Crossword Setter's CDROM reviews
Unfortunately some of the major players in this field have stopped producing reference material on CDROM, although they seem happy enough to sell the rights to old material and let other companies do the computer interface work. I've now got lots of stuff on CDROM, but I use only a few all the time. I've included "old" reviews here because the older programs tend to be better than the new, so if you can get hold of a secondhand copy, it might be worthwhile.
Chambers Dictionary on CD-ROM, 1994
Oh, the power of the PC! Anyone who sets crosswords seriously must have at least one electronic dictionary at their fingertips. The Chambers Dictionary on CD-ROM was my first and I've been waiting (so far without luck) for other Chamber's books to add into the generic interface called Lexicon. Thankfully the software has an option to load the entire dictionary onto the harddrive which frees up the CD-ROM drive for playing Tommy Emmanuel and makes accessing the dictionary very quick. There are all the usual features available including Definition Search, access via different indexes (like Headword, Idiom) and scrolling entry by entry. The interface itself is neat, but takes some getting used to. One big plus is that Crossword Compiler by Antony Lewis can access this dictionary directly, making setting crosswords much easier.
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary on CDROM released by ChambersHarrap
I'm not a big fan of the printed version of this dictionary for use in setting or solving crosswords, but such general references do serve a purpose for others. I thought I'd give the electronic version a go because Chambers haven't released many electronic publications in recent times. With the full Chambers Dictionary due for electronic release sometime in 2004, I thought the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary on CDROM might offer an insight into what is to come. After firing it up and testing it out, I quickly emailed Chambers to find out more about how this software was developed.
The response: "The aim of the CD is to reproduce in a slightly different form the functionality of the online version, and its interface arises from that. No final decisions have been made regarding The Chambers Dictionary on CD, so I cannot confirm what similarities there may be with the 21st Century Dictionary."
Thank goodness for that! Chambers 21st Century Dictionary on CDROM has a very basic interface and is completely no frills. It's very simply a look-up facility. The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary has separate entries for words that sometimes are included under a headword in other dictionaries. For example, "nightfall" and "nightlight" have their own entries: they are not included in the text of the "night" headword. Phrases and inflections are included under their headword, but the good news is that all bar phrases are included in the searchable index. You can use wildcards to search the index, but not the contents of the entries.
It's clever enough to take you to "tell" when you enter "told", and "chop" when you enter "chopped" (most inflections are catered for in the index), but plurals are beyond it. You might ask why this is important. Most crossword programs that try to link directly with dictionaries will look up whatever word is to be clued, plurals included. Thus, it's nice to look up "potatoes" and get "potato", as with the old Collins D&T.
I would have liked more window space devoted to the actual dictionary text as there's a large amount of wasted space that stays wasted when you resize the window to a more manageable size. There are no copy/paste restrictions however you can't leap to a different entry by double-clicking on a word and there's no printing facility.
The verdict? A relatively cheap bit of software that gives you access to the entire Chambers 21st Century Dictionary through a simple interface. If you just want to look up a dictionary, and not much else, it would be satisfactory.
The Macquarie Dictionary on CD-ROM, 1993
This version is based on the 2nd edition but includes encyclopaedic entries, which makes it doubly useful when looking for words to put into grids or to use in clues. There aren't all that many features available (there is of course a definition search facility) and the interface is a bit clumsy (for example, you can't easily go to the start of the Ds) but the output from searches can be tailored to suit the user's needs. The big minus is that you must have the CD-ROM in the drive, which can be bypassed by running a virtual drive program
(Update) Over time I've come to like this program. The search facility is more flexible than at first apparent (you can combine multiple wildcard searches in the one search and search the headword list and/or the text of the definitions, for instance) and it will work with crossword programs like Crossword Compiler.
Being an old program it will only work on FAT32 partitions on Windows - something I can live with.
The Macquarie Dictionary on CD-ROM, 2000
This version is based on the 3rd edition. While I love the Macquarie and its uniquely Australian content, this "new" software doesn't do it justice. The deficiencies of previous CD-ROM releases have been carried into this release, in fact it seems to be the same as before but for a smarter-looking interface. While version three of the printed version is applauded by academics, quoted as a reference in quiz shows and recommended in schools, this electronic version doesn't address the needs of the increasing number of people who rely on their computer to access reference material.
