Microsoft lays Encarta to rest

31 Mar 2009

And so one format replaces another and a new era is officially baptised as Microsoft concedes to the power of the online, crowd-sourced, open encyclopedia format of Wikipedia by quietly announcing the end of Encarta.

Encarta – currently available both as software on disk format and online as MSN Encarta with an optional subscription model – began in 1993, and 2009 will see the last ever incarnation, which was released in August 2008.

Microsoft will stop selling Student and Encarta Premium software products globally by June 2009, while the MSN Encarta website will be discontinued as of 31 October 2009, with the Japanese version discontinued by 31 December 2009.

Microsoft said on the official Encarta site that the discontinuation of the both the software and website for the encyclopaedia was due to the changing nature of access to and consumption of information.

“The category of traditional encyclopaedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past,” it stated on the site.

However, Microsoft has clearly not ruled out the possibility of using the information and assets built up from Encarta to “develop future technology solutions”. Could this mean an eventual Wikipedia competitor launched by Microsoft when the time is right?

Of course, just as Wikipedia’s huge influence and user base (currently over nine million registered users) has led to the eventual demise of Encarta, Microsoft already had knocked the confidence of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, especially when its Encarta software was bundled for free with Windows desktops in the Nineties.

Now Encyclopaedia Britannica has its own site, which stands apart from Wikipedia by offering a paid premium subscription and the ability for readers to suggest changes but not make any to the articles – offering what it considers to be a more expert reference library of articles.

Perhaps Encarta will be resurrected in this format, or maybe even join forces with Encyclopaedia Britannica in a bid to offer an alternative to the reigning internet reference site.

By Marie Boran