I doubt that dictionaries are on the top of most peoples ‘must have app’ lists, but the release of the elementary projects lush looking lexicon may just change that…

Purple dictionary application
Purple dictionary in action

A usable, concise and straightforward looking Dictionary; it would be easy  to dismiss Purple as nothing more than a ‘paint’ job. But the mechanics and design behind the application contrasts heavily against the formal, ‘info dump’ approach taken by the default GNOME Dictionary application shipped in Ubuntu.

What’s wrong with GNOME Dictionary?

Let it be said that I think GNOME Dictionary is a very capable tool. You search, it defines.

The default dictionary application in Ubuntu is GNOME-Dict

But presentation is everything and this is the one area where GNOME Dictionary just doesn’t cut it for many. Disjointed formatting and lengthy examples make the app the visual equivilent of serving someone a thick messy stew when all they wanted was a light take-out snack.

I want results but I want them ordered and concise and ready to use. After all the dictionary is meant to be the tool here, right?

Purple does it best

Purple, by comparison, focuses on providing users with ‘concise’ overviews that are structured the same way across all definitions. Always. The result is something easier on the eyes and easier on the brain.

Amongst its features Purple is able to: –

  • Keep a list of the ten most recently searched words in the sidebar for easy access
  • Launch with the last word viewed already open
  • Provide search suggestions as you type

  • Ability to easily bookmark and access words from the sidebar
  • Clean appearance with no app menu
  • Collapsible sidebar
  • Provide results from a multi-source backend using, amongst others, Century Dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary and  The Wikimedia Project’s Wiktionary

A few issues

Purple isn’t without fault; whereas GNOME Dictionary is able to define a search regardless of capitalisation Purple demands it: e.g. searching for ‘ubuntu’ in Purple yields no results, searching for ‘Ubuntu’, however, finds the result. A minor, but significant, annoyance.


Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick users can install Purple from the standalone PPA below or, of already added, from the Elementary Desktop PPA.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:aroman/purple

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install purple

Purple is installed in the ‘Applications > Office’ submenu for easy access.

Apps dictionary elementary purple