It’s that time of the year when I get drawn to the NeXT platform once again. Unfortunately I do not own any NeXT hardware, so I have to resort to software emulation to explore and interact with the NEXTSTEP operating system.
After starting the NEXTSTEP 3.3 virtual machine in Fusion, I was checking some unrelated information, when I remembered that NEXTSTEP had its own built-in Webster dictionary. When I opened the application, I noticed a nifty UI detail. You can tell the application to search for a term in the Dictionary, in the Thesaurus, or have both results in the same window. You can see at a glance where you’re searching, because the icon in the Dictionary and Thesaurus button will appear as an open or closed dictionary accordingly. So, in the image above, you can tell at once you’re just seeing results in the Webster Dictionary. To search the Thesaurus, you click on the Thesaurus button, and it’ll change to an open book icon. Vice versa, if you only want to see results from the Thesaurus and not the Dictionary, you click on the Dictionary button and it will ‘close’. It’s a very subtle, very clever UI detail that’s perfectly intuitive because it depicts exactly the action you’re carrying out — ‘opening’ the book you want to consult, and ‘closing’ the book you’re not interested in.
It’s interesting to note that in Mac OS X’s Dictionary app, you can’t have a concurrent view of the results from both the Dictionary and the Thesaurus, unless you open the app’s Preferences, deselect all the resources you don’t want to display except the Dictionary and Thesaurus, and select All in the sources toolbar after entering the search term in the main window. (Or you can choose File > New Window from the menu and have two app windows, one for the Dictionary, one for the Thesaurus, but it’s more cumbersome because you have to type the same search term in both windows.)