Scott Hanselman

I miss Microsoft Encarta

August 14, 2019 Comment on this post [51] Posted in Musings
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imageMicrosoft Encarta came out in 1993 and was one of the first CD-ROMs I had. It stopped shipping in 2009 on DVD. I recently found a disk and was impressed that it installed just perfectly on my latest Window 10 machine and runs nicely.

Encarta existed in an interesting place between the rise of the internet and computer's ability to deal with (at the time) massive amounts of data. CD-ROMs could bring us 700 MEGABYTES which was unbelievable when compared to the 1.44MB (or even 120KB) floppy disks we were used to. The idea that Encarta was so large that it was 5 CD-ROMs (!) was staggering, even though that's just a few gigs today. Even a $5 USB stick could hold Encarta - twice!

My kids can't possibly intellectualize the scale that data exists in today. We could barely believe that a whole bookshelf of Encyclopedias was now in our pockets. I spent hours and hours just wandering around random articles in Encarta. The scope of knowledge was overwhelming, but accessible. But it was contained - it was bounded. Today, my kids just assume that the sum of all human knowledge is available with a single search or a "hey Alexa" so the world's mysteries are less mysterious and they become bored by the Paradox of Choice.


In a world of 4k streaming video, global wireless, and high-speed everything, there's really no analog to the feeling we got watching the Moon Landing as a video in Encarta - short of watching it live on TV in 1969! For most of us, this was the first time we'd ever seen full-motion video on-demand on a computer in any sort of fidelity - and these are mostly 320x240 or smaller videos!

First Steps on the Moon

A generation of us grew up hearing MLK's "I have a dream" speech inside Microsoft Encarta!

MLK I have a Dream

Remember the Encarta "So, you wanna play some Basketball" Video?

LeBron James from 2003

Amazed by Google Earth? You never saw the globe in Encarta.

Globe in Encarta

You'll be perhaps surprised to hear that the Encarta Timeline works even today on across THREE 4k monitors at nearly 10,000 pixels across! This was a product that was written over 10 years ago and could never have conceived of that many pixels. It works great!

The Encarta Timeline across 3 4k monitors

Most folks at Microsoft don't realize that Encarta exists and is used TODAY all over the developing world on disconnected or occasionally connected computers. (Perhaps Microsoft could make the final version of Encarta available for a free final download so that we might avoid downloading illegal or malware infested versions?)

What are your fond memories of Encarta? If you're not of the Encarta generation, what's your impression of it? Had you heard or thought of it?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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August 18, 2019 10:17
I remember Encarta fondly. I can't remember exactly which it was, but used to spend hours playing a mini-game that, if my memory isn't failing, was like an RPG that you needed to answer trivia questions to proceed to the area you wanted to go to. That and aimlessly browse information about all kind of animals.
August 18, 2019 10:20
Wilson - Encarta Mind Maze! There's videos on YouTube
August 18, 2019 10:29
Yes! Thats the one! Spent so many hours, I don't recall ever getting to the end, or if there was any!
August 18, 2019 10:36
I lost many hours to Encarta Mind Maze. Encarta was multimedia in the greatest form back then. The fact that it was "edutainment" meant my parents were completely ok with me spending hours in front of that CRT.

Thanks for the nostalgia Scott! Brings back some great memories.
August 18, 2019 10:55
I also have great memories of Encarta. I don’t remeber the version, but I spend weeks exploring the maps. It was a great way to learn something about the world.
August 18, 2019 12:57
I still have a copy of Encarta 98. I spent many hours browsing through it, much like I do with Wikipedia now. Now, why doesn't Wikipedia have those fun movie clips?
August 18, 2019 13:30
I bought my nephews a whole World Book 2018 set (hardcover). I feel like nothing beats the tactile feel of books.
August 18, 2019 15:33
I used to have Microsoft Student 2006. It had Encarta and Microsoft Math in it. It runs on .NET Framework 1.1. So, it probably won't work in Windows 10. Its installer has a progress bar that does nothing for a very long time, before jumping to the end.

