Microsoft Dogs was a boost to to dog-lovers of every ilk when it was released in the mid 90s as its voice and video make it better than a book. It amuses as it enlightens. Its wide-ranging content offers something to dog shopper, owner, expert and novice alike. More than 250 breeds are described. There are even sections on mutts (mixed breeds) and wolves (how to appreciate them without wanting to make them pets).
This is multimedia that works. You can browse randomly from breed to breed, learning the origins and personality traits of each. You can click on links between different members of the same breed - from Wire Fox to Lakeland Terrier, for example. There's even a Canine Consultant to help you find exactly the right pooch for your household. Answer a series of eight questions - how long will the dog be home alone? how much exercise will it get? how big can it be? - and "Dogs" matches your entries with its database.
Providing comic banter during the consultation are Fist and Fetch ("How much exercise will your dog get, including chasing his own tail?"). The perfect fit gets three bones and assorted yips and bow wows. Alternate choices get two bones (seven out of eight matches) or just one (six of eight matches). Or click on your top choice and a screen full of owners' tips appears. Based on consultation with veterinarian Harmon Rogers and Seattle Times pet columnist Ranny Green, the tips offer pithy, practical advice on training, care and the all-important personality traits. For more useful advice, "Dogs" includes guided tours by Desdemona, a prunish dog talent agent; naturalist Charles Dogwin; the ancient wise woman Gula, who over a crackling campfire offers stories about wild dogs with magical healing powers; and youngster Ben, who offers Beaver Cleaver-type tips for first-time buyers.
Some of "Dogs" is just plain fun. Eighty-plus videos run from the playful to the demonstrative, aimed at showing dogs doing everyday things, from catching Frisbees to yanking masters down city streets. A "Woof!" section contains human speech versions of the universal dog sound from around the globe, including China ("wang wang!") and Portuguese ("uau uau!").
Then there's the Dog Piano, where favorite ditties can be played to the accompaniment of barks and yips. "Bingo," "Pop Goes the Weasel," "Jingle Bells" and an assortment of classical tunes are included. Mayor Bosco of Sunol, Calif., a Lab retriever elected in 1981, is here. So are Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. And Nixon's Checkers and Marie Antoinette's Papillon.
With a wonderful contents page and a quick access toolbar (shaped like dog biscuits), it is easy to find your way around the world of Microsoft Dogs.