NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
SpellCatcher from Casady & Greene, Inc.
A Review by Doug MacDonald, August 99
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Most spell checking software is unobtrusive, functional, and tied to a specific set of applications such as the Microsoft Office suite. "SpellCatcher" from Casady and Greene, Inc. is a little different. It is exactly what its advertising claims: "a universal, interactive spell checker, thesaurus, and shorthand glossary." If you are someone who likes (needs) an ever-ready spelling assistant and thesaurus, "SpellCatcher" may be just what you want.

"SpellCatcher" lives up to its claim of being "universal" because it works on a different principle from that of most spell checking systems. This program monitors your key strokes as you enter words into almost any application in your system. It is not dependent upon the particular software that you are running, which means you can use it for your email program, your financial management program, and your personal database or graphics program as well as your word processor. It knows, for example, that if I type the letters "tht," this is not a word. It immediately presents me with a pop-up menu that offers me a set of suggestions for what I probably wanted to type. If I wish, it will also provide an aural indication that I have made an error. [This can get to be annoying, so it is good that you can turn it off! I am a fast (but not always accurate) typist who tends to make more keying errors than actual spelling boo-boos, so this audio feature did not last very long around my house!]

What I have described above is called the "Interactive Checking" mode. "Spell Catcher" will also work in the more traditional mode of spell checking a file "after the fact" by showing you your errors. Simply select the text in a file and activate the "Check Selected" mode. In essence, "SpellCatcher" is reading the text you have placed on the Windows clipboard and allowing you to make corrections there. You then "paste" the corrected text back into your document. You can check individual words, sentences, paragraphs, or a complete document using this system.

"SpellCatcher" appears to work seamlessly with the existing spell checker in a word processor. This review is being typed in Microsoft Word 2000, which contains a sophisticated spell checker and auto-correct system. When activated, Word 2000 will automatically correct many common "typos," and this generally happens before "SpellCatcher" reacts. Word normally underlines questionable spellings in red, and it will continue to do so if it thinks a given word has been misspelled even if "SpellCatcher" has "passed" on the word. For example, I have set the word "SpellCatcher" to be a valid word within the "SpellCatcher" program, but not within Word. Each instance of the world "SpellCatcher" in this review is identified by Word as a potential misspelling, but "SpellCatcher" has no problems with it.

As indicated earlier, "SpellCatcher" is also an "on the fly" thesaurus that allows you to look up a word and select possible alternatives so that you don't continue to reuse the same word several times in a sentence or paragraph. You can configure all of the "SpellCatcher" options to work of user-defined "hot keys, so that you only need to select a word, for example, and hit your "hot key" to bring up the "SpellCatcher" thesaurus. The thesaurus is actually a kind of "mini-dictionary," so if you are not certain of the meaning of a word you can select it and then enter the thesaurus to see if that is actually a good word to use in this situation. No thesaurus is ever a substitute for a real dictionary, but for a "quick and dirty" check on word usage it can be an excellent tool.

"SpellCatcher" will act as an "auto-correct" system for those word processors or applications that do not have such a feature themselves. It will, for example, automatically substitute "smart quotes" (typographical curved quotation marks) for the "straight" quotes (double apostrophe) that are the default on some systems. It can also correct unintentional double spacing or double words, capitalization, conversion of a double dash to a solid "m" dash, etc. Each of these settings is customizable - you can select them or not, as you wish. "SpellCatcher" can also detect common punctuation errors, although you need to use this feature with care because sometimes a "standard" punctuation may change the meaning of your sentence! [This true for all grammar checking systems, not just "SpellCatcher."]

Another useful feature of this program is its ability to expand abbreviations. Called a "Shorthand Glossary," this option can contain a list of keystrokes that you would like automatically expand. For example, if you often write letters or emails to firm of Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette, you might wish to create a "shorthand" abbreviation "DLJ" that "SpellCatcher" will automatically expand to the full corporate name whenever you type it. This feature, like most of the other attributes of "SpellCatcher," is fully customizable - you can set it up as you wish. You can also set up "SpellCatcher" to work differently with different programs once you have experimented with them to discover the best interaction system for your uses.

The "SpellCatcher" manual is clear and concise. It is easy to find information you need and to implement the instructions. The dictionary system allows you to add your own words as necessary, and the program comes complete with a variety of specialized dictionaries such as engineering, legal, medical, computer, and others that "SpellCatcher" will use to check your work as you desire. Both the dictionary and thesaurus systems appear to be more than adequate for average use. The ability to add terminology as necessary means that if your writing is highly specialized you could create your own list of terms as necessary. Due to the way in which the dictionary lookup process is optimized, you cannot simply "browse" the dictionaries themselves except through the spelling and thesaurus functions. Installation of the product is very easy, although you will need to make some decisions concerning how you wish the program to work after installation before it is fully operational.

In summary, "SpellCatcher" makes an excellent addition to any software library, particularly if your favorite word processor is an older one with more limited spell checking function. Since it works externally, "SpellCatcher" can be used with many other programs that have no inherent spell checking capability. White it may not work with every application, the manual provides numerous suggestions for making "SpellCatcher" work with programs that do not, on the surface, appear to be compatible. The information provided with the review copy indicates that the list price of the program is $59.95. I have not seen "SpellCatcher" either locally or in the computer magazines, so I cannot report on the usual "street price." (Ed. Note: UG price at: http://www.casadyg.com/stores/ug is $19.95. Call Bonnie Mitchell, Director of Public Relations at 1-800-359-4920).

NWAPCUG has a copy of "SpellCatcher" in our software library. If you are in the market for a good spell checking program, I recommend that you borrow "SpellCatcher" to see if it will meet your needs. I think you will be impressed with its flexibility and usefulness.

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