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Great Palmtop Dictionaries!

Great Palmtop Dictionaries!

The Collins Electronic English Dictionary & Thesaurus and the Collins Series 100 Multilingual Dictionary surpass all other dictionaries for the HP Palmtop.

By David Sargeant

A few weeks ago on the HPLX mailing list, there was a question posed, "Is there a dictionary for the palmtop that can give me meanings of words, or are they all just spell-checkers?"

The shareware / freeware world is surprisingly lacking in such a piece of software. 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. The electronic version of this dictionary is a very nice program. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to find.

Enter the Collins Electronic English Dictionary and Thesaurus from Harper-Collins. 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 DOS command line. (e.g.., typing COLE1 ELEPHANT and pressing ENTER will display 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. Lest you become confused and accidentally use one of these words in place of a less offensive euphemism, 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 American 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?

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 3.5 seconds. Not bad at all! (These trials were performed on my double-speed machine, running the dictionary from a flash card.)

The thesaurus is quite complete and returns the most complete list of synonyms I've seen on a dictionary for the palmtop. It's just as quick as the dictionary, if not more so. I typed 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 its limitations: it can't anagram sentences, for one. It will not return multi-word anagrams; as the 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 from a large RAM drive, 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 English Dictionary and Thesaurus is fairly easy to install; it comes on both CD-ROM and 3.5" floppy. Thaddeus Computing, Inc., the sole distributor for the dictionary, 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 is another 550K, and the etymology data (or word history 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.

Collins Series 100 Multilingual Dictionary

One thing the palmtop has been missing for a long time is a decent multiple-language dictionary. If I need to know the meaning of an English word, there's always the Collins or American Heritage Dictionary, complete with pronunciation and synonyms. But while I was in a Spanish class, or trying to translate a company memo for the boss, I'd have to rely on a paperback dictionary for the tough words, or (even worse) a $150 Windows translator program. No longer.

The Collins Series 100 Multilingual Dictionary does quite a job. It comes with four bilingual dictionaries-- it can match English words to and from French, German, Italian, and Spanish. I loaded it on my 200LX and started trying out the Spanish dictionary. As everybody knows, the ultimate test of a multilingual dictionary is whether it can teach you to swear in a different language. The Collins dictionary is certainly complete in this regard. If the need ever arises for me to curse at somebody while in Spain (or Italy, Germany, or France), I'll be ready.

Next up I tried some less colorful verbs and nouns. The dictionary seemed to handle anything I threw at it-- from common words such as "run," "eat," "blue," "chair," and "speedy" to less common terms like "laser printer" and "computer program" and "bludgeon." The 27-page manual that comes with the software (which, unfortunately, seems mostly concerned with the Windows version) says that each bilingual dictionary includes 75,000 references and 110,000 translations, which seems to be plenty for what I could think of. The speed of lookup was quite impressive on my double-speed unit, the program was fairly quick to load initially from my flash card, and it found words extremely quickly when I typed them in. It took about 1.5 seconds from the press of the ENTER key to the display of the information.

The interface is quite nice. To install the program, you insert the CD-ROM into your desktop computer and run the Windows INSTALL.EXE program. You must tell it to install the MS-DOS / PC-DOS version during the install. Once it is done, you can copy the files over to your 200LX from your desktop. The program itself, COLLINS.EXE, takes about five seconds to load from the DOS prompt. IMPORTANT NOTE: on the 200LX, be sure you run it with the m switch for monochrome. That makes the screen much more readable.

Once the program is loaded, a menu comes up from which you select the dictionary you want: English-French, French-English, English-German, German-English, English-Spanish, English-Italian, Spanish-English, or Italian-English. From that point it is another one or two seconds until the dictionary loads and you can begin looking up words. Of course, you can switch dictionaries whenever you like.

Typing in a word produces the translation in a windows beneath the entry line, or a list of close guesses if your word was not found. If your word was found, it will display the various meanings of the word you typed and the translation for that particular meaning. Additionally, any common phrases involving the word you looked up will be displayed and translated as well. Arrowing down into the definition window will highlight each word in the window, and pressing ENTER will look up that word. If the word is in a different language, the dictionaries will automatically be switched and you will then look that word up and see its English translation.

For example: in the English-Spanish dictionary, typing "sleep" will bring up a large list of word and phrases. It is difficult to translate to pure text, but this is basically what you get:





we can sleep:

podemos alojar a

tenemos cabida para

to go to sleep:

quedarse dormido

to have a good night's sleep:

dormir toda la noche

to put to sleep:



(animal: euphemism kill)


to sleep lightly:

tener el sueo ligero

to sleep with:

(euphemism) <-- Hmm, what could this be a euphemism for? :)

acostarse con uno


sleep in:


dormir tarde

Quite impressive! And nearly every word in there can be selected with the arrow keys and looked up.

The dictionary requires about 130K of memory to run in, and can be loaded as a TSR if you like. The TSR takes up a full 130K, however, and won't pop up in graphics mode, so it may not be worth it. Ideally, you should dedicate a Software Carousel work area to running this program full-time, so you would always have an instant translation at your fingertips.

Of course, the dictionary is not perfect. Its most glaring deficiency is that there are no additional languages available-- if you need Portuguese or Japanese or Russian, for example, this will be of no use. Also, there are eight separate dictionary files, one each for English-French, French-English, English-German, etc. And the dictionaries are fairly large, from 581K to 827K apiece. You can, of course, delete any files you like, and COLLINS.EXE won't care-- it will simply not show those in the dictionary file options. Even so, a full install is 5.6MB. Expect to allocate about 1.5MB per language you want to translate.

Also, this program is set up as a dictionary, not a translation utility. There is no provision for translating sentences or anything more than words or small phrases.

But these small problems aside, this is an excellent product that will greatly benefit palmtop-toting students, businesspeople, and travelers--- and even people who just have an occasional need to say something in another language. If you foresee the need for this product now or in the future, get it now. Once Thaddeus runs out of the Multilingual dictionary packages, they're gone for good.

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