Microsoft Encarta Will Shut Down

Microsoft Encarta, the company's encyclopedia software, is shutting down after 16 years. The service had been rapidly losing in the information-reference battle against collaborative online encyclopedias, including Wikipedia and Knol, which are freely available and ever-expanding.

Microsoft will be shutting down Encarta, that boon to high school researchers everywhere, by the end of 2009. The encyclopedia, which started in 1993, was having difficulty competing as a model against the collaborative online encyclopedias offered by Wikipedia and Google.

The last version of the digital encyclopedia was Encarta Premium 2009, which according to the company featured "more than 62,000 detailed articles, immersive research experiences, and thousands of trusted Web links." It retailed for $29.95.

Retail stores will no longer sell Encarta software after this summer, and Encarta Websites will shut down by the close of October 2009, with the exception of the Japanese site, which will continue until the end of the year.

By contrast, the English version of Wikipedia boasted 2,818,976 articles as of March 31.

Google has also released its own online encyclopedia service, Knol, which features over 100,000 user-written articles.

Wikis have also found a great deal of utility in the enterprise; an increasing number of corporations have incorporated the easily editable pages into their IT framework, allowing employees to continuously update operationally vital information in a collaborative way that all can view.

Internet tracking company Hitwise had Wikipedia owning some 97 percent of the U.S. online encyclopedia market, by visitor share, with Encarta clocking in second at 1.27 percent.

In what could be viewed as a nod to those collaborative encyclopedias, Microsoft acknowledged as part of the shutdown announcement that "the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed" and that "people today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.

"We believe that we can use what we've learned and assets we've accrued with offerings like Encarta to develop future technology solutions," the company continued in its statement. "In doing so, we feel strongly that we are making the right investments that will help make our vision a reality."