For some unknown reason, the software will only run from the CD-ROM drive. In this age of huge hard drives, why is this necessary? The program only operates in full-screen mode, covering all other programs running on the desktop: back to the days of DOS. There's an A-Z list (an improvement on previous versions), but no real way to access it. If I was unsure of how to spell a word, the A-Z list should help me find it, yet, unless I complete a valid search (ie by spelling the word properly), I can't see the area of the list that relates to my word.
On the positive side, the software allows you to search using words, phrases and/or definitions (why aren't the search words highlighted in the results?). The interface is a little difficult to get used to (no menu items or buttons to select from) but after a bit of trial-and-error it's clear that everything's there and works OK.
One of the biggest disappointments was the failure of the developers to allow for access through DDE or some other inter-program facility. Surely a program becomes more desirable if it can be used by many other programs like wordprocessors, emailing programs, crossword compiling programs, spreadsheet programs etc?
Overall, I applaud the release of this world-class dictionary on CD-ROM (many other publishers have decided to discontinue the release of their works on CD-ROM), but I believe the software doesn't do it justice. As a crossword setter, I find all dictionaries invaluable and tend to put up with poorly-designed software because I need the access the data. I'm not sure too many other prospective buyers will be as forgiving.
Megalex Macquarie Concise Dictionary by EIS, 2000
All praises to EIS for releasing an electronic version of this popular Australian dictionary. Using the latest content, EIS has produced the ideal dictionary for crossword solvers with a comprehensive search facility (which allows searching at the headword level or within the definition) and a simple, easy-to-use interface. One particularly useful function allows you to search definitions within a headword mask. You can get instant access to the dictionary through MS Word and Internet Explorer and the mouse helps work out pronounciations.
There's a great drag-and-drop facility that allows the user to take any word and "drop" it into the dictionary for an instant look-up. You can view the dictionary's entries in a number of different ways, but you can't use the index list as if you were scanning through a dictionary looking for a word. Many dictionaries allow you to enter a word and the index list "follows" your keystrokes, allowing you to find a word even if you are unsure of its spelling. Hopefully such a facility will be added in the future.
This electronic dictionary is the only one that won't interface directly with my crossword compiling programs. I assume this is because of the "drag-on" feature which requires a customised edit control. However, it's simple enough to switch to the dictionary, paste the target word, and press enter.
As a crossword setter I rely on concise dictionaries to provide the bulk of the words in my grids. Having an electronic version available saves much time and leads to a better product. Macquarie produce a good concise dictionary and EIS have done a good job in opening it up to computer users.
Collins Electronic English Dictionary & Thesaurus V2.0, 1996
It's good to see software companies learning from their mistakes. Version 2.0 of this product is far more user friendly than it's predecessor and has a few more neat functions. The dictionary and thesaurus can be used independently or as a unit using a linking function. There's an extensive search facility with ANDs and ORs etc plus the choice of which part of the listing to be searched. The mindset of the creators was in tune with mine when they decided to leave all facilities the same in both dictionary and thesaurus, thereby allowing the user full access to the body of the listings to do with what we will. Thus you can search the thesaurus for every instance where a particular word is used as a synonym. You can now display the dictionary of thesaurus' full headword list and step through it. This is most useful when you may not know how to spell a word or whether a word actually exists. The history feature is useful, though limited and its capacity is reduced by the fact that a new word is added or repeated even if it's not explicitly selected by the user, but comes from changing from say the history function to the browse function. Another excellent feature is its capability to be accessed directly from some crossword programs, making setting just that little bit easier. In my opinion the Collins English Dictionary has the most sensible and best word coverage of any dictionary and is the ideal companion for the serious crossword setter.
Note that for some unknown reason, Collins has stopped the production of this superb software. Good foragers may be able to find a secondhand copy somewhere.
Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus on CDROM, 2003 released by Harper Collins
I was so excited when I stumbled across an updated version of the most useful piece of reference software I have for creating crosswords. I had emailed Collins regularly asking when a new version would appear, and each time I got a "not in near future" response. So it's here and available, but is it worth having?
On first viewing the Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus on CD-ROM appears to be quite different from its predecessor. It has a different look, the dictionary and thesaurus are closely integrated, and all entries related to a selected word appear straight away. This list of related entries is very comprehensive - you couldn't ask for more information on a given word at the click of a mouse. I'd like the ability to tailor these related lists as the windows containing them are small and cluttered, often requiring scrolling to get the full picture.
