Microsoft Bookshelf

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Microsoft Bookshelf was a reference collection introduced in 1987 as part of Microsoft's extensive work in promoting CD-ROM technology as a distribution medium for electronic publishing. The original MS-DOS version showcased the massive storage capacity of CD-ROM technology, and was accessed while the user was using one of 13 different word processor programs that Bookshelf supported. Subsequent versions were produced for Windows and became a commercial success as part of the Microsoft Home brand. It was often bundled with personal computers as a cheaper alternative to the Encarta Suite. The Encarta Deluxe Suite / Reference Library versions also bundled Bookshelf.


Microsoft Bookshelf was discontinued in 2000. In later editions of the Encarta suite (Encarta 2000 and onwards), Bookshelf was replaced with a dedicated Encarta Dictionary, a superset of the printed edition. There has been some controversy over the decision, since the dictionary lacks the other books provided in Bookshelf which many found to be a useful reference, such as the dictionary of quotations (replaced with a quotations section in Encarta that links to relevant articles and people) and the Internet Directory, although the directory is now obsolete since many of the sites listed in offline directories no longer exist.

The original 1987 edition contained The Original Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, World Almanac and Book of Facts, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, The Chicago Manual of Style (13th Edition), the U.S. ZIP Code Directory, Houghton Mifflin Usage Alert, Houghton Mifflin Spelling Verifier and Corrector, Business Information Sources, and Forms and Letters.[1] Titles in non-US versions of Bookshelf were different. For example, the 1997 UK edition included the Chambers Dictionary, Bloomsbury Treasury of Quotations, and Hutchinson Concise Encyclopedia.[2]

The Windows release of Bookshelf added a number of new reference titles, including The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia and an Internet Directory. Other titles were added and some were dropped in subsequent years. By 1994, the English-language version also contained the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations; The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia; the Hammond Intermediate World Atlas; and The People's Chronology.[3] By 2000, the collection came to include the Encarta Desk Encyclopedia, the Encarta Desk Atlas, the Encarta Style Guide and a specialized Computer and Internet Dictionary by Microsoft Press.


Bookshelf 1.0 engine[edit]

Bookshelf 1.0 used a proprietary hypertext engine that Microsoft acquired when it bought the company Cytation in 1986.[4] Also used for Microsoft Stat Pack and Microsoft Small Business Consultant, it was a Terminate and Stay Resident (TSR) program that ran alongside a dominant program, unbeknownst to the dominant program. Like Apple's similar Hypercard reader, Bookshelf engine's files used a single compound document, containing large numbers of subdocuments ("cards" or "articles"). They both differ from current browsers which normally treat each "page" or "article" as a separate file.

Though similar to Apple's Hypercard reader in many ways, the Bookshelf engine had several key differences. Unlike Hypercard files, Bookshelf files required compilation and complex markup codes. This made the files more difficult to pirate, addressing a key concern of early electronic publishers. Furthermore, Bookshelf's engine was designed to run as fast as possible on slow first-generation CD-ROM drives, some of which required as much as a half-second to move the drive head. Such hardware constraints made Hypercard impractical for high-capacity CD-ROMs.[citation needed] Bookshelf also had full text searching capability, which made it easy to find needed information.

Bookshelf 2.0 engine[edit]

Collaborating with DuPont, the Microsoft CD-ROM division developed a Windows version of its engine for applications as diverse as document management, online help, and a CD-ROM encyclopedia. In a skunkworks project, these developers worked secretly with Multimedia Division developers so that the engine would be usable for more ambitious multimedia applications. Thus they integrated a multimedia markup language, full text search, and extensibility using software objects,[5] all of which are commonplace in modern internet browsing.

In 1992, Microsoft started selling the Bookshelf engine to third-party developers, marketing the product as Microsoft Multimedia Viewer. The idea was that such a tool would help a burgeoning growth of CD-ROM titles that would spur demand for Windows. Although the engine had multimedia capabilities that would not be matched by Web browsers until the late 1990s, Microsoft Viewer did not enjoy commercial success as a standalone product. However, Microsoft continued to use the engine for its Encarta and WinHelp applications, though the multimedia functions are rarely used in Windows help files.

