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Dialectic Simplifies Dialing Any Type of Phone

From the metaphorical pen of the pleonastically named Jonathan Nathan comes Dialectic, an application that dares to ask the question: “Dialing the phone? How much fun can that be?”

With Dialectic, it can be fun. A lot of fun. Or at least it can be non-painful. Which, if you find dialing the phone as painfully difficult as I do, is just as good. Yes, dear reader, in this degenerate age of instant messaging and Twitter, phones do still exist. In fact, there are more phones than ever (as anyone trying to get a little peace and quiet in the aisles of Trader Joe’s can readily attest; is there no one besides myself left on this earth who knows how to shop without shouting?). And there are more kinds of phone than ever. Your “phone” these days might be a VoIP application, such as Skype or Vonage.
You might be phoning through an Asterisk software PBX, or a Cisco IP Phone. You might have Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. You might have a good old-fashioned landline. Whatever it is, Dialectic can dial through it.

(How can a computer dial a landline phone? Well, you might have a modem in your computer, unused and forgotten since the day you installed broadband Internet access. So whip out that old RJ-12 cable and let the modem dial the phone for you! Or, in a pinch, you could hold the phone’s handset up to your computer’s speakers.)

But it isn’t just how you can dial; it’s what you can dial. Dialectic includes a terrific lookup feature that sees and parses your Address Book and any of a number of other contact lists you may have, such as Entourage‘s internal address book, Now Contact, and so on. So if all I remember is someone’s name, just typing that name is enough to present me with the known phone numbers for that person, and I can click one to dial it. Dialectic also includes an amazing menu that presents your entire Address Book in hierarchical form (this feature alone, effectively subsuming the author’s JABMenu utility, could be worth the whole price of the application). Recently and frequently dialed numbers reside in menus of their own. And of course there is a service and a contextual menu item, so that in any application, if you can see and select a phone number, you can dial it.

Dialectic comes with too many additional extras for me to describe here. You can dial manually by clicking on a number-pad window; you can convert mnemonic letters (1-800-MY-IPHONE) to numbers; you can time your calls; you can take notes on a call; and of course calls are automatically logged. It integrates in cool ways with LaunchBar and similar launchers. Plus, Dialectic is scriptable with AppleScript and provides numerous hooks so that an AppleScripter can both drive and customize it heavily. You can even dial a number by speaking, thanks to the system’s Speech Recognition technology.

The one thing to be wary of is getting started. Dialectic comes with about a zillion preferences, and it won’t behave completely coherently unless you set them up appropriately before dialing your first number. This is not at all difficult, but in this age of congenital resistance to reading manuals, those expecting Dialectic to work automatically out of the box are in for a surprise. (For example, you really should tell Dialectic your local area code, so that phone numbers starting with your area code are dialed as local numbers; and of course you really should tell it how you want to dial, if you don’t want it to use your computer’s speakers.)

Speaking of preferences, I can’t resist mentioning how slick, beautiful, and ingeniously compact Dialectic’s interface is. This includes not only the Preferences window, which readily and easily accommodates all zillion preferences, but also its main window, which is intended to float unobtrusively in some obscure corner of your screen while at the same time accessing nearly all of the application’s functionality. When I first saw this interface, my immediate reaction was: “Wow! This should be a contender for the next Apple Design Awards!”

(Conflict-of-Interest Warning: When I first saw this interface, I was in the employ of Jon Nathan, assigned to draft Dialectic’s online help. I did not write the application’s current online help, but some of my draft text is incorporated in it, and I was paid for this work. I also helped catch bugs, and made numerous interface and functionality suggestions. So when I praise Dialectic, I am praising both an erstwhile employer and myself. Nevertheless, I assure you that I truly do admire Dialectic, and I use it every day.)

Dialectic is the successor to Jon’s Phone Tool (JPT). It is rewritten from the ground up; for one thing, JPT was an AppleScript Studio application, whereas Dialectic is Cocoa/Objective-C, so it’s much faster and slicker. Dialectic requires Mac OS 10.4 Tiger or 10.5 Leopard. It is available as a 14-day free trial (a 5.4MB download). It costs $25, or $10 to registered JPT users.

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