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The Web Is Stealing Searches From Microsoft Office

By - June 06, 2008

Spellcheck Search

Here’s a quick poll: When composing something on your computer, do you use your word processor’s spell checker, or do you just keep the web up in the background, and use search to check the proper spelling of a word?

I realized today, as I was working on a presentation offline (I was on a plane), that I hadn’t used Microsoft Word’s spell checker for more than a year. I don’t trust it nearly as much as I trust the collective intelligence of search. The Word spell checker is a top down approach to spelling, and search is a bottoms up. Even when Word tells me, via a red underlining, that I’ve spelled a word wrong, I’ll cut and paste that misspelled word into the Google toolbar, rather than ask Word’s spellchecker for a reference. That alone I bet means a significant portion of searches lost by Microsoft to Google. I know Microsoft is working on integrating Live search into its Office applications, but since I’m offline at the moment I can’t check that. No matter what, the UI has to be easier than highlight, cut, paste, return, which is what I do now. I’ve always got the search bar in the background close to whatever work I’m doing. It’s just not Microsoft’s toolbar.

In short, Google is stealing my spelling searches from Microsoft Word (and Powerpoint as well). Interesting. Never thought of it that way before. Though of course it’s consistent with the idea of work that used to be confined to apps and single machines migrating to the cloud.

So, how do you spellcheck?

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28 thoughts on “The Web Is Stealing Searches From Microsoft Office

  1. Deepak says:

    Just like you. Google is the default spellchecker 🙂

  2. Joseph Scott says:

    Agreed, I noticed myself doing this a few years ago. Not sure when exactly that transition happened, but since I always have a web browser open Google spell check is usually the easiest thing to use.

  3. Sam Pullara says:

    On a Mac, all the textareas/fields do spell check so you never need to do anything no matter where you are typing.

  4. Alexander says:

    Excellent point. Whenever I install Office on a computer my first action is always to turn off the spell checker. Mainly because of the annoying red lines in my text (being a non-native english writer there are a few), but this also leads me to unconsciously use Google as default spell checker (even while writing this comment in safari I used the Google spellchecker)

  5. SN says:

    I have spelling and synonym gadgets on my iGoogle home page.

  6. nmw says:

    Yes, but Google doesn’t own the “correct” spellings either — the “Wisdom of the Language” will *always* remain with the people (so even if Google *wanted to*, they could not redefine “miserable failure” to refer to, say the Google search engine).

    So what you are now realizing is something “domainers” have known for well over a decade (and have even “monetized” in the form of “typo squatting” [which is somewhat of a misnomer — Google attorneys like to point out that they can’t really tell the difference between a “misspelled” brand name and the *actual* trademark]).

  7. Scot Hacker says:

    Also a Mac user, so I just right-click any red-underlined word in any app and choose the correct spelling from the context menu.

    Why do you trust the collective intelligence to spell a word correctly more than you trust a dictionary? You’re referring to the same collective intelligence that re-elected Bush in 2004, right?

  8. Justin Stach says:

    Another handy OS X tip is that hitting control-command-d w hen you’re hovering your cursor over a word brings up an instant definition.

  9. This has more to do with the poor quality of the MS dictionary than (then?) the awesome google database. There are only a million or so words, it fits on my thumb drive for God’s sake, 100 times. Why would synthesizing not be in there? And then (than?) everyone says the underlines are so annoying, where other people hail the red underline on the Mac???

  10. Pasquale says:

    You’ve just made me think about it. I’d rather use Google than Word, both in my mother language (Italian) and in English.
    By the way, I think that Google is absolutely default when searching in a language which is not your own.

    Excellent Post.

  11. SexySEO says:

    Googling 🙂

  12. Ido says:

    Since English isn’t my mother tongue, sometimes my spelling errors are way off. When those errors happen, Office can’t figure out what the real spelling should be – but google fixes those every time.

  13. Vikram says:

    I use Microsoft Office only for work related stuff. For personal stuff, it’s Google Docs – too afraid to loose data on hard-disk! For spell check, Firefox’s built-in spell checker is good too, particularly typing such comments!

  14. Tomi Itkonen says:

    For spellchecking I mostly go to

    To better my English, I use Google search for portions of text, i.e. phrases in quotes.

    If the searches generate tens of results, then I’m quite sure native English speakers also use those words and phrases; language is good then.

  15. candace says:

    Absolutely — I use Google to spell check, and to find famous quotes I half remember, and easy facts I’ve forgotten (like state capitals). I also use it to check Weight Watcher point values when WW’s own online app is too slow or doesn’t have the food I need. I use the image search as brainstorm stimuli. I could