Company: Microsoft, www.microsoft.com
System Requirements: Pentium 500 MHz processor (1 GHz recommended); Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 4 or Windows XP; 256 MB RAM; 850 MB hard-disk space, 330 MB more for Encarta Kids; 16-bit sound card
Pros: Rich educational resource; covers all academic topics
Cons: Full install of program eats up hard-disk space; working from DVD slows some features
Microsoft Student 2006 is a superb resource with a potentially confusing title. Student 2006 is not a student update of Microsoft Office—it is a collection of academic tools designed to help middle and high school students succeed, and the easily addictive application is rich in resources. It offers assistance in all academic topics plus a College Prep link and a Games and Fun tab.
The Geography feature contains interactive maps, Encarta articles, and statistics to enrich research and reports. Click on Population Trends and you get a customizable state chart and a view of total population, density, or percentage of urban residents tracked from 1800 to 2000. Map pushpins let you mark map points, the yardstick measures distances, and article links take you directly to Encarta regional overviews. The Games section offers more than mindless entertainment, too, with content that is reliably enlightening and fun.
Other tools include foreign language dictionaries, famous quotations, a dictionary/thesaurus, a style guide, a graphing calculator, and science illustrations of anatomical systems. The application also has Homework How-Tos for reports and presentations and online tutorials for basic math, algebra, and geometry.
Stephanie Gold is a San Franciso-based freelance writer.