ispell alternatives (was Re: Some questions)

Paul Rohr (
Mon, 22 Nov 1999 11:01:07 -0800

I totally agree with Justin here. We need to ship a single, standard,
cross-platform solution for both spell-checking code *and* dictionaries.

The ispell code we're using for this is *definitely* no thing of beauty --
far from it -- but it does meet those goals. Note that the the technical
issues here (replacing the ispell code with something nicer) are much easier
to address than the practical/legal issues (replacing the ispell

Remember that good dictionaries, like good software, take a *lot* of
specialized work to construct, and they also fall under copyright laws.

One of the main advantages of ispell-format dictionaries is that they
already exist in distributable form for a large number of the languages
AbiWord users might want, and the tools for creating more such dictionaries
are in reasonably wide use:

In general, obtaining high-quality, freely-distributable dictionaries is
hard, primarily due to a lack of tools and copyright restrictions. (For
example, typing in the word list from your favorite paper dictionary is
probably a copyright violation. Depending on your system, so is adding the
contents of /usr/dict/words to your ispell dictionary, which may only be
legal if you don't distribute the results. Depending on the copyrights for
the ispell-format word lists, it may also be illegal to modify them by
converting them to another dictionary format. See the ispell docs for more
info on this problem.)

That having been said, of course there's no objection to coming up with
interfaces for wrappers to additional spell checkers in a post-1.0 time
frame. That hurdle should be fairly low.

To be clear though, I want to set accurate expectations for anyone who hopes
to replace ispell entirely as the main spell engine for AbiWord (and other
subsequent AbiSuite apps). Because of the dictionary problem, that bar is
*significantly* higher.


PS: Anyone interested in replacing ispell should consider spend some time
trolling around the ispell distribution, if you haven't already. If nothing
else, be sure to read the Contributors file. In it you'll find an
abbreviated history of 40 (!) years work on spell checkers with all sorts of
fascinating obscure details. For example, approximately 270 (!) people have
contributed to this program, which traces its roots back almost 30 (!)

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