I remember having tried to use Encarta's globe to show everyone where the Bermuda triangle was located, and through it, show them how ridiculous the whole allegation was. (Of course, the triangle that I drew encompassed the Bay of Pigs and the entire Dominican Republic.) I also used to show its super-biased article on 9/11. Though all of us sympathized with the victims of the incident, we found its ultranationalistic bias very comic.

Eventually, whenever I want to make it a point that Microsoft has never been good at handling the consumers market sector, Student and Encarta are among my examples.

The Microsoft Math component was a keeper though. I still have it.
August 18, 2019 19:29
I remember growing up and using Encarta more of as a fun learning/entertainment, rather than primarily for research papers. Encarta '97 was my library. Sometimes I'd spend hours just sifting through the content, and even discovered a love for classical music due to it. There's something about the lack of instant gratification that makes the days of dialup and Encarta so wonderful. Maybe I'm just feeling nostalgia of my best days where I could be freshly fascinated and mind blown by technology everyday.
August 18, 2019 21:09
Well, in 2002 Encarta was probably the best tool in our Language Learning Lab in my high school. The teachers were visionary; they had Sims installed on the computers, there was a Computer Club whose members were developing basic language learning programs, and there was Encarta. I remember I was listening world music, including Roadhouse Blues from Albert King. Just a short sample but enough. I wish I could remember the version we had back then.
August 19, 2019 10:58
I have a vague recollection of getting a version of Encarta free with a shop built desktop PC. I swear I remember finding a brief clip of Jaws on it where Brody is shovelling chum over the side of the boat, looks away whilst doing it and then looks back as Jaws briefly rises out the water - "We're gonna need a bigger boat"

I remember as a 15/16 youth working in a local independent computer build/repair shop on Saturdays. I had about a 20 minute conversation with someone trying to figure out why their Encarta "wasn't working" - turns out they had put the disc in - but get this - had not closed they tray! Literally - eject button, put disc in, left tray out and wondering why it wasn't working. Unfortunately the rise of touch screens and accessibility to technology and some people are just as bad as this caller was.
August 19, 2019 14:56
Yup - have still got (and regularly use) the (very large) Encarta dictionary, which came with the CD (or was it a DVD? - must dig it out and check)

My memory of the whole Encarta experience was watch the footage of the Hindenberg disaster, and hearing the genuine despair in the voice of the commentator.
August 19, 2019 20:04
Glad I'm not the only one who liked the Mind Maze. For the last few years, I've been wondering if there's something like it that's still kept up to date. Is there anything like that today?

"The idea that Encarta was so large that it was 5 CD-ROMs (!) was staggering, even though that's just a few gigs today."

Back in my day, Encarta came on ONE CD! (95) Now get off my lawn! *wheeze*
August 19, 2019 20:21
I was 9 when my family bought our first PC in 1999. It ran Windows '98 and we got Encarta '98 in the bundle. Several things blew my mind about Encarta and I remember navigating that medieval castle for hours in MindMaze.

Perhaps the most mind blowing of them all - the articles for famous sites around the world (e.g. St. Paul's Cathedral in Rome, if I remember correctly) included 3D panoramic photos that you could click-and-drag in all directions. This was in 1999 - long before we took Google Earth and Streetview for granted!

Encarta helped with all sorts of school projects too - I was one of the first in my class to even word process and print my work, let alone include images I found in Encarta!
August 19, 2019 21:46
The Timeline was my absolute favorite feature of Encarta! Would love Amazing.
August 19, 2019 22:07
Thanks for remember! It is a nice memory that you made me recover.

Happy days for you.
August 19, 2019 22:28
I remember encarta.

I was in class of other kids that had it. They were able todo their research for homework by printing off articles. A printer too?! Wow!

By the time my parents could afford to get encarta we got dial up internet!

So I was never a user at home but used it at friends a once or twice
August 19, 2019 22:37
I like to collect self-contained software. The software/content is static and it doesn't change unless you want it to. Being offline is useful because you can disconnect from the internet and go into hermitage, to enjoy silence and creativity...

