On October 31, 2009, MSN® Encarta® Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009.Frankly I didn't even know there was an online version of Encarta. So ubiquitous has Wikipedia become, particular given its Google ranking when you search for pretty much any term, that all rivals fall by the wayside.
It does seem a pity though that Microsoft appears to be picking up the ball and leaving the field. In sport that means the opposition wins by default, and the same effectively applies in the world of online encyclopedias. By leaving the market to Wikipedia, Microsoft has handed it victory on a plate. Which is strange for them.
Given recent controversy over Wikipedia (and its constant efforts to raise funds from users) this surely presented an opportunity for Microsoft to provide a similar, but better resourced online rival in the form of an Encarta for 2009 which harnessed the interactivity of Web 2.0. With Microsoft already offering a range of standard free web services such as Hotmail and MSN Messenger which are constantly being updated, it would have made sense to push Encarta along the same lines.
Perhaps they just see the strength of Wikipedia as being just too much to bother expending any more time and money on challenging.