Review: OmniDictionary 2.0.1
Developer: The Omni Group
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1
Those who need to look up the meanings of words while sitting at the computer have several options. They can walk over to their bookshelf and find their dictionary. They can use a Web site like Dictionary.com. A third option is an application like MacDict. Or, if they’re working in OS X, they can use OmniDictionary.
OmniDictionary is an OS X client for the DICT protocol. Basically, there are DICT servers on the Internet that can contain several different dictionary files. By default, OmniDictionary uses the dict.org server, which currently gives users access to eleven different sources: Eaton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary, the Elements database, Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary, the Jargon File, the CIA World Factbook, the Devil’s Dictionary, the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, the US Gazetteer, the Virtual Entity of Relevant Acronyms, Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary, and WordNet.
If you so desire, you can tell OmniDictionary to use another DICT server for access to different dictionaries. I did a small amount of searching, but I could not find anybody else running a DICT server on the Internet. However, you can run your own server—using this approach, you choose which dictionaries you can search and you avoid the requirement of connecting to the Internet.
Using OmniDictionary couldn’t be easier. You simply type a search term into the text field, choose if you want to search one or all dictionaries, and click Define. Any exact matches for your word are displayed in the text area that makes up most of the OmniDictionary interface. If no exact matches were found, a list of similar words may be displayed. After finding the appropriate word in the list, you can click on it for its definition. For the truly lazy, you can have OmniDictionary speak the definition to you. The voices Apple includes with OS X aren’t exactly soothing, but it can be amusing listening to Zarvox define “extraterrestrial being.”
There are two ways to invoke OmniDictionary. The first way is to launch it like a normal application—double-click on the application in the Finder or click on the icon in the Dock. The other way to invoke OmniDictionary is as a service from a service-aware application, like BBEdit or TextEdit. You highlight the desired word and select the “Define In OmniDictionary” service. This also has a keyboard shortcut of Command-=. This seems to change to Command-Shift-= when the current application is already using Command-=.
One of the advantages to using OmniDictionary as a service is that any application can take advantage of it, assuming it was programmed to take advantage of services. One such application is OmniWeb. If you ever find a word on a Web site that you don’t understand, typing Command-= will get you the definition.
There is one issue I ran into when using OmniDictionary as a service. When the definition appears on screen, the OmniDictionary window is the frontmost window. However, it is not the active window. The benefit of this is you can continue working in the original program without needing to switch applications. The downside is that you might expect the OmniDictionary window to be active. For instance, you could look up a word from OmniWeb then try to close the OmniDictionary window by typing Command-W. Instead of closing the OmniDictionary window, you’ve closed the Web page you were reading.
OmniDictionary is the Frontmost Window, but not Active
After finding the definition you need, there are a couple of ways you can come back to it later. The text field doubles as a pop-up menu that keeps track of all the searches you have done while the window was open. Also, you can choose to save the definition as a text file so you can access it at any time. Unfortunately, OmniDictionary attaches neither type and creator codes nor a file extension to the file. As a result, OS X has no way to determine which program should open the file—you must add this information yourself.
OmniDictionary takes the idea of a traditional dictionary off your bookshelf and onto your computer. Although it doesn’t have all the features of MacDict, the ability to invoke OmniDictionary as a service makes it slightly more usable. This is a well designed application with only a few minor problems in the implementation. If you find yourself even occasionally needing to look up a word while at your Mac, check out OmniDictionary.