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Spell Catcher 8 Logo

Review by Jaddie J. Dodd
October 9, 1999

Casady & Greene’s Spell Catcher is my all-time favorite Mac OS utility. Spell Catcher is a system-wide spelling checker, which means it works in all of your applications, including the Finder itself, and provides several other extremely handy utilities. It costs $49.95 for the boxed version, $39.95 for the downloadable version and $19.95 for the upgrade. It requires Mac OS 8.1 or later and about 2M of system memory.

To the new Mac user the thought of a system-wide dictionary may seem inconsequential, but it was the system-wide nature of Thunder 7 that earned it a place in Mac users’ hearts years ago. As a matter of fact, Casady & Greene acquired Thunder 7 from Baseline Publishing, completely rewrote the product and christened it “Spell Catcher.” After rewriting the program a second time and adding features and improving compatibility and performance, Casady & Greene offers a Mac OS 8- and 9-savvy tool that I just don’t want to compute without!

The main feature of Spell Catcher is that it works in any application on your hard drive. Why is this such a big deal? Well, if you’ve gone through all the trouble of adding many new words and proper nouns to your word processor’s spelling dictionary and were then frustrated when you realized that you’d have to add all those same words to your email software’s spelling dictionary, to your spreadsheet program’s spelling dictionary and then to all of your other text-editing programs’ spelling dictionaries, then you should appreciate having one central spelling checker that’s integrated and immediately available in all of you applications. With Spell Catcher you create only one set of new words and proper nouns, and you have only one interface with which to become familiar, which is primarily the Spell Catcher menu, which looks like a checkmark (see Figure 1). The concept just rocks. And thanks to Casady & Greene, so does its implementation. Let’s take Spell Catcher for a spin.


Spell Catcher Main Interface
Figure 1. The Spell Catcher menu.

You can have Spell Catcher make the alert sound of your choice (or flash your menu bar) when you misspell a word, type a double word, or make a punctuation or capitalization error. Upon hearing the error, you can either visit the Spell Catcher menu and choose Suggest Spelling for “[word you misspelled]” (see Figure 2), or you could press a keyboard shortcut (Command-Shift-[ is the default, but you can pick your own shortcut) to have Spell Catcher offer suggestions without having to use your mouse. Once the Suggest Spelling window is open, you’ll see a list of suggestions. If you see the word you meant to type, simply press the number beside it and Spell Catcher will replace your misspelling with the correct spelling. This is a fast process. You’ll be delighted that your hands aren’t required to leave the keyboard. And just in case you didn’t hear the error signal, Spell Catcher will even suggest spellings for the last several mistakes you typed.

Suggest Spelling
Figure 2. Have Spell Catcher suggest spellings for the unrecognized word.

Adding new words, like QuarkXPress, to your own dictionary is quick and easy. When Spell Catcher alerts you of a misspelling, open the Suggest Spelling window by going to the Spell Catcher menu and choosing Suggest Spelling for “[word you misspelled]”. Simply control-click the Learn Word button to assign the new word to one of your dictionaries (see Figure 3). You’ve now “taught” Spell Catcher that the word you typed is an acceptable word (see Note 1).

Quick Way to Teach Spell Catcher a Word
Figure 3. The quick way to teach Spell Catcher a new word.

No offense to the venerable desktop publishing champ, but QuarkXPress is a difficult word to type. The Q isn’t difficult to type, but then you have to press the Shift key for X, then press the other Shift key for P. The smart thing to do is to have Spell Catcher type QuarkXPress for you.

Teach Spell Catcher how to type for you by choosing Edit Shorthand Glossaries from the Spell Catcher menu. This will open the Edit Shorthand Glossaries window (see Figure 4, animated). Then, in the Entry field type a trigger, a letter sequence that will tell Spell Catcher that you want it to type something for you. In this example, use qx. Then click in the Expansion field and type the whole word or words you’d like your trigger to expand into. (Expansions can contain up to 1000 characters.) In this case type QuarkXPress. Next, click the Add button, then the Save button, then Done. (See Note 2.) Now when you type qx followed by a punctuation mark or press Return, QuarkXPress will automatically be typed by Spell Catcher. It’s almost eerie. You can set a trigger to type your snail mail address, a long Latin expression or the name of that place you can never remember how to spell. Almost everyone who works in specialized fields will learn to depend on and love this feature.

Edit Shorthand Glossaries
Figure 4. The Edit Shorthand Glossaries window.

Common misspellings are a breeze for Spell Catcher. Spell Catcher recognizes 1166 common misspellings that are automatically corrected as you type. For example, if you type teh, it’s automatically changed to the; occational to occasional. It’s a pleasure seeing Spell Catcher correct such mistakes while you type.

Spell Catcher also comes with an extensive dictionary and thesaurus. If you’d like to look up synonyms for a word, such as great, simply select the word and choose Look Up Selection from the Spell Catcher menu. Spell Catcher’s thesaurus contains over 550,000 entries. See Figure 5. You can find the meanings of over 102,000 words by selecting the word, choosing Look Up Selection from the Spell Catcher menu and clicking the Dictionary tab. Have Spell Catcher pronounce the word for you by clicking the Speak button. See Figure 5.

Spell Catcher Lookup Window

Figure 5. The Spell Catcher Lookup window.

Spell Catcher will even keep track of all your keystrokes and save them to a text file. This is Spell Catcher’s Ghostwriter feature. In the event of a crash, you can retrieve your keystrokes from a previous work session.

