Portable apps for tech writers III: Dictionaries

I don’t just write and take screenshots with portable apps, I even use them to look up words, despite Wikipedia and countless online dictionaries. I like the seamless lookup from other applications with a click and don’t want to rely on being online. Fortunately, there are some very useful and usable apps out there. Here are my favorite portable dictionary apps.

“Lookup Central”, all in one

WordWeb combines a portable offline dictionary and thesaurus with tabbed browsing to look up words in popular web sites. Entries are displayed in two frames, with definitions and examples in one and the thesaurus in the other. (To see the full screenshot, just click it.) The free version of 30 MB comes with Princeton University’s WordNet wordbase of about 150,000 entries – and an unusual license agreement: “WordWeb free version may be used indefinitely only by people who take at most two commercial flights (not more than one return flight) in any 12 month period…” The paid “pro” version gives you more definitions and pronunciations, you can add online sites and buy extra dictionaries, thesauri and word lists. Click the screenshots to see a comparison of WordWeb and TheSage:

The “language reference system”

TheSage combines a portable offline dictionary and thesaurus with tabbed browsing… – Yes, just like WordWeb does. As far as I can tell, it even uses essentially the same wordbase. The main difference is the layout: You can expand and collapse the results by definitions, examples and thesaurus entries. You can also customize the online lookup sites. With 210,000 definitions taking about 20 MB, it has an edge over the free WordWeb version – if you can get used to the interface.

For a second opinion, the Freewaregenius has an older review of TheSage with a comparison to WordWeb in passing.

The multilingual dictionary

LingoPad translates words between German and English or other languages. I must admit this one doesn’t get much use when I’m online because WordWeb links straight to LEO. But it’s a reliable tool, especially when you’re mainly working in translations from or to German.

The classic dictionary bookshelf

Lingoes is a dictionary platform that lets you add all kinds of dictionaries. Of all the apps, it’s most similar to the long defunct Microsoft Bookshelf – which was, of course, neither free nor portable, but a cool solution in its time. Lingoes is a bit out of scope, though: Its license agreement limits use to “non-commercial purposes in non-business, non-commercial environments”, and it seems unclear whether the dictionaries download packages are properly licensed.

Which dictionaries do you use? Do you prefer online or offline?

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One Response

  1. […] I’m fond of portable apps. That I use them to write, take screenshots and look up stuff in dictionaries with them. But wait: There’s more! No matter how well I manage my contents and architect my […]

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