- Encarta 2009, Britannica 14, pocket wikipedia and the oxford english dictionary application for pc
- Many offline tools and books. My philosophy is that my computer is a personalized system shaped by my hand. Like a piece of my mind it is very personal.
August 19, 2019 22:54
Oh, please post the timeline in full resolution. I'd love to be able to read it.
August 19, 2019 23:01
The day Microsoft announced the end for the Encarta product, I reached out to Microsoft in order to discuss a freely licensed version and/or a release of the Encarta software in order to allow Wikimedia volunteers to pick up where Microsoft had left it.

After a few weeks in May of 2009, we unfortunately received word from Microsoft that they had come to a negative decision:

Thanks for offering to meet in July. Since you and I first spoke, we've decided internally that we won't be sharing Encarta content with Wikimedia, nor with any third party. We expect to leverage Encarta content in future Microsoft products and believe that sharing the content externally would diminish the value of the asset.

I'm sorry we're not able to satisfy your request for this material."

Best of my knowledge, Microsoft hasn't used Encarta content in any product since then and certainly not right now.

I reached out to Microsoft in 2014 to explore the possibility re-discussing the issue and found out that two of the three Microsoft employees that were part of the discussion with Wikimedia no longer worked there.

Maybe 10 years later, a third attempt could be made.

August 19, 2019 23:08
The year was probably 1996. My dad had just bought his first Windows 95 PC and was excited to show it off to me.
He picked me up from boarding school and drove me to his house.
I remember it was a Fujitsu machine with a massive 800 MB drive, a quad-speed CDROM, 4 MB of RAM, something that could play FM for MIDI and had Encarta 95 on just one disk at that time.

Being totally blind, my usage of windows at that time was severely limited. We didn't have access to a screen-reader, and back then, such things didn't come with the operating system, so we learnt as we went.
My dad taught me how to get Encarta 95 to load once I inserted the disk, I believe it was as simple as pressing enter and that thing we all love to hate these days, autorun, kicked in. When I heard the disk had spun up to speed, I'd wait about 10 seconds, press enter, and wait for the introduction.

I believe the non-standard interface to pull up a search from the keyboard was CTRL+S, where upon I'd type something vaguely multimedia-related, hit enter and hopefully get something to play.
I don't quite recall how that occurred now, perhaps a second enter, or space? I can't remember, but I was absolutely blown away by Encarta and how much information it contained even on one disk.

When I couldn't get it to play nicely, my dad would take over, and we'd explore different music, national anthems played as MIDI via the FM synth, and the sounds of animal calls, tribal chants, Reggae music and random videos.

He also taught me to pull up the find command and search the drive or CD for *.wav, avi, mid etc, which would play either in Sound Recorder or Media Player.
This meant that if he wasn't available to help me, I could still enjoy this new powerhouse of a computer without too much input.
I'd literally spend hours playing random sound files as that was about the most I could do at the time, but I loved it.

With the Encarta CD in the drive of course, the options were greatly improved, and every day I'd find something new.
I got through all the internal C: Drive content in pretty short order.
Windows didn't have as many sound schemes and things that it has today, of course, so it didn't take long.

In any case, I have very, very fond memories of Encarta 95 in particular and was very glad to have come across this article today.
August 19, 2019 23:12
This goes back a bit further, but I miss the physical feel of encyclopedias in my hands. I also miss the visual of seeing different publishers’ encyclopedias lined up in rows. It’s great to have more information than I can imagine accessible from my phone. However, that tactile feel... nothing can replace it.
August 19, 2019 23:17
I worked on the pop-up dictionary/thesaurus that was built-into Encarta. Microsoft licensed it from Franklin Electronic Publishers.

I put an "easter egg" into the dict/thes app. If I remember correctly, type "paul_bartholomew" into the pop-up app, and a window would pop up with info about the author. It's possible I'm mis-remembering the text to type that causes the pop-up.