Besides being a system-wide spell checker, dictionary, thesaurus, and personal secretary, Spell Catcher is also a wonderful text-editing utility. Spell Catcher features a bountiful toolbox of proofreading and text-manipulation features. You can even combine these features into your own macros and have Spell Catcher invoke them with a single keyboard shortcut. Included modules are Capitalize Sentences, Form Paragraphs, lowercase, Multiple Spaces to Single Space, Multiple Spaces to Tab, Quote, Search and Replace, Smarten Quotes, Spaces to Tabs, Statistics, Straighten Quotes, Strip Characters, Strip White Space, Tabs to Spaces, Title Case, Title Case Strict, UPPERCASE and Word Count.

If you enjoy composing email in your favorite word processing package, then you’re likely to have at one time or another sent email with “smart” (also known as curly or typographer’s) quotes. When this gets sent through email, the message often contains those distracting symbols shown in Figure 6.

Examples of Garbled Text

Figure 6. Text garbled in America Online and email software for intranets.

You can easily fix such booboos—at least before you send them—by having Spell Catcher straighten your quotes before you send the email. Simply select the text that you wish to send and choose Modify Selection from the Spell Catcher menu (see Figure 7, animated). Then double-click Straighten Quotes to complete the task. If you’re presented with an alert message such as the one pictured in Figure 8, click the Paste button. Since you’re sending your email as plain text (and hopefully, you do!), any formatting information that’s lost is perfectly fine. You can even assign a keyboard shortcut to this process so that your hands are never required to leave the keyboard.
Cleaning Text With Spell Catcher (Animation)

Figure 7. This animation illustrates how easy it is to clean the text in Figure 6.

Loss of Formatting Warning

Figure 8. If pasting into an email application, click the Paste button.

I also find the Form Paragraphs feature quite useful. Many Mac users use Netscape to surf the Web. When copying text from a Web page in Netscape and then pasting the text into a word processor or an email message, the text will often paste in with carriage returns at the end of each line. It’s easy to have Spell Catcher clean this up for you. Select the text you wish to change, then choose Modify Selected... from the Spell Catcher menu and double-click “Form Paragraphs”. Line endings take shape, as illustrated in Figure 9 (animated).

Forming Paragraphs (Animation)

Figure 9. This animation illustrates the light work Spell Catcher makes of cleaning up unnecessary line endings.

Maybe you work in a multilingual environment and would like Spell Catcher to work with extra languages. Spell Catcher can locate and fix your mistakes in 7 non-US English languages—Canadian French, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swiss German and UK English. The Spell Catcher 8.0.1 update makes working with other languages easier than with previous versions.

If you’ve already built dictionaries in your favorite word processors, you can have the Spell Catcher 8 Converter, a utility that gets installed when you install Spell Catcher, convert those dictionaries to the Spell Catcher 8 format. This utility can convert dictionaries from MacWrite II, Quark 3.x, Word 3-98, WordPerfect, Correct Grammar, early versions of SpellsWell, Thunder 7, Spell Catcher 1.x, Spell Catcher PC and Spell Catcher 8 PC.

As terrific as I believe Spell Catcher is, there are a few things I’d like to see in future releases. One thing is a spiral-bound manual. Nearly all software publishers now distribute their manuals and quick start guides as Adobe Acrobat PDF files, at least in downloadable distributions of their software. That’s tolerable, but I’d also like to receive a hard copy of the manual by mail. After all, it is David Pogue, author of many best-selling Mac books, who wrote the manual for Spell Catcher 8 (as he did for Casady & Greene’s Conflict Catcher 8). My LaserWriter has no problem churning out the 96-page manual, but it’d still be nice to have a perfect-bound manual to complement such an outstanding Mac OS utility.

Unlike the first version of Spell Catcher, the new Spell Catcher runs as a standalone application. I’m sure Spell Catcher’s programmer had his reasons for rebuilding his product as a standalone application, but I’d like the option of running Spell Catcher as a faceless background application, which means it could load at bootup just like it does now, but it wouldn't appear in the Application menu (the top, rightmost item in the menubar). I’m not sure this is technically possible, but I see no advantage in having Spell Catcher in the Application menu.

Lastly, the first version of Spell Catcher required you to specify the applications in which Spell Catcher would be active. The new Spell Catcher is now available by default in every application you use, even applications like Photoshop and Internet Explorer. To keep Spell Catcher to out of the way in such applications, you must visit the Spell Catcher menu, choose Preferences..., click the radio button beside the application’s name, choose Interactive Checking and then uncheck the “Interactive checking on” checkbox (see Figure 10). Spell Catcher will stay out of your way for the current and subsequent work sessions.

Spell Catcher Preferences Window

Figure 10. Spell Catcher’s application-specific preferences.

These peccadilloes withstanding, I still rate Spell Catcher as a 5-star utility. It’s one of those tools that makes a Mac even more Mac like by extending the Mac’s easy-to-use interface. Spell Catcher is a tool that not only causes you to be more productive, but also to better enjoy your work and your Mac. Having immediate and integrated use of such a powerful and friendly tool is a real plus—no matter whether you’re writing a letter to a friend or are drafting your doctoral dissertation. As Bob LeVitus says, Spell Catcher “is the most useful utility program a writer can own.”

For another review of Spell Catcher, see Owen Linzmayer’s (author of The Mac Bathroom Reader and Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer, Inc.) review in the November issue of MacAddict.

Spell Catcher was just revved to 8.0.1. The update provides many refinements, a few fixes and Mac OS 9 compatibility. For update details, see the Spell Catcher Update Web page.