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OS Atlas OS Interactive Atlas of Gt. Britain, 5th Ed.
pub. Ordnance Survey, 2001
2 x CD-ROM set, 19.99

The people at Focus Multimedia have been busy at work updating OS' interactive offering of their maps and an interesting piece of software it is, although it will not suit everyone.

Thinking that it would be clever to try the review copy on a laptop PC the one thing which struck this reviewer upon using the Atlas is that there is nothing quite as satisfying as studying an OS paper map, as clever as an interactive equivalent may be. There is just something about being able to glance at miles of topography in one go that is appealing. The electronic equivalent isn't nearly so handy, with limited screen space obviously requiring constant scrolling or reducing scale to squeeze a larger area into the screen area.

The other thing which OS map afficionados will miss in the software's 'normal' mode of operation is the familiar OS cartographic look that we know so well. In its 'run of the mill' (1;250,000 scale) operation the maps provide the essentials rather than an overall picture that can be gleaned from a Landranger map. Indeed, there are no general contour figures given although contour lines and peak heights are. On the upside, the Atlas colour codes topographical height which everyday OS maps do not, and the user has the option of choosing which information layers to include - road, rail, water features, historic places, and so on - which is a handy feature.

The two-disk set does contain selected 'extracts' of traditional OS mapping (one hundred 'extracts' at 1:25,000 scale and another hundred at 1:50,000 scale), but these are limited to popular locations such as the Lakes, Peak District and similar.
If you want detailed maps of Bognor or some minor Staffordshire hilltop, then I am afraid it will require a visit to WHSmith or map vendor. Incidentally, all maps in the Atlas can be output to hard copy - beneficial if activities are centred around a limited area when a Landranger map flapping in the wind would be overkill, but not necessarily practical for a long cross-country trip.

What the interactive Atlas does that no other medium can is provide 3D maps, and here it has some unique terrain fly-throughs. Now this is really an excellent use of computer technology but again the fly-throughs are limited to some better known places, not sleepy corners of Britain. Perhaps one day we'll get an OS Atlas that provides 3D views of all their maps, which would provide a wonderful method of familiarising yourself with terrain before setting foot on it. Still the fly-throughs are entertaining.

Speaking of sleepy corners the Atlas has a 42,000 place gazeteer. So if you are seeking Under Nether or Sleepyville, all you have to do is hunt through the list or type in the name, identify the place and the software will take you to the relevant map. Also on-board are 80+ town and city centre maps, 500+ photos and a general knowledge quiz.

One area in which the Atlas shines is in its display of location co-ordinates, either as OS map references or in longitude and latitude. In this reviewer's opinion this makes the Atlas a very useful tool for pre-planning outdoor activities, or quickly providing data for GPS waypoint lists.

As for operation, the interface is easy to use although many of the functions are incorporated into pop-up menus which doesn't always suit if you want to quickly make a change to parameters. And although moving around the maps is easy - simple mouse clicks for map zooms and scrolling - on a laptop touchpad it is a bit fiddly. Still, there's nothing difficult to master.

Min. Requirements: Windows 95/98/ME/2000/NT, Pentium 90MHz or higher, Min 4MB HD space, 16MB RAM (double for 2000/NT), 800x600 screen resolution at 256 colours, 16bit audio card, 4x speed CD-ROM, Microsoft or compatible mouse.

Bottom line....
There's nothing technically wrong with the Atlas. It has some handy features and will be useful in planning outdoor activities and therefore be part of your armoury of planning aids. However, if you are a regular outdoors person expecting a simple means of accessing OS Landranger maps then you will be disappointed with this software. In a way the OS name conjours up grand visions of map access but the program fails to deliver on that expectation, in a way falling between two stools.

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