It seems that the content of the Dictionary & Thesaurus is the same as the old one which is a bit curious since it's about 8 years old. There are a couple of annoying things in this software. You cannot do any wildcard searches of text in the definitions. One thing I like with electronic references is the ability to find a word you might not know the spelling of by entering letters and allowing the index to place you near your word, much like scanning through a printed dictionary. The Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus shows only a partial index related to a correctly spelt word. The partial index can only be advanced by selecting the last entry on it, making it the displayed word and double-clicking on the headword.
The last thing that bothers me is that only one word or a whole entry can be cut and pasted. That is, a small part of an entry cannot be selected and copied. I queried this with Collins and the reply related to copyright issues. Apparently Collins don't want their definitions tampered with or misused, so insist on them being used in their entirety. This, of course, is bunkum. How could this possibly apply to a thesaurus, where the whole entry would never be used in its entirety? As a crossword setter, I regularly cut and paste a few synonyms into my crossword program to give me options when cluing. As for dictionary entries, many words have multiple definitions which have integrity in their own right. Surely I should at least be able to copy an entire definition?
Of course, one of the good things about this software is that it runs on modern operating systems, unlike the previous software that used to need tinkering to get it to work. Thankfully Collins have a support page that supplies info on running the old software on new machines. This site also has an update to version 3.0 to bypass the distributed software's insistence of having the CD in the drive on initiation.
One of the necessary features of any electronic reference is its ability to interface with popular crossword programs. The Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus 2002 can be accessed by crossword programs like Crossword Compiler directly through a Windows interface.
IMO, this software is only a slight improvement on its predecessor and will annoy those used to the previous version. Even though there is more instant information on a selected word, the way the index operates is annoying, the restricted cut and paste facility is counter-productive and the removal of the wildcard search lessens the software's overall usefulness.
Did Collins consult users of its previous version in order to create a better product this time round? My door's always open.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 9th Edition released by Focus Multimedia Limited, 2000
Bravo! Focus Multimedia. While some of the big publishers claim producing reference material on CD-ROM is too expensive, these guys have come up with a compact, fast, well-thought-out interface for the popular Concise Oxford Dictionary. This interface has everything good dictionary software should have: extensive search facilities; an active A-Z listing; intuitive look-up through highlighting of any word; a link to Word and printing options. There are other non-essential things like split-screening that could be useful if you wanted to look up one word while maintaining your place. The software doesn't allow access by third-party programs that would make it much more useful, but maybe that will come. The only negative is that the dictionary material is from an past Oxford edition, but the price tends to make up for this. Overall, a very good product.
The Oxford Thesaurus released by Focus Multimedia Limited, 2000
Due to an interface clash with the original Chambers on CD-ROM, I was never able to run the Oxford release (1994) of this product, which annoyed me somewhat since a thesaurus is a crucial part of any setter's armoury, so I was delighted when I found this piece of software. The interface used in this software is similar to that of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. You can look for a word as part of an A-Z list or search the entire text. The A-Z style of searching a thesaurus is a little strange. A word appears in the A-Z list if it is present anywhere in the text, not just if has a headword-type entry. When you click on "balsamic", for instance, a sublist appears showing the "soothing" entry, which contains "balsamic" among its list of synonyms. The program doesn't show you any entry until one is selected from the list, which is a little annoying as in most cases as entry corresponding to the word typed in is the one you want to see. This is a minor thing and something that's easy to get used to. The software doesn't provide third-party access either, which is annoying for those of us with crossword compiling software that would happily use it. Again, Focus have produced a good and inexpensive product that all crossword lovers should have.
Focus Multimedia products are distributed by G & V Advance Electronics in Australia.
Crossworders' Dictionary and Gazetteer
Boy, so much information on one little disk! After being annoyed by the installation process (who ever heard of rebooting before the installation takes place?!), I was pleased that the product has a lot to offer. Although there's a great deal of stuff, the focus is on US content, as you would expect. A quick search for "Australia", revealed some limited but wide-ranging information. This reference is really designed with a solver in mind, who is trying to match words to a pattern of letters. I couldn't easily use it to find out information to construct crosswords, as you can't do open-ended or definition searches. I will say that it's good to have all the geographical entries as these words often turn up in crosswords but are not in standard wordlists. Overall, not a bad product.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition, on CD-ROM released by Oxford University Press, 2000
I must admit I was slightly apprenhensive about installing this product as I've now got a few dictionary look-up programs running in the background and I was afraid they might get in each other's way. So far, so good. And not only that, this program is a little beauty! Needless to say, the Concise Oxford Dictionary has excellent coverage (every entry was completely rewritten for the 10th edition, I believe) and the words suit perfectly the crossword setter who is aiming to challenge the majority of solvers. Very few obsolete or archiac words- just what you want. Each headword has a sensible entry (not too long-winded) and contains any related phrases.
