Microsoft Student 2006 is on the shelves now for under a hundred dollars. Parents of middle-school and high school students should take a long look. Here are some notes to understand what it is and how to work with it.

  • The heart of Microsoft Student is the premium version of Microsoft’s wonderful encyclopedia, Encarta 2006. Student includes all of the content from the encyclopedia disks, plus one year of access to Encarta’s online content. Encarta has always had help for students, but this product brings that help to the front and adds other rich features for education and homework.
  • One important feature isn’t highlighted. “Learning Essentials” is a set of toolbars and templates that integrate with Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint for reports, projects, presentations, and foreign language assignments. Look at the bottom of the main Student screen, or on the Start menu.
  • Student has some stiff requirements. It is only available on DVD – you can’t install it without a DVD player or recorder in your computer. It’s easiest to use if all of the content is installed onto your hard drive, but that requires a couple of gigabytes of free space.
  • “Learning Essentials” requires Microsoft Office XP or Office 2003. If you need to upgrade, it looks like the price has dropped a bit on the Student and Teachers Edition of Microsoft Office 2003 – it’s only $109 at Amazon this week. The Student and Teachers edition of Office is identical to the full version of Office, and each copy is licensed to be used on three computers.
  • The first time you try to use an online feature, you’ll be led to a signup sheet for “Club Encarta.” Remember, a year’s access to premium online Encarta content is included with Student – if you see a request for money, you’re in the wrong place
  • Registering for “Club Encarta” is a two-step process. You’ll first have to create or log into a free “Passport” account, using your existing e-mail address. I find the entire Passport system to be wildly confusing. Passport was originally intended to be a single sign-on for a world of secure online services, but nobody liked it, so now it’s used only for Microsoft’s instant messenger programs and a handful of other Microsoft services.
  • Once you’ve logged into the Passport system, you’ll have to fill out an additional brief form specifically for Encarta. You should see a page telling you what a wonderful job you did at the end.
  • One of the most valuable parts of the Student package is online help linked to the most widely used math textbooks in the country – literally page by page, problem by problem assistance. The Prentice-Hall pre-algebra and algebra books used in our public school district are included.
  • But it’s in the math help that I’ve run into one bug. The link to Math Help Online on the main Student screen is broken. It leads to a repeated complaint that you haven’t made it into the Club Encarta database. It’s a bug – ignore it! Instead, get to the math textbooks by clicking on Learning Essentials / Useful Web Links / Homework Help / Math Homework Help.

I’m looking forward to finding out whether kids will actually use the tools included in the Student package. It’s well-designed – almost every kid might find at least something that will help them out. Let me know what your experience is!