HPLX.NET REVIEWS Collins Electronic English Dictionary and Thesaurus

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Publisher/Manufacturer: Harper Collins / Distributed by Thaddeus Computing
Contact: http://www.thaddeus.com
Price: $59.95  

About the Product

A few weeks ago on the HPLX-L mailing list, there was a question posed.  To paraphrase, it went something along the lines of:  "Is there a dictionary for the palmtop that can give me meanings of words, or are they all just spell-checkers?"  Little did he suspect what a flood of responses his message would provoke.

The shareware / freeware world is surprisingly lacking in such a creature.  The only decent shareware DOS dictionary that I'm aware of is Jorj, which, while a nice program, has a somewhat limited feature set and a limited number of words.  So those of us who would otherwise have to tote around a large paperback dictionary have been searching for a good dictionary for a long time.

One solution has been the American Heritage Dictionary.  Their electronic versions are very nice programs, which I've reviewed elsewhere.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find a source for these programs today.

Enter the Collins Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus, from Harper-Collins and distributed by Thaddeus Computing.  This program is a really handy one.  It has so many useful features I hardly know where to start.  In the first place, there's the dictionary itself.  Running COLE1.EXE brings up the control panel quite quickly (it takes less than a second to pop up the control panel window itself).  The nice little window that comes up includes all of the commands you will need, including the dictionary, thesaurus, and search facilities.  The dictionary can be passed a word to look up from the command line.  (i.e., COLE1 ELEPHANT would bring up the definition of the word "elephant.")  The dictionary handled most every word I threw at it, including "defenestration," a word that not many dictionaries seem to have.  And, of course, the Collins dictionary includes a complete list of definitions for all of the "naughty" words.  (All the ones I know, anyway.)  Lest you become confused and accidentally use one of these words in place of a less offensive euphamism, the Collins dictionary thoughtfully informs you that they are "taboo" and "offensive slang."

The program finds definitions for correctly spelled words extremely quickly, under 1.5 seconds for any word in the dictionary.  This compares quite well to other commercial dictionary programs like the Amerian Heritage Dictionary.  Of course, that's nothing special; often the reason you're looking in the dictionary in the first place is to find out how to spell the word.  So how does the program react if your word is misspelled?  Quite nicely, actually.  If your word is totally nonsensical (i.e. "xxxxxxxx") it almost instantly takes you to a list of suggestions.  For slightly more varied words, like "djdjfk," it takes under 1.5 seconds to return a list of suggested spellings.  For words very close to the correct spelling, such as "elefunt," it takes about 2.5 seconds to return a list of words.  In fact, the longest it ever took to search out and return a list of suggestions was 3.46 seconds.  Not bad at all!  (These trials were performed on my double-speed machine, running the dictionary off of a flash card.)

The thesaurus was quite complete, easily returning the most complete list of synonyms I've seen on a dictionary for the palmtop.  And it's just as quick as the dictionary, if not more so.  I punched in the word "mad" and got 2.5 pages of synonyms in under 3 seconds.

The dictionary also has a "Wildcard" feature, useful for crossword puzzles, and an "anagram" feature, useful for... well, any situation you need to figure out what a word's letters can be rearranged to spell, I suppose.  These features, though not lightning-fast,  were surprisingly quick on the palmtop.  I typed in "F?S??N" in an attempt to see how long it would take the dictionary to find "fusion" in the wildcard search screen.   Five seconds later, I had a list of five words, including "fusion."  The program displayed the matching words on the screen as it searched the dictionary, which I thought was a nice touch.  Of course, the speed will vary depending on how many wildcard-characters you have in your word.

The anagram feature was nice.  It returned all anagrams for "STOP" in just under ten seconds.  Unfortunately, it has it's limitations: it can't anagram sentences, for one.  It will not return multi-word anagrams; asthe manual says, "maori hen" will not produce "I ran home."

The dictionary also includes a "reverse index" of sorts, whereby you can input words that might appear in the definition of a word and then have it search to see if it can find your word.  However, this feature is probably a little too CPU-intensive for the palmtop.  I tried it on my desktop, a Pentium 200 working off of a large RAMdrive, and it still took five or six seconds to do most searches.  That would be a long time on the 200LX.  Even so, such a feature might come in handy for a person desperately searching for the right word.

The Collins Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus is fairly easy to install; it comes on both CD-ROM and 3.5" floppy.  Thaddeus includes excellent instructions and tips for installation and use on the palmtop.

The dictionary itself takes up a little over 7.5MB, which puts it above the American Heritage Dictionary, Standard Edition, but far below the American Heritage Dictionary, Deluxe Edition (which weighs in at a hefty 14MB).  However, the Collins dictionary's size is increased by the optional modules: the Thesaurus adds another 1.1MB, the pronunciation data (which is pretty good, and integrates nicely when enabled) is another 550K, and the etymology data (or word history, which is handy but a bit sketchy in this dictionary) adds another 860K.  The total size of the package comes to about 9.6MB, but again, a couple of megs can be shaved off if you don't mind losing the thesaurus, pronunciation, and etymology.

All in all, this is a great product that thrills me no end.  I plan to replace my American Heritage Dictionary with this version, since the searching is so much faster.  If you want to have a dictionary with you, this is the one to get.  But hurry-- once Thaddeus runs out of these packages, they're gone for good.  

The Verdict

Almost everybody who can spare the disk space will find this utility well worth the price.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-2-1999

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