Software Review - Harvester Wordchip

By M. W. Hey (0703)

This is a review of the Wordchip spelling checker from Harvester Information Systems. This is the mark two version, released in September 1989 which replaces the version that has been on sale since the Spring (and which was reviewed in Personal Computer World magazine).

The new improved Wordchip is a great improvement over their earlier effort, and Harvester say they are willing to do an exchange with anyone who is suffering with the old version.

It seems natural to compare the Wordchip with the other Z88 spell checker the Computer Concepts Spellmaster. I have version 1.05 (10 August 1989) and holders of earlier, buggier versions can have that exchanged by sending it back to Computer Concepts. That much the two packages have in common!

The Harvester Wordchip is grandly described as providing "Enhanced Word Processing with the Z88". This is not quite how I would describe it, though it does check Pipedream files. It also checks the spelling of single words, and has a "mini crossword solver". On opening the box you find a ROM card and a small leaflet. There is not much to read, and the instructions enclosed with the review ROM were out of date anyway, so I shall not mention them further.

Upon fitting the ROM in the Z88, Wordchip is selected by pressing []W. The Main Menu has three options:

1 Check Pipedream File, 2 Check Spelling, 3 Mini Crossword Solver

which are selected with the cursor keys + ENTER or by entering 1, 2 or 3.

To check a Pipedream file you save the file, select Wordchip, press "1", give the name of the file, and away you go. Wordchip opens the file and goes through it stopping when it finds a word that it does not recognise. Unlike Quickedit the Wordchip does not offer a text editor - it works directly upon the file held in :RAM.whatever.

It is quite fascinating to watch it work because each line is displayed and each word highlighted in turn. When an unknown word is found the program stops and you are offered various courses of action. This is a bit Quickedit-like, except that the Wordchip does not pass over two letter words. The Spellmaster software ignores two letter words and so misses my own number one typing error (which is to miss the "h" out of "the"). Wordchip scores several Brownie points for this feature alone.

(When tackled about two-letter words a Computer Concepts spokesperson said that it is so that "post-codes are not regarded as spelling errors" - which must be Excuse of the Year; but I digress...)

Wordchip is also case sensitive: it will spot "cambridge" as an error, and suggests "Cambridge" as the correction. It will also object to abbreviations like "Mr" without the dot, and suggests "Mr." (as well as "Ms." and "Mrs." - it is not sexist either!). When an error is signalled you are offered a choice of actions (ignore the word, add to user dictionary, correct it yourself, etc. You signal your choice with either A,B,C (etc) as appropriate, or with 1,2,3 (etc.) This latter choice is not mentioned on-screen, which is a pity since I find the number keys much easier to use, being placed in a nice line on the keyboard. Like Spellmaster the Wordchip's spell-checking algorithm will only find close matches to an incorrectly spelled word - more than one incorrect letter defeats them both.

Wordchip now has a User Dictionary (called USER.DCT) and unlike Spellmaster this does not have to be loaded - Wordchip merely opens it and uses it, or if it cannot find it, creates it. This is very useful as the built in dictionary has many omissions: "ROM", "EPROM", "Pipedream" and "Z88" are all flagged as errors. Once they are installed in USER.DCT there is no problem.

Now for a speed test. I have used this article as a test run: it is 1167 words long and contained 100 errors (all deliberately introduced). In both cases I started a new user dictionary. The results were:-

Not only was Wordchip slower, but it played absolute havoc with punctuation, highlights (like bold and italic printing) and special Pipedream features like "@@T@@" which it should ignore. This is my biggest complaint - after checking a file it must be loaded back into Pipedream so that the bizarre collection of symbols and inverted characters can be painstakingly weeded out.

The second menu option on the Wordchip is Check Spelling. This invites you to type a word, and Wordchip checks to see if it recognises it. Like Wordfinder, the user dictionary is not checked so that "ROM", "EPROM", "Pipedream" and "Z88" are all signalled as errors. Unlike Wordfinder the suggestions for an incorrectly spelled word are strung out in a long line (instead of neatly in columns) which looks a real mess, but the words are in lower case (with capitals when needed) which I prefer to Wordfinder's all capitals.

There is no way of browsing through the dictionary for a word you only half remember; you must make intelligent guesses until you are close (i.e only one letter out).

Like all Harvester's Z88 software Wordchip is incredibly noisy: it beeps at every opportunity. I have a headache this evening and all this bleeping is hurting my brain. (I have turned the sound off at the Panel now - that has shown it who's boss. I must remember to reinstate it!)

Finally, this Mini Crossword Solver. "Mini" is the operative word: it will only accept two missing letters. It is also extremely slow in action (inaction??). As an experiment I entered "??" to get a list of all the two letter words. Here is the list that was produced (after 76 seconds):-

ad am an as at ay AM AS be by do eh em er et ex El fa Fe go ha he hi id if in is it KZ La Le me mu my no nu of oh on or ox pi re so to up us we xi ye

This is a fascinating collection. (Does anyone know what a KZ is?)

CONCLUSION: The Harvester Wordchip (mark 2) is a plain and simple spelling checker for the Z88. It has fewer bells and whistles (but more bleeps) than the Computer Concepts Spellmaster (viz. no anagram solving and less crossword cheating), but it is more thorough in the plain checking of typos, which is what many people will want. (After all, where is the satisfaction of completing a crossword if you required the help of a machine.)

The "user interface" could be further refined, but it is perfectly adequate now, and the Wordchip never crashed my Z88. The real failing, however, is the awful mess Wordchip can make of highlight codes and punctuation.

The Harvester Wordchip is produced by: Harvester Information Systems Ltd., Unit 1, Ealand Science Park, Wharf Road, Ealand, South Humberside. DN17 4JW. Rec. Retail Price £54.99

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