Issue 24

Nov/Dec 86

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Batteries Included/








There are a few companies, and only a few, who you just know you can trust and Atari 8-bit owners will confirm that Batteries Included is one of them. All of their previous Atari products have been of the highest calibre and their first offering for the ST - DEGAS - has set the standard for other graphics programs. What then of their first piece of 'productivity' software? Is it up to expectations? You bet. Batteries Included have once again set the standard to which all other software producers should aspire.

Thunder is a top quality professional spelling checker that can work as a desk accessory with GEM based word processors or as a stand alone program with virtually any other word processor on the ST. It gives you access to a dictionary of 50,000 words with the option of adding a further 2000 words. Although you cannot delete words from the main dictionary, there is a limited user definable supplementary dictionary and several sets of supplementary dictionaries can be built up for specific applications. You can choose from an option screen whether supplementary dictionaries are loaded automatically when Thunder is booted or load them yourself as needed.

As a Desk Accessory, Thunder will perform 'real-time' checking which means that as you type a word it is checked and a bell sounded if it is incorrect. You then have the opportunity to move the mouse to the menu bar and correct the spelling from the alternatives suggested or manually. Personally I cannot see the benefit of such instant checking, except as a teaching aid, as it tends to slow down composition of a document to an unacceptable pace especially if you are not a trained typist. I prefer to get the text in as fast as possible and then check afterwards as you can then use global replacement and the like to speed things up. One feature which works well is what they call the 'Learn dictionary' which allows you to teach Thunder your most common mistakes and have them automatically corrected. If, for instance you habitually type Atrai instead of Atari you can teach Thunder the pair association and forget it. Likewise the program has the ability to expand abbreviations making it possible to use a form of shorthand. You could, for example use MBC for Manchester Brewery Corporation to save you typing it in full each time. The only thing to be careful of is that you cannot use accepted words as abbreviations otherwise you could find some rather peculiar documents!

I feel Thunder really comes into its own as a stand alone spelling checker. Almost any text file can be checked as non ASCII characters are ignored. The document is read from disk into a window on-screen which allows you to view the word in context. Each time an unrecognised word is found, it is highlighted and a bell sounded. Suggested alternatives are given in another window from which a substitution can be made with a click of the mouse. You may alternatively ignore the word, ignore repeats of the same word, change all occurrences of the word or add a word to the main or supplementary dictionaries. All with just the click of the mouse and with utmost ease. It really is a joy to use.

Most of the time you will be able to correct spellings from the suggested alternatives, especially once you have
used it a few times and expanded the dictionary to suit your own idiosyncrasies. One of the things that sets Thunder apart is that the vast majority of the suggested alternatives are intelligent, certainly more so than any other spelling checker I have seen. It even suggests two words to replace one, in case you have omitted a space! It also recognises whether the word being tested is in upper or lower case or both and offers alternatives accordingly. There is no need to say much more about how Thunder works, it is incredibly easy to use, fast and efficient.

Another part of the program that can be called to check a document is statistical analysis with gives you character and word count as well as sentence and paragraph analysis although the latter are not accurate on all word processors as they depend on reading ASCII carriage returns. Some words processors have their own peculiar line endings. The program will also tell you the 'education level' of the document, based on established principles, and, whilst not strictly accurate it can be useful to know how complex your document is. It can also be fun, for instance, did you realise that some of the reviews of languages that have appeared in PAGE 6 require 16 years of schooling!

Before sending you away with a recommendation to buy, I must go through the nitpicking. Firstly, believe it or not, there are spelling mistakes in the main dictionary! Fortunately they are not the sort which will affect your work, except by the remotest coincidence, and they only appear as suggested spellings. Things like cross-referengcer and wifreframe?? The most frustrating thing however is coping with American spelling conventions. Although Batteries Included claim that the dictionary used is unique in that it can recognise both American and English spellings it clearly can't. All words that we spell with ise such as recognise are thrown out because the Americans spell them with a z. You do need to add a lot of words to the dictionary when you first use it. Finally, something of little direct importance but which intrigues me. Why did they not use Thunder on the manual! It is riddled with spelling mistakes. That's what happens when you use a program as good as this, you become ultra-critical!

Criticisms above aside, Thunder really is a top class professional program. If you write articles for money it is an essential tool. For anyone else who uses a word processor it will still be one of your most useful buys that will educate you and enhance the quality of everything you produce. Thank you Batteries Included, my respect for your products continues.