).

Chronicle Encyclopedia of History

When I reviewed this in 1998, it got an Excellent score (94), calling it “a surprisingly effective view of man’s history, using a news style to present several thousand key events.” The main interface is an “interactive newspaper” offering major illustrated stories, a timeline to get to other stories and several sidebars. Stories may include archival video clips, historic sound records or actor’s recreations (consistently labeled as such) or links to other stories. In all, the disc has about 1.6 million words in 4,000 major stories, 12,000 brief stories, one hundred biographies and a dozen essays. (Remember when 24 to 40MB of hard disk space was “a fair amount”? That was one of my few mild complaints.)

Installing and operation

This one says it needs 411MB of disc space, a lot for 1997 if trivial in 2012. Once again, there’s no QT issue (and no QT logo); once again, it needs a restart. Same results—even though QT isn’t an issue, the “sound software” is.

The New Way Things Work

David Macaulay had a knack for making machines and inventors fascinating in The Way Things Work, both book and CD-ROM. This third version earned an Excellent (93) for its content and methodology—even though it wouldn’t run David Macaulay’s own video clips unless I downgraded QuickTime (other videos ran just fine). The disc includes 24 Mammoth Movies (using humor to show how machines work), 300 animations, 70,000 words and loads of illustrations and pop-ups.

Installing and operation

This time, just for fun, I let QT install its version (but didn’t let it delete other versions, although the only one I can find is a QT browser plugin, since Windows Media Player handles QuickTime files natively). No restart required. It also installs a demo for another Macaulay CD-ROM.

For some reason, it didn’t leave tracks on the start menu—but going to DK Multimedia in the All Programs menu yields an icon for the program, the demo, and all the other programs I supposedly uninstalled. And, sigh, both the program and the Pinball demo bring up the “sound software” message.

Six Up, Six Down

I had hoped that some of these would run because I remember them fondly. Unfortunately, I also suspected they were so intriguing and so involving because they used hardware hooks or other techniques that are, for good reason (stability, security), simply not possible in modern versions of Windows (from XP on and possibly from later iterations of 98).

There are more CD-ROMs to check, but this is discouraging enough that it may be a while. Surprising? No, not really.

Funny thing, though: I have books I purchased in 1997 and 1998 that run just fine in 2012. I have CDs purchased in 1985 that play just fine in 2012.

By the way, some or all of these are probably still available on Amazon or elsewhere. (I see Earth Quest offered for, gasp, $141.42; Encyclopedia of History for $20; History of the World for $29.95; and so on.) Unless they’re post-1998 versions, there is no reason to believe they would run, although it’s possible you could find software patches in some cases. There is a 3.0 version of Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Nature that claims to be compatible with Vista and XP and a similar 3.0 version of Encyclopedia of Science, but it’s not clear that it’s actually available.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 12, Number 10, Whole # 154, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced irregularly by Walt Crawford.

Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2012 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.