Spell-checking done right

A short while ago, I wrote a post about the way Entourage deals with spell-checking (especially for people like me who write in more than one language). As I was trying to gather some information on the subject, several people mentioned Antidote from Druide Informatique.

Even though this application is specifically for French, I thought it would illustrate well what can be done with a spell-checker and now, even third party apps can integrate in Office.

Antidote is a spell checker (spelling and grammar) for French that integrates in a lot of applications – not only Office. Since I don’t don’t write much in French for work these days, I haven’t invested in decent MacOS X spell-checker like Antidote. I had heard of it, but I didn’t own a license. I used the Correcteur 101 in the past, but it looks like development has unfortunately completely ceased for this software.

I contacted Druide and they kindly sent me a copy for review. I was pleased that they showed an interest in the Mac community (they also have Antidote for Windows) to someone who is unknown like myself with a no strings attached for review. It doesn’tshouldn’t influence my opinion of their application, but it reflects well on the company itself and it treats us, Mac users.

1 — The application itself.

Installing the application is trivial. You need to enter a serial number and an activation ID. There is an installer specific for the integration in third party applications. It looks for applications to integrate into and placed the proper supporting files where they belong.
One of the first things you do when you launch Antidote for the first time, is to customize it:

The application adapts to your specificities depending on where you are from (different French speaking countries sometimes use slightly different rules), your gender, how goo you consider your spelling and grammar to be and a few other things.
One thing I found interesting: it also adapts depending on whether French is your first language or not. If you learned French at school and need to communicate in French, it will alter the way it corrects your texts to flag errors typical of non-native French speakers.

After the customization, you can get to the main interface of the application:

You can see that you have access to dictionaries, a thesaurus…

In addition to offering you corrections for spelling and grammar, Antidote also offers in depth analysis of the structure of your text. Granted: this is for more advanced users, but a welcome addition nonetheless.

2 — Integration in Office.

As I mentioned before, the application installs various modules to properly integrate in Office. Word, Excel and PowerPoint support add-ons and Antidote uses this approach to integrate. It creates a new toolbar providing access to most of its tools.

You can type some text, select it and use the toolbar to have it automatically imported in Antidote for a good checking.
Entourage doesn’t support add-ons per se so Antidote uses another approach. The installer places AppleScripts in ~/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Entourage Script Menu Items/Antidote.

The scripts are automatically available in the Script menu in Entourage.

and you can use the different commands the same way you did in from the toolbar in the other Office applications.
You can even affect shortcuts to the commands of your choice: use the appropriate extensions at the end of the name of the scripts in the Finder and Entourage will automatically affect the corresponding shortcut to the script. In the example I chose, I added \csA at the end of the name of the Correcteur script.

3 — Integration in other software?

You can use copy and paste, Services and even drag and drop to correct text from any other application on your Mac. NSTextView or WebView compatible applications (TextEdit, Mail, Safari…) can also benefit from a direct integration in a contextual menus. No copy and paste required.

4 — What if the words you need are not in the dictionary?

You can add them:

The pane will take in consideration the type of word you are adding (for proper grammar checking), the gender, the plural form… You can even enter a definition to be used with the dictionaries in Antidote.
I really wish Office would offer something like that for it’s own tools. I always found extremely restrictive the fact that you can only enter a word in the custom dictionaries in the form you typed in the text: no information on the type of word (noun, verb…), plural form, etc. You’ll need to enter it again if you re-type it in its plural form or if you capitalize it at the beginning of a sentence for instance. Office really needs more powerful spelling and grammar tools.

5 — (Not so) Famous last words

I really like this software. It does an excellent job in French, adapting it’s corrections to the level of the user, and integrates fairly well in Office. The built-in spell-checker, with a “Check as you type” correction is easier to use of course, but this is definitively the next best thing.

For people who have no use for a French grammar and spelling checker, it still illustrates what’s out there and how other applications could take care of your spelling needs. The Correcteur 101 at some point extended it’s tools to other languages like Spanish. Let’s hope Druide will do the same and offer these largely superior tools for other languages.

There are other similar tools out there. SpellCatcher X for instance offers you pretty decent spell-checking for multiple languages and uses similar approaches to integrate in all apps. SC X doesn’t correct grammar though and the adding words in the custom dictionary is far from being as powerful (though I still personally use SC X myself on a daily basis). This is definitively not the only such software out there, but it illustrates well how this type of task can be performed.

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3 comments to Spell-checking done right

  • Alex

    I use allways 2 langages in may mails and I have to go back and forward to change the language in order to get the right spelling. Is there any way to set 2 languages?

  • The answer is unfortunately simple: you can’t do anything about it.
    The only way out is to use a third party spell checker.
    With SpellCatcherX for instance, you can use a shortcut to set the language you need, select the paragraph and have SCX chek it., Same thing for the next one in the other language.
    SCX integrates beautifully directly in many apps that support DirectCorrect. Unforturnately MS apps don;t support it 🙁
    [posted for Corentin]

  • @Alex Murray: not sure I get it, there are hardly any color on the captures presented in this post…