I’m generally no fan of Microsoft or its products, but I have to admit I have fond memories of the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia program and was unexpectedly saddened to hear that it is being discontinued. In the days before the Internet was as useful as it is today, Encarta—housed on compact disks—was a huge improvement over bound, physical encyclopedias (and quite a bit cheaper too). It was wonderful to be able to bring up long, informative articles about nearly any subject in seconds on your computer.

Of course, we take this kind of thing for granted now. Wikipedia has become a ubiquitous source of more information than Encarta could ever have pretended to provide. Microsoft tried to make Encarta relevant by taking it online, but ultimately its time passed and most of us nearly forgot it still existed. Most Encarta web sites will be going dark on October 31, and sales of the physical disks will cease some time in the summer.

Despite all my Microsoft hatin’, I have to give credit where credit is due. Encarta was among the first broadly available electronic encyclopedias, and was a real trailblazer in making information more readily accessible to the average person.