Viewer 3.0[edit]

In 1993, the developers who were working on the next generation viewer were moved to the Cairo systems group which was charged with delivering Bill Gates' 'vision' of 'Information at your fingertips'. This advanced browser was a fully componentized application using what are now known as Component Object Model objects, designed for hypermedia browsing across large networks and whose main competitor was thought to be Lotus Notes. Long before Netscape appeared, this team, known as the WEB (web enhanced browser) team had already shipped a network capable hypertext browser capable of doing everything that HTML browsers would not be able to do until the turn of the century. Nearly all technologies of Cairo shipped. The WEB browser was not one of them, though it influenced the design of many other common Microsoft technologies.


BYTE in 1989 listed Microsoft Bookshelf as among the "Excellence" winners of the BYTE Awards, stating that it "is the first substantial application of CD-ROM technology" and "a harbinger of personal library systems to come".[6]


  • Versions for DOS/Windows/Mac:
    • Bookshelf 1987 Edition for MS-DOS
    • Bookshelf 1.0 (March 18, 1991)
    • Bookshelf 1991 Edition (October 1991)
    • Bookshelf 1992 Edition
    • Bookshelf 1993 Edition (Not For Retail Sale, bundled with Tandy Sensation!)
    • Bookshelf '94
    • Bookshelf '95
    • Bookshelf British Reference Collection (BRC)
    • Bookshelf 1996-'97 Edition (Last version for Windows 3.1) [7]
    • Bookshelf 98 (Last version for Macintosh)
    • Bookshelf 99
    • Bookshelf 2000 (last English version for Windows)
    • Bookshelf 3.0 Japanese (last version for Windows)

US version contents[edit]

Package Dictionary Thesaurus Almanac Chronology or Timeline Quotation Dictionary Encyclopedia Atlas Web directory Other reference materials Other reference materials
Bookshelf 95 The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed. Roget's Thesaurus World Almanac and Book of Facts 1995 The People's Chronology Columbia Dictionary of Quotations The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia Third Edition Hammond World Atlas Internet Directory 95 ZIP Code and Post Office Directory
Bookshelf 1996-'97 Edition The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed. Roget's Thesaurus World Almanac and Book of Facts 1996 The People's Chronology Columbia Dictionary of Quotations The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia Third Edition Concise Encarta 96 World Atlas Internet Directory 96 ZIP Code and Post Office Directory
Bookshelf 98 The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed. Roget's Thesaurus World Almanac and Book of Facts 1997 The People's Chronology Columbia Dictionary of Quotations Encarta 98 Desk Encyclopedia Encarta 98 Desk World Atlas Internet Directory 98 ZIP Code and Post Office Directory Computer & Internet Dictionary
Bookshelf 99 The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed. Roget's Thesaurus Encarta 98 New World Almanac Encarta New World Timeline Columbia Dictionary of Quotations Encarta 99 Desk Encyclopedia Encarta 99 Desk World Atlas Encarta Grammar & Style Guide Computer & Internet Dictionary
Bookshelf 2000 The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed. Roget's Thesaurus Encarta 2000 New World Almanac Encarta 2000 New World Timeline Columbia Dictionary of Quotations Encarta 2000 Desk Encyclopedia Encarta 2000 Desk World Atlas Encarta Manual of Style & Usage Computer & Internet Dictionary


  1. ^ Bernstein, Paul (1992). Computers for Lawyers. Chapter 25. ATLA Press. ISBN 0-941916-64-2. Archived from the original on 2006-05-04. Retrieved 2006-04-18. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ Bookshelf British Reference Collection Archived 2009-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Nielsen, Birger (2006). "Microsoft Bookshelf 1994". The Tea Page. Retrieved 2006-04-18.
  4. ^ Allan, Roy (2001). "A History of the Personal Computer: The People and the Technology" (PDF). Chapter 12 Microsoft in the 1980s. Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-9689108-0-7. Retrieved 2006-04-18.
  5. ^ Pruitt, Stephen. Microsoft Multimedia Viewer How-To Cd: Create Exciting Multimedia With Video, Animation, Music, and Speech for Windows/Book and Cd. Waite Group Pr. ISBN 1-878739-60-3.
  6. ^ "The BYTE Awards". BYTE. January 1989. p. 327.
  7. ^ Bookshelf 1996-97 Edition Press Release