Yes, it’s another step in my Macification process. For quite a few years, I’ve had the quite lovely (and quite expensive) Complete Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM. It has the full text of the mighty OED, and has a moderately usable search facility, but is otherwise lacking in extreme cleverness. There has been an updated version, but this was a new release rather than a patch for existing users, so I’m stuck with the version I have. It’s great for finding the origins of words, their history, and much more. But the full OED has a few slight drawbacks:
- It’s not as up to date as some dictionaries
- It lists historical and often obsolete meanings before current or newer ones
- It uses a nasty copy protection system which requires periodic validation by inserting the data CD. That’s not a major problem, but it can be irritating
- And err, it’s Windows only
Obviously, the last point there has only been an issue for me recently. I’ve installed it on the virtual Windows machine I have on the Mac for Microsoft Money, so I can still use it when I need to, but it’s not quite as convenient as having it directly to hand. So, I had a look and found that the latest edition of the Shorter OED was available for around £60 from the OED people themselves, and it runs on Windows and Macs. Woo hoo!
So I ordered it last week, and got it today. Installation on the Mac was the usual “drag the icon into the Applications folder” method, so they get points there for respecting the platform they’re running on. The Windows installation (which I haven’t tried personally) involves the usual reboot afterwards, so they’re respecting that platform too!
Anyway, it installed, I ejected the CD and ran the application. It worked! Then I closed it and started it again and it didn’t work! It sat there telling me it was “Loading…”, which seemed a bit rude. I headed for the OUP support page, where I found that there is an update available, which deals with this very issue, which is caused by it getting upset by things in the clipboard. It also changes the interface to a much more OED-like dark blue.
With the update, it runs beautifully. Much like an old PC version I had ages ago (it was free on a magazine CD). There’s a search box, a list of words, and a window with the definition. Start typing a word and it instantly scrolls through matching words. That’s quite impressively quick actually. Very nice. There’s a helpful “copy” button for dropping the definition into the clipboard, and even a “print” button, which combined with the Mac’s built in print to PDF feature makes it really easy to save a copy of a particular definition.
There’s also an advanced search, which lets you look for authors and publications cited in the dictionary, and much more. This is, of course, where an electronic dictionary beats the printed version (even more so than the copying and printing features).
All of that would be enough to make me quite happy with my purchase, but there’s just a little more. As an added bonus for crossword fans, there’s an anagram solver and a crossword finisher thingy – you type in the letters you have, and put a “?” for each missing letter, and then the software will find all the matching words it knows.
You can buy it direct from the Oxford University Press, or shop around. Amazon aren’t selling it directly, but a number of Marketplace sellers seem to have it at a range of prices. However, I’ve seen Amazon get confused about editions in the Marketplace thingy, so make sure you’re getting the latest version (Version 3.0 of the software, which contains the full Sixth Edition of the SOED), and not an earlier one. Unless you prefer older dictionaries, of course, in which case, you can get yourself a bargain!
 Note: the “Shorter” OED is a huge two-volume publication. It’s heavy. I’ve got the previous edition…
 It will automatically look up words you copy, and without the update, it gets confused if symbols and other such things are in the selected text