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SpellPoacher: Share and Enjoy

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One of the highlights of our recent trip to Australia was the time we spent with Peter N Lewis, one of the best-known Macintosh Internet developers, who has branched out recently into the game market with Greebles, an addictive block-pushing game. As shareware registrations for programs like Anarchie have slowly trailed off (have you registered your copy?), Peter has been thinking about new products to pick up the slack.


The best programs are those that the programmer needs personally, and Peter’s come up with a new one that we think will be a great success. To understand the genesis of this program, you must know two facts about Peter. First, he’s a programmer, not a writer, and his spelling is rather less accurate than his coding. Second, Peter doesn’t like unnecessary work.

When you combine these two facts, you can probably guess that Peter likes spell checkers but hates checking out words that aren’t in the dictionary. While we were visiting, he spent some time trying to figure out whether or not “Mac OS” should have a space (it should). No spell checker knows all the words you use, and those of us who write about fast-moving industries where new words appear all the time continually add words to our user dictionaries.

Enter SpellPoacher, which can scan any Internet-accessible Mac running SpellPoacher Server (a faceless background application loaded from your Extensions folder) and poach words from other people’s user dictionaries. It then inserts poached words into your user dictionary, taking care not to duplicate words. SpellPoacher’s client/server design intentionally restricts access to idle time and uses an extremely efficient transfer mechanism to ensure minimal impact. That’s good, since every copy of SpellPoacher comes with a built-in list of “spellmarks” – custom bookmarks pointing at the user dictionaries of well-known journalists and other people for whom correct spelling is paramount (and yes, we at TidBITS will be participating).

SpellPoacher currently supports the user dictionaries of most common word processors, page layout programs, and HTML authoring tools, and you can choose which user dictionaries to publish and which to populate with new words. SpellPoacher is available for public beta testing as of today – check the Stairways Software Web site for additional information and downloads.


Once available, SpellPoacher will be $10 shareware, with significant site license discounts. We expect SpellPoacher to be popular in large organizations because people are likely to use the same unusual words in memos, letters, and reports.

Peter’s plans for future versions of SpellPoacher include a centralized SpellPoacher repository that new copies of SpellPoacher can contact for a large list of unusual words. Every copy of SpellPoacher would check in on a random schedule, uploading new words and downloading any that had appeared in the repository in the meantime. One of the major stumbling blocks with the SpellPoacher repository is the logic necessary to handle multiple languages. Obviously, the first version of SpellPoacher will work fine for multiple languages, but once the SpellPoacher repository becomes active, there must be some way of tagging words as belonging to a certain language and allowing SpellPoacher users to select the languages to which they want to subscribe.

SpellPoacher is the first of what we think will be many applications that enable people to share specific types of information with one another. Another example of this would be a generic points system in which client software downloads rule sets (“Mail from Adam Engst is worth two points”; “Mail from Tonya Engst is worth three points”) and then watches actions on your Mac to determine how many points you rack up. Scores would be automatically uploaded to a centralized Web site so you could see how you compared to others in specific competitions (forever answering the question of who has the most extensions or the most pixels). Or, imagine an application that woke up the first time you used your Mac every day and asked you a couple of survey questions (such as the classic “What is your favorite color?”), uploading the results to a Web site for tallying and display. Of course, security and privacy are extremely important in these sorts of applications, but it’s also important to provide ways that individuals can share specific types of information that isn’t in any way confidential.

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