''BigThesaurus'' - big deal or big waste?
Author: Kevin M. Savetz
Date: April, 1993
Keywords: utility program software review writing write deneba
Text: Quick - what's another word for ''thesaurus?'' Can't think of one? Well, neither can Deneba Software's BigThesaurus. It also can't give you synonyms for ''persona'' or ''conifer'' or ''decor'' or ''bodacious'' or ''blue collar.'' Although BigThesaurus is a good (able, au fait, capable, competent, proper, qualified) application, it seems to be severely lacking in the words department. Words are important for a thesaurus. The bright yellow package announces that BigThesaurus is ''The Most Complete Thesaurus Reference System'' - if this is true, I fear for the industry. However, when BigThesaurus does know the word you're looking for, it's a helpful (aiding, serviceable, beneficial, practical...) tool. Word groups are arranged by contextual meaning and part-of-speech, so if you need a word meaning funny-weird, instead of funny-ha-ha, you can easily locate that meaning in the BigThesaurus window. For each meaning, a short definition is given, followed by synonyms, antonyms and related words. When you find the prefect word, click on it and tap a hot key to drop it into your text.
How it works: BigThesaurus adds an extra menu item, a *, to the menu bar. Clicking on the * provides access to the BigThesaurus application. If you're writing, and you need to find a synonym posthaste, you highlight the word and choose ''Lookup Selection'' from the * menu. In a jiffy, BigThesaurus presents you with a list of definitions, synonyms and antonyms. If it can't find your word, it will list several guesses of close matches. (Once in a while, it goofs and shows you an entirely different word: ask for ''conifer'' and get ''con.'') You can also look up a word without highlighting it by selecting ''Find...'' in the * menu and typing the word in the dialog box. Sometimes, BigThesaurus knows the word I want, but not in the meaning I mean. It knows ''paste'' (as a verb) but not as a noun. The same with ''fritter.'' There's no verb ''pickle,'' but rest assured the noun ''pickle'' is there. BigThesaurus isn't always the kindest, hand-holdingest program. If you select ''Lookup Selection'' without having highlighted anything,
BigThesaurus tells you: ''Problem: BigThesaurus is having a problem converting the clipboard in this application. Probable cause/solution: No data of requested type. Coach found no text information on the clipboard. Make sure the text you wish to check is highlighted and try again. Info/Location code: -102/0.'' Say what? It should say (in English) that I forgot to highlight some text, and offer to let me type it in. While I'm on the subject, let me mention hot keys. BigThesaurus lets you assign four hotkeys in order to do thesaurus things without the mouse and the * menu. I dutifully selected out-of-the-way key combinations to perform BigThesaurus tasks, and after not too long, it forgot them. I'm not sure why - it hasn't happened since - but the hot key list disappeared. One hotkey toggles the * menu. The idea is you may want to use BigThesaurus when you're in Microsoft Word, but you probably won't when you're in the Finder. So, tap a hot key and the * leaves the menu bar. However, whenever I load a new application, or switch between programs, or look at the Mac funny, that pesky * reappears unbidden. ''Go away!'' I cry. Alas. Although it has its shortcomings (imperfections, faults, failings) BigThesaurus isn't a bad program. The majority of the time I search for a word, the meaning I want is there, and I find an even better synonym. And BigThesaurus is fast - half a second after tapping the hot key, a bundle of words are at my disposal. With a click of the mouse, I can replace my boring word with a jazzy synonym, or pick another word and cross-reference it. This thesaurus is consistently faster than Microsoft Word's and gives better results - and the mini-definitions are sometimes useful all by themselves. Finally, the dinosaur that is the BigThesaurus logo is silly. Instillation is easy. The installer application quickly copies files from two double-sided disks to the hard drive. The data files eat about 800K of disk space. The program works with system 6.05 or later (MultiFinder is necessary,) and supports balloon help on system 7. The manual suggests a minimum of two megabytes of system memory. It claims to be compatible with 95% of all Mac software - I didn't find any software it didn't work with, but then again I didn't go searching for synonyms while playing SimLife or Out of the World. Currently, BigThesaurus works only in English. The manual states that in the future, ''add-on modules'' will be available that will extend the program. Perhaps by adding support for other languages? The preferences menu allows you to exclude the definitions, antonyms, and related words from the program's output. Another handy feature lets you change the font size of BigThesaurus' search results - from squinty 9 point text to a screaming 18 points. Yet another option lets you pick where BigThesaurus keeps its data files - on disk or in memory. If you keep it in memory, it eats an extra 100K; but if you keep in on disk, search time will be slower. On my IIsi, searches from the disk database were split-second. Unless you're hard disk is really slow (dilatory, laggard, leisurely, poky, plodding...) or you have memory to spare, keep BigThesaurus on disk. The manual is useful and easy to read and yellow. A thesaurus is worthless if it doesn't aid the writer. Despite a few itchy shortcomings, BigThesaurus is a decent program. It's better than Microsoft Word's and a hundred times faster than looking up words the old fashioned way. The biggest shortcoming is an incomplete dictionary of words, but the majority of the time, the word you're searching for is in its database. Its problems usually don't impede its usefulness.
Order from: Deneba Software, 3305 N. W. 74th Ave., Miami, FL 33122
Copyright © april, 1993 by Kevin M. Savetz