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Microsoft takes Virgin-line stance on dictionary

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Microsoft is doing a Virgin again -- putting one of its brand names to a product to which it has made no contribution. This time it's for the Encarta World English Dictionary. Craig Bartholomew, general manager of Microsoft's learning business unit, said at the launch in London yesterday that Microsoft is making no financial contribution, but it does have the CD-ROM rights. Nigel Newton, CEO of UK publisher Bloomsbury, was at pains to point out that it was Bloomsbury who approached Microsoft in 1991, and that the project has been quietly under way for the last three years in conditions of considerable secrecy. There is a team of 250 lexicographers, science specialists, etymologists, phoneticians and grammarians in touch by email, working from a single database for English and its American variant. Newton forecast that in ten years' time it will be the most widely used dictionary in the world. There will be 100,00 head words, and the style of entries is best described as being for the home user with a modest education. The work will be simultaneously published in August 1999 in English and US English, in paper form and on CD-ROM. Much was made about the uniqueness of the single database, but the end-product can only be a dumbed-down product that may not find its mark in an age where spelling goes by the board. Curiously, Microsoft has no plans to incorporate the word list in the Office spelling checker, which suggests that Microsoft is becoming too large to benefit from potential synergism. However, further products from the strategic alliance are anticipated by Bloomsbury. The New York-based St Martin's Press, and Pan MacMillan Australia (both are owned by the German Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck) will be licensed to produce the US and Australian publications respectively. ® Click for more stories

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