The IEC is available only on CD-ROM. Electronic publishing is a relatively new field, and formats are still being developed. Although I was pleased with the content of the IEC, I am afraid that this specific electronic implementation needs some more development.
As a CD-only publication, I was surprised to see the developer chose Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat is a decent program, but its strength lies in presenting print and electronic publications in the same format. The CD comes with Acrobat 3.0, which is automatically launched on Windows and Macintosh systems. You can manually load articles on UNIX (or other) systems, but the navigation functions don't work in Acrobat 4.
Each article is in a separate file, accessible from the opening screen. The opening screen can be reached from any article by pressing the "home" icon in the Acrobat toolbar.
Encyclopedia Home Page
The opening or home screen presents several options as buttons. The "Foreword" button leads directly to the Foreword, the SI Conversion Table (which has its own button), and the Table of Contents. These are all in one document, and each section is bookmarked for easy navigation. The contents page is the only place where the entire list of articles can be easily viewed, but the listing is not linked to the actual articles, as Acrobat allows.
This document is also the only one that takes advantage of the bookmarks for navigation. From any other article, you must return to the home screen and use the navigation functions there.
The upper four buttons on the home screen are labeled Title, Subject, Author and Full Text Search. "Search" is really a misnomer, though, because only the Full Text option offers true search. The others are actually indexes.
The full text search works well, and has options such as "Sounds Like," "Match Case," and "Proximity." It works as a boolean search, though that doesn't seem to be documented anywhere. For example, "prepreg graphite" turns up no documents, but "prepreg and graphite" turns up 32 documents. Once a search is completed, the only options are to view a matching document or close the results list. You can't go directly back to your search to modify it.
The indexes are simple alphabetical listings by title, subject or author. These indexes are implemented as drop-down selection boxes. They show a single line, which is empty to start. Clicking the arrow on the right drops down the selection window, which shows 11 entries at a time. You must scroll the selections up and down to see all entries. You can type a single letter in the top line, but that immediately opens the first article beginning with that letter.
This is a rather awkward way to navigate. Selection boxes were designed for choosing among a short list of options, not navigating large documents. Using Acrobat's bookmark function would have been a better way to implement navigation.
Finally, some articles, such as "Analysis," are simply "see also" listings. The cross-references are not linked from the article, so it is necessary to go back to the home screen. The cross reference titles also don't always match listings in the title or subject indexes, making the appropriate articles difficult to locate.
The individual pages of the IEC look like a printed book, which is not surprising given that they are implemented in Acrobat. This by itself is not necessarily bad, but the specific page format is not at all suited to viewing on a computer screen.
The biggest problem is that all pages are formatted in two columns. Such formatting only makes sense for printed materials. On a computer monitor, you are forced to scroll down to read the first column, then scroll back up to start the second column. You can fit an entire page on-screen at once, but I was barely able to read the text at 1280x1024 resolution on a 19 inch monitor.
The other problem is that Acrobat is page-oriented, whereas electronic publications are more suited to continuous viewing. For example, if page 1 of an article refers to a figure on page 2, it is not possible to view both the text and the figure at once. Acrobat does have an option for continuous viewing, but you still can't comfortably view two pages at once.
A better implementation would be one column text in a continuous, browser-type viewer. Figures could be included in the text, but also linked to pop-up windows. Clicking on a figure reference would bring up the figure in a separate window, so there would at least be a chance to view both the text and the figure simultaneously.
The one nice thing about the Acrobat implementation is that it is easy to print individual articles. Perhaps this was the intent when choosing this format.
Figure and Equation Quality
The text, tables, captions and photographs are all very clear. Graphs and sketches, however, appear to be from low resolution scans. They appear somewhat fuzzy on the monitor, and the quality is not improved by printing. The quality is not so bad as to be unreadable, but the images do appear as if they are out of focus.
Similarly, some but not all of the equations are of low quality. Most appear to have been typeset (they are rendered using fonts), but a few look like they are low resolution scans. In some cases, it is difficult to make out the equations (especially superscripts and subscripts). Again, the quality is not improved by printing.
The problems I have noted with the electronic implementation should not stop you from purchasing the IEC. This is still a valuable reference, with a good variety and quality of content, It is just too bad more care was not taken in designing the user interface of this electronic-only publication.