MICROSOFT, the worldwide leader in software for personal computers, says its education CD- ROMs will never replace books. Their aim is to make learning fun and accessible.

The prospect of interactive CD- ROMs (computer discs with read- only memories), responding to prompts from the user, would have sounded fantastic a few years ago. Now titles have been developed to fit the National Curriculum.

The 2,000 paintings in the permanent collection at the National Gallery in London have been captured on CD-ROM, along with information about the paintings and artists. Microsoft, the creators, also have a title on musical instruments, developed with Dorling Kindersley, a specialist publisher of reference books. A 28-volume encyclopaedia, Encarta, was released last year.

The growing list of educational titles joins the quasi-educational material, designed to inject fun into learning, or vice-versa. Distributors Softline are promoting Broderbund's Living Books, animated stories for children. Words or sentences can be played individually and the computer reads and spells word aloud as they are highlighted. Multilingual versions are included, and a click of the mouse will change the language.

The Government is encouraging schools to invest. 'When you think about what the employees of the future are going to have to do and the flexibility that will be required, multimedia is the way it's going,' said a spokeswoman for the government-funded National Council for Educational Technology. The NCET says there is an onus on schools to make sure they know how to use new technology and how to get the best for their money, and publishes information sheets to help head teachers. Schools can apply for help towards buying equipment through the Gest scheme (grants for education support and training).

Paul Tollet, consumer business manager for Microsoft, points out that many CDs are electronic books. 'They are done in way that's more fun and more interesting, and a lot of the information is more accessible.' Though a different experience altogether from sitting under a tree with a book, where the birdsong comes spontaneously rather than from the click of a mouse.