Complete National Geographic

110 Years – The Complete National Geographic.

Complete National Geographic: currently available as a set of 32 CD's, formerly available as a set of four DVD's.This article was first written for the newsletter of PAUG, the Peninsula Apple Users Group. It appeared in the May 2001 issue.

Complete National Geographic: currently available as a set of 32 CD’s, formerly available as a set of four DVD’s.This collection is currently available from National Geographic, for Windows or Mac, for $99.95. You’ll find all the back issues, with original articles and photos, going back to the first issue in 1888. They’re faithfully preserved on a set of 32 CD-ROM’s. If you spent $99 on an heirloom collection, would these durable CD’s bring you and the family a lifetime of pleasure and education? Close, but no cigar. I had to re-think my expectations of this durable plastic medium.

Bob and I bought our DVD set at CostCo for Christmas 1998, paying nearly twice the current price, but reducing the number of disks to 4. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as cradle-to-grave software security. Unfortunately again, you can’t write an updater or “patch” that writes to a CD-ROM or DVD. These products were launched just as the industry was switching from 16-bit to 32-bit code.

I figured all this out over the course of two pointless weeks with an outsourced tech support company. I caught an error message that announced that the software was indeed 16-bit. On Windows 2000 (or Mac OS-X) you can stop right there. 16-bit software is a lost cause. If you don’t remember what this means, don’t worry about it any more.

I wrote a final email reporting my findings, and cc’d National Geographic. To my surprise, an executive wrote back, and we had a pleasant exchange of concerns on the telephone. They share my concern that a growing community of users will be unable to use the software. They have changed distributors. In 2001 and 2002 we will see a revamped product suitable for current and next-generation operating systems.

Will they replace all the older disks out there? I don’t think so, and I can’t say I’d expect them to. You don’t “install” a 20GB collection (only small parts of it). You can’t run an updater on plastic as you can for a game or application.

I’ll create a Windows 98 partition to make our DVD’s last a year or two more. If there is a problem, I know I can get additional support, but I am holding out for DVD’s in 2002 – if National Geographic decides there will be enough demand to offer them.

“The Complete National Geographic” is a truly amazing product. If you enjoy the magazine and even occasionally do serious research or browsing, I recommend this collection highly. Should you buy now, or wait until the next release? If you have a student in the family, I’d buy it now. Operating systems sold between 1998 and 2000 should be supported for years. In my own case, I care enough for our DVD product that I opted to set up a dual-boot system to run it under Windows 98. You can do the same with Mac, or run it under Carbon.

The vast amount of high-quality information available on CD-ROM and DVD is even now changing the way public libraries do business. I could never warehouse 100 years of National Geographic, or even a complete set of encyclopedias. If you haven’t looked into “big” reference works, there’s never going to be a better time than the present, and I can’t think of a better way to get started than the National Geographic.

copyright Alex Forbes ©April 22, 2001

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