If I'm remembering it correctly, and if the author of this article doesn't mind giving it a try, I'd love to see that ancient pop-up with my name on it! :)


- Paul B.
August 19, 2019 23:23
My family didn't have Encarta, but we did have World Book 2000. The best feature was the "historical world wide web"; a series of on-disc web pages supposedly maintained by various civilizations throughout the ages.
August 19, 2019 23:31
I used Encarta in 95 in a Brazilian government company that bought hundreds of computers. Wonderful. Maybe in the future will not come an immersive vr version for xbox?

Of course looking at the wall, seeing encyclopedias, I know I can touch them, smell them, but I still prefer the ancient songs around the fire where our story was told in verse by the elders and the good paintings we made on the wall.
August 19, 2019 23:40
Connectivity has caused much more than the loss of Encarta.
Its the loss of portable curated lists or databases.

In the Palm Pilot era I had multiple reference documents for all kinds
of topics.
I had several special purpose searchable lists eg.:

    List of Hazard code for transportation ( modern equiv

    List of Radio stations by Interstate and Exit. (almost like

and other very niche lists that other people have made.

Most were in the same format and one DB tool front ended all of them.
One search form and one result report.
All where downloaded once and then use without connectivity.

With our modern devices having 64G and more free storage you could get an awful lot of static data on to a hand held device.

I guess my own answer is to write and app that does this with a modern look and feel and in-app charge for databases and their updates.

August 20, 2019 0:04
A very important reality that Scott Hanselman and likely most of the commenters to this article is that any technology geared toward education that puts the control squarely in the hands of one or a very few commercial, proprietary entities will inevitably fail.

As time goes on, educational technology must move towards "Open, International and non-proprietary Standards, and every corporation, government and academic institution that ignores or attempts to circumvent this reality - born of historical facts, is delusional.

Even Microsoft has had to eat it's arrogance and stubbornness in accepting and adhering to these standards, as is exhibited in products and services like Wikipedia.

The author and readers may have been naive to this situation in 1990s, and/or a but those of us in technology of a universal world knew better, even if it took longer than anticipated.
August 20, 2019 0:19
I live on a small island lost in the middle of the pacific ocean (Tahiti) and remember we looked our island in Encarta with my dad, they had a full article about us with an old song/video I never heard but my dad knew it and started singing along. For me as a kid this was the coolest thing ever.
August 20, 2019 0:46
Encarta was one of my first CD-ROM bundle I've used. I remember spending hours browsing through the video, articles, facts etc. In the age of information overlod - i don't remember browsing Wikipedia with such passion at all. Good old days.
August 20, 2019 0:59
daammmmm man... Encarta... i remember when i was going to school's IT rooms to see virtual visits in Encarta. <3
August 20, 2019 3:16
I remember I had to put Encarta into my CD-ROM caddy:

Good times!
August 20, 2019 4:51
Yep I remember Encarta. I also remember sprawling on the floor for hours with volumes of Britannica piled around me.

Was an excellent idea. I'm annoyed every time I hear a travel company, that has captured the name, advertising.

What we have now is worse, in many ways. Plenty of it but
  • shallow,
  • not thought through,
  • careless
  • and so full of disinformation and propaganda.
And so very fragile, all this streaming content and too much ET phone home. Devolution, not evolution.
August 20, 2019 6:07
Fuck you shill.
August 20, 2019 8:18
I had good time with Encarta. I have to admit, my copy was a pirated one.

I think Microsoft should open source this product so others can improve it and continue it.
August 20, 2019 14:36
Actually they should offer it as a free download open-source version and in addition make it open-source and donate the data and assets to Wikipedia, that would help improve the quality and content accessibile to all users on the internet.
August 20, 2019 17:26
I can't remember in which version of encarta, but when I was young I spent hours on those 3D recreations of famous places travels. I live in a developing country and the access for internet was too expensive, encarta was the best alternative to do my homeworks, find cool images to print, and have a look of the world.
It would be great it could become free for the development of those kids that still don't have access for good quality information.
August 20, 2019 17:49
I still run it occasionally on my 15 yr old desktop that runs win xp. It was awesome 10-15 years back, with people still buying 12 volume books.

