Review: 3rd Party Spell Checkers for Windows Applications

I maintain this blog and a couple of other web sites with CityDesk, a desktop content management system for Windows. It is a really nice program, easy to use, powerful and versatile. One thing that bugs me is the spell checker: unfortunately, CityDesk only ships with an English dictionary. Thus, when writing for my German web sites, the spell checker is of no help.

After a bit of research, I found a couple of products that support multi-lingual spell checking in almost every windows application. Two of them, Spell Check Anywhere and Spell Catcher Plus, I put to test.

Spell Check Anywhere

The spell checker in Spell Check Anywhere is based on the technology by Wintertree Software. Interestingly, this is the same engine that's behind CityDesk's spell checker.

The download comes with an dictionary for American English. There's no mention of the number of words it contains. On the Web site, dictionaries for more than 10 languages are available. Among them is one for German. It contains 295000 words, which is reasonable.

The basic linguistic features work flawlessly. The problem is stability. Sometimes the application works, sometimes it doesn't. Usually, right after reboot everything is fine. More than once, it stopped working for me during the day. When it works, it works with CityDesk, Notepad, my e-mail  program and every other application I tried.

Spell Check Anywhere is activated via a hot key. Options and customizations are configured with the help of a tray menu. This menu is pretty overloaded. Instead of clearing it out, the developer chose to prefix the important items with a bullet.

Spell Check Anywhere

The user interface of the spell checker's dialog is OK. It's not beautiful but has everything I expect from a spell checker. It displays suggestions for unknown words; unknown words can be ignored, changed or added to the user dictionary.

After spell checking is invoked, one can't change the language in the dialog. This is unfortunate, because even in my limited testing the current language almost never matched the language of the text. The only way is to cancel spell checking and change the language via the application's tray menu.

During my test, I had no problem crashing the application: when hitting the hot key while a modal dialog window was displayed, Spell Check Anywhere simply disappeared. In order to restart Spell Check Anywhere, I had to logoff and logon again. I couldn't find a way to start it by hand. For an application that's supposed to increase productivity, this is inacceptable.

The web site makes it hard to find the price for a single license -- it is hidden on the page for bulk discounts. I found no way to buy the software directly from the web site. There is a link in the tray menu, though, that links to an order page on a different web site.

All in all, because of the similarity to CityDesk's own spell checker, I really wanted to like the software. But given it's stability problems, I can't recommend it.

Spell Check Anywhere is available on Windows. It costs 30 USD.

Spell Catcher Plus

Spell Catcher Plus just works. Right now, even though I've only been using it for a couple of hours, I already replaced the spell checker of CityDesk and my e-mail program with Spell Catcher. It is that good. It's check-as-you-type feature really rocks. When Spell Catcher finds an error it displays a small non-intrusive popup window showing the suggestions. Of course, you don't have to use check-as-you-type. Spell Catcher can also check selected text. So an alternative is to finish typing first and check the text later. This can be invoked via hot key.

Spell Catcher

With 170,000 words, the English dictionary is reasonably large. The German one, though, is massive -- it contains more than 650,000 words. Dictionaries for 10 more languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, ...) are available for download.

In addition to spell checking, Spell Catcher integrates a thesaurus. That's another plus compared to Spell Check Anywhere.

The software is customizable in all regards. I especially like possibility to assign hot keys for language switching.

Another important feature is per-application configuration. Whenever you use an application that Spell Catcher doesn't know yet, it asks if it should monitor it. The keys, the sound to be played when it finds a typo or the format to use when spell-checking the contents of the clipboard -- Spell Catcher can be specifically tuned for every application.

The Web site is well structured. Links that point to the downloads, support forum and store are visible and easy to find.

Spell Catcher Plus costs 40 USD --  not cheap, but affordable. I haven't registered it yet as I have 14 days left for testing. So far, Spell Catcher has performed really well. I'm certain, it'll make it into my collection ofobscure and daily used tools.

A version for Mac OS X-- Spell Catcher X --  is available too.

Mon, 03 Jan 2005, 21:19 | Technology | PermaLink
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