- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

Microsoft Student 2006, a $99 list program geared to middle school and high school students, will make those who felt smug with their Encyclopedia Britannica sets at home positively green with envy.

Not only does the program contain a “premium” version of the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia, which can easily give Britannica a run for the money, there’s plenty more to make even an indifferent student sit up and take notice. This is one cool program.

There is one big catch upfront, however: You need to have a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 or OfficeXP installed on your PC to run the Student add-on. Fortunately, Microsoft sells a “student/teacher” version of Office 2003 for $149 list; retailers such as Amazon.com offer it for $109, adding the Student program for $60 more. So, for as little as $169 at an online store, you can get a student ready for a whole school year.

If all that math confuses you, it won’t after a little time with Student. There are several mathematical tools, including online help for math as well as an amazing graphing calculator, one that is a far cry from the grainy black-and-white models of a few years ago. This one can create a 3-D parametric surface — let’s say Homer Simpson would easily recognize one — in the blink of an eye. Math problems can be entered in the way textbooks display them; there’s no need to learn a new system of entry, again something found with those old hand-held calculators. You can save the results of these calculations to share or use them in group work with classmates.

Student also teams up with Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet program to let students create math and science projects. Bar graphs never looked so good. Another Microsoft program, PowerPoint, gets a boost from Student as well. There are templates and guidelines for great presentations.

There are tips for organizing such displays, as well as on how to present them. Although this could give rise to fears that a new generation of slide jockeys is being created under our noses, it also suggests that new users of PowerPoint will get off on the right foot.

On the verbal side, footnoting and formatting term papers and the like is a breeze with the program’s Microsoft Word add-ins. This could be one of the most valuable aspects of the program, because getting this stuff right can be a pain. The addition of online resources such as a one-year subscription to the MSN version of Encarta, providing updated information along with the digital disc version of the encyclopedia means students can find facts easily and from a trusted source.

There are also a bunch of book summaries, useful for checking your understanding of Dickens against an authority’s.

So why buy this software when so much information is available online, let alone when Mom and Dad had to slog through foot-high snowdrifts just to use the manual typewriter in the school lab? The authoritativeness of Microsoft’s content is one thing. The integration with Microsoft Office is another: I was impressed by the ease of use, as well as the power of the Student tools.

If I were attending Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, instead of now driving by it every morning, I’d want this program on my PC. More information can be found online at www.microsoft.com/student/default.mspx.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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