I don't have the cd now, but managed to get the iso and load it using daemon tools, the pages are professionally done and I feel better than wikipedia sometimes.
August 20, 2019 20:23
I still remember somehow learning that the word "dollar" came from the German word "Thaler". And that segueing into the proverb "wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist den Thaler night wert" (roughly: if you don't watch your cents, you're wasting your dollars).
August 20, 2019 21:51
I remember Encarta on the Mac. Microsoft also had a CD Moviemania that was like IMDB complete with clips of various movies. Both were amazing.

It is interesting how much of the modern web was anticipated and just waiting for the technology to catch up. I have an old Magellan - that was the name of the startup - CD of catalog PDFs back when people ordered using catalogs. I have a set of digital remote sensing explorer disks that were released anticipating satellite maps. I have an old DeLorme US Atlas anticipating so many things.

Wow, this brings back memories.
August 21, 2019 9:42
This is actually very interesting. I have never head of Encarta, but I will download and try it out.
August 21, 2019 16:34
Great content that remember old memory. I have tried once time in my friends's PC. I miss Microsoft Encarta.
August 22, 2019 2:35
Strange coincidence - I miss it too and have often been on the look out on ebay for a 1994/1995 edition like the one I had. I recently found one and bought it - a new condition Encarta 94 with its glossy white box and manuals and CD intact. It arrived all the way from the US a couple of weeks ago (I'm in the UK) and I'm now trying to get it to work on a Windows 95 VM. I was 14 when I bought my original copy and it was probably my first software purchase, and I was very proud of it and spent hours browsing it. I spent a lot of time on the videos and interactive features, out of interest but also the pure joy of them - like nothing I'd seen/used on the PC or any other computer back then. Stupidly I destroyed the copy and its box in my 20s when I thought it was a relic I would never use again. I think MS was wrong to bin the 'Microsoft Home' suit. It reached a lot of consumers and got them early. Obviously the web rendered much of the content obsolete but I sometimes wonder, with today's security concerns (especially for what our kids are browsing) and the web's choice/information overload, with much of it being poor quality or badly curated, whether there is not again a market for Encarta-style curated products.
August 22, 2019 12:46
Such good memories of Encarta, the go-to tool for homework and bringer of dust to the encyclopedia brittanica collections commonplace in the early 90’s...

When I was at secondary school, before using the Internet was commonplace,but most people had access to a computer Inevitably everyone had the same quotes and references in there history homework.

I also spent many hours playing the game bundled in it and attribute at least partially to Encarta my love now for getting lost for hours in Wikipedia and filling my brain full of mostly pointless knowledge!

Anyone remember Microsoft space simulator too, equally as many hours where lost to me!

I feel so blessed growing up in this era and have the most fond feelings for Microsoft and its products, almost like a father to me that keeps giving and providing, even now in my day job as a Microsoft stack developer. Love you guys and you are an inspirational to me Scott, keep up the good work!
August 22, 2019 21:20

Since the article is about playing with dead technology, the author playfully appends ".aspx" onto the URL.
August 23, 2019 14:33
Very informative content

August 23, 2019 15:12
Great idea man, they should open source it!
August 23, 2019 15:44
This is my favorite memory from Encarta:
August 23, 2019 16:45
I remember reading from Microsft Encarta and learning a lot from it.
August 25, 2019 0:23
Encarta was one of the first CD-roms I got and it was amazing. I remember making a music video in the late 90s with a lot of footage from Encarta. Internet access was slow, and restricted since it was expensive and occupied the household's only phone line. Having access to the vast content of Encarta on-demand was fantastic. The music video qualified for the finals in the competition it entered. It was a special time.
August 25, 2019 10:41
20% discount for music with code SMILE20
August 27, 2019 12:03
I miss the Mastering Series.

Talk about training on steroids for the real world.

But yeah, Encarta was classic.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.