- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

Microsoft Corp.’s digital encyclopedia, Encarta, might have pushed its printed competitors off the shelves in some homes. Now Encarta itself has fallen victim to changes in technology, made all but obsolete by the likes of Web search and Wikipedia.

Microsoft said it will shut down the online version of Encarta in October and will discontinue sales of the PC software by June.

Encarta was first sold to computer users as a CD-ROM-based encyclopedia in 1993. Critics questioned some of Microsoft’s editorial decisions, including the fact that Encarta’s dictionary had a photo of Bill Gates and not one of John F. Kennedy. But the electronic knowledge base was an early example of the advantages of digital content over the printed word. Encarta was quickly searchable, and could pack more images, plus video and sound.

Encarta gained a further edge over bound volumes in the early days of the Web because it could pull down updated content while its printed competitors’ articles grew stale.

But CD-ROM reference materials quickly turned to relics as high-speed Internet access spread, Web search improved and ventures like Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia compiled and constantly updated by volunteers, gained credibility. Microsoft’s free and premium versions of Encarta suffered.

“People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past,” the Redmond, Wash., company stated on its Web site.

The company said customers with subscriptions to its premium Encarta service — which had cost $4.95 per month or $29.95 per year — will get a refund for fees paid beyond April 30. These users will still be able to access the content with their log-ins and passwords until the service goes off-line.

Verizon Wireless eyes Kindle-type e-readers

Amazon’s Kindle might soon be getting new competitors in the market for electronic-book devices.

Tony Lewis, who heads an initiative within Verizon Wireless to provide access to nonphone devices, said Wednesday that five companies have approached Verizon about wireless connections for e-readers.

“You’re going to see a lot of e-readers out there,” Mr. Lewis said. “The interest level is tremendous.”

Mr. Lewis wouldn’t say which manufacturers Verizon has been talking to. But he hinted that they are looking at entering parts of the e-book market that the Kindle doesn’t focus on, like college textbooks.

Amazon.com Inc. launched the second version of the Kindle a month ago. It uses Sprint Nextel Corp.’s wireless network to provide near-instant access to a store with 100,000 books.

So far, the Kindle’s main competitor has been Sony Corp.’s Reader. It has the same type of screen, meant to imitate the look of paper, but lacks wireless access. Instead, books are loaded by connecting the device to a computer.

“We’d love to have Sony on there,” Mr. Lewis said.

AT&T Inc., the second-largest wireless carrier after Verizon Wireless, has also been talking to e-reader manufacturers, said Ralph de la Vega, the company’s head of consumer services. Since AT&T’s network is more similar to ones used overseas, it could support international e-book readers, he noted. The Kindle can download books only in the U.S.

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