Tue 10 May
I’ve done a lot of trash talk about Mac OS X Tiger but I still resolutely insist that it kicks ass, and one of the reasons why is the operating system’s new Cocoa-based dynamic dictionary and thesaurus lookups. This feature has barely been publicized by Apple, oddly enough, but even on its own, it would be fair to say that it accounts for at least thirty dollars’ worth of the US$129 Tiger sticker price.
You can invoke a dictionary lookup within any Cocoa application — one of the best indicators of those is the presence of the notorious font panel, but Safari counts too — by holding down command-control-D and simply hovering over any given word. What results nearly instantaneously is a contextual display of that word’s definition as recorded in the Oxford Dictionary (or synonyms as culled from the Oxford Thesaurus). Both the dictionary and the database are stored locally on your hard drive, so the feature is thankfully not contingent on the presence of an Internet connection.
This is the kind of feature that, in prior iterations of Mac OS X, might have been relegated to the Services submenu, located beneath the application menu (and sometimes available by control-click-invoked contextual menus). It’s always struck me that the functionality available there has been unjustly ignored by virtue of its deprecated location in the user interface; even I rarely remember to access anything available in that submenu, and I generally know what’s available to me and how handy it is.
Tiger’s dictionary is a small step forward for the usability of such system-wide services. It would have been a larger step forward if only Apple had taken some effort to feature it more prominently in their marketing efforts for Mac OS X. The inclusion of such basic reference tools isn’t exactly sexy, but the fact that it isn’t relegated to a single productivity suite, as is the dictionary in Microsoft Office, is a big deal to me. Plus, I know lots of people who could seriously benefit from having more readily available access to a dictionary. Seriously.