What I really like about the interface is just how simple it is. There's a headword list running down the left-hand side that scrolls as you type in a word, allowing you to find a word that you may not know how to spell. At the same time, the related entry appears on the right. Just click on any word in the entry, and it's automatically looked up for you. None of this highlight-and-enter stuff. At this point, in "quick" mode, you can use any number of wildcard searches the go through the entire headword list. If you need a full-text search, just click on the "full" button and a comprehensive wildcard and/or boolean search can be conducted. It would be nice if the headword was maintained from the "quick" to the "full" search, but instead the last search remains.
There are some minor annoyances like not being able to use some standard text editing keys to edit the search field(s), for example, but the overall simplicity of the program makes up for these.
As with all modern dictionary programs, The Concise Oxford Dictionary uses a program in background and the clipboard to allow the user to initiate a dictionary look-up effortlessly. Just double-click a word in your crossword program and the word will be automatically accessed in the dictionary, taking into account any inflections. Due to the number of programs that use the clipboard in the manner, things can go wrong, but, on the whole, it's all seamless. Just remember, if the dictionary is running, this function will be active whenever you double-click.
I'm really pleased with how OUP are developing their electronic software range. It's obvious that they talk to the people that use the products and incorporate suggestions in subsequent releases. The Concise Oxford Dictionary on CDROM would be useful to everyone who likes to solve or set crosswords, particularly with its wildcard search facilities and its ability to look up words from third-party software via the clipboard. Overall, another well-designed product from the people at Oxford University Press.
The Oxford Pop-up English Language Reference Shelf released by Oxford University Press, 2000
Firstly, I'd like to thank Oxford for bucking the trend by continuing to produce high-quality reference material on CDROM while other publishers have abandoned their electronic publishing and their customers.
The Pop-up Reference Shelf is a clever companion to those of us who need to look words up quickly without worrying about typing and searching. The Pop-up concept has a number of things going for it. There's one interface (built by iFinger) that links to a number of different references, all of which can be paid for and downloaded very quickly. No more CDROMs and the distribution costs that they entail (Take note Chambers and Collins). These references can be switched on and off, so you don't have to have them all available at once.
The iFinger interface can be initiated directly, or by a changeable hot-key that uses any currently highlighted text as input, or by double-clicking on a word. This means that as long as you can highlight a word in your favourite crossword program, you can look it up with the touch of a button or mouse. Thankfully the interface also handles inflections, so word endings don't confuse it. As iFinger can be installed to run permanently in the background, it may be necessary to switch off the double-click option when you are not doing crossword work. Also, it will automatically look up words passed over by the mouse when using Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This can actually drive you nuts, so a sleep feature is available to turn it off. There are many more features of the iFinger software like being able to create you own lookup dictionary (which can be used for lots of other things). For a full list, check out the iFinger website.
The only negatives I've found are that the pop-up iFinger window isn't resizeable, forcing you to scroll to see all the entries (an unnecessary restriction), and there are no features like a full-text search. I imagine the individual CDROMs of the included reference books would have more in-depth search facilites. I used the iFinger support system on their website to ask if there was a way to use different hot-keys to access the different books, but that's not possible yet.
The OUP Pop-up Reference Shelf comes with four separate references:
Includes examples of the use of a word in a sentence, any phrases based on the word and the origin of the word. 350,000 entries.
Includes examples of the use of a word in a sentence and a few antonyms where applicable. 600,000 alternative words.
The fifth release of this OUP standard. 20,000 quotations.
An encyclopedia that has good overall coverage, with hot-links for crossferenced entries. 20,000 entries
All bar the The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations are useful for creating, solving and cluing crosswords, especially The New Oxford Thesaurus of English. There are many other reference books you can add to the interface and I'm sure more will be released in the future.
Overall, a very good, up-to-date, quick reference program. I like the nifty interface and its ability to be accessed from any text-based Windows application. I recommend this product to all budding and experienced setters and any other wordsmiths who want to have as much information as possible at their iFingertips.
Anyone with comments on these mini reviews or with information on later editions of the books, please .
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