The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

Back in the early '90s, when CD-ROM drives, which have ages ago faded away from computers from the way of DVD and Blu-ray drives,  heralded an age of multimedia. This technology that had finally begun to find its way to consumer computers offered means of providing previously unparalleled amounts of data for the common computer users, especially in the contrast of ages dead format of floppy disks. While the format itself had already been introduced back in 1982, it took its time to become cheap enough to finally push itself through.

I can't rightfully say what the discussion around CD-ROM as a format was back in the 1980s, as I was pretty young back then and didn't really follow nor was I even aware of such mediums beyond floppies or cassette tapes. CD-ROMS were just some tech that was at times featured as a tech flavour in movies like James Bond (I think it was featured at least on License to Kill, even as a writable format when Bond copies files to disc), but other than I had no idea such a thing existed, as we didn't even have a CD-player. I'm at least relatively sure that we didn't have one before the mid to late 1990s. Hell, my first introduction to writable CD's was in the late '90s, when a school buddy bought a drive and started burning music collections to other people for a fee. It was an expensive device, but it made its price back I reckon.

In any case, my own introduction to the fantastic 650 MB capacity of CD-ROMS happened like it probably did with many others of my contemporaries: via multimedia. When we got ourselves a brand new 486-SX 66MhZ PC, it was a full-blown multimedia device, capable of sounds, music and graphics we had only dreamt off.  Our old workhorse with its 8088 processors was immediately dumped, or at least I think we never had a 286 PC, as we sure as hell didn't have a 386, over which I envied one of my friends before we finally stepped to the modern age of PC technology. But then again, I do remember playing games that would not have necessarily ran on 8088 CPU, so there must have been a 286 in between.

But I digress.

So what was the first application we had on this computer, which back then set our poor mother back thousands of euros? The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release 6. I know it doesn't really sound that exciting, especially now in this world of high-speed internet connections, Wikipedia and 4K YouTube videos, but back then, that now ancient and technologically dated CD-ROM with its low-resolution videos and low sample sound effects was an awe breaking experience, that even managed to contribute something to my school homework now and then.

Feast your eyes on this glorious video capture I made on VMware Workstation to your benefit:

I know it's hard to imagine, but back then this was astonishing: video, sound, animation and text all mixed in a cohesive, easily navigatable package. It actually tells something about the design quality of the UI, as I still think it's fairly simple to use. It even has some very nice search features, which allow you to highlight things and search them from the index.

In many ways, software like The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia were harbingers of what the internet would bring out later. When the network speeds weren't yet capable of bringing out the similar experiences online, the multimedia CD-ROMS were the perfect solution to that. 

From the first appearance of CD-ROMS, it did still take a decade or so before services like YouTube and Wikipedia even existed to dethrone the previous king. But there's also something about the compactness of the information a multimedia encyclopedia contains. Not only is all the information on the same platform, it also has been curated by a group of people with set standards, making it something that is far easier to believe accurate, whereas places like YouTube, it might be harder, as you don't ever really know if the information sprouted is fact, fiction or misunderstanding. The same 
goes with Wikipedia as well, as it is a source maintained by enthusiasts, but not necessarily experts.

The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia was not the first multimedia CD-ROM made, far from it. 1990's wasn't even the era when the term itself was coined. But for me, it was the first time I had actually experienced it in person. It is also a piece of relatively well-made software, with a good grasp on how things like user interface and user experience should be handled.

As for the company itself, Grolier, it still exists. It was founded back in 1909 as an encyclopedia publisher. Nowadays it is a part of Scholastic, under which it operates Grolier Online, which I assume does what their old multimedia encyclopedias did for years before the explosion of the net.

And that's the end of my little stroll on the nostalgic lanes of early 1990's multimedia. It was fun, to turn on the old encyclopedia after all this time, and it made me feel like I should do another write up on even more multimedia.

And that's what I intended to do, with titles I never did experience when they were mint back in the day.

What exciting days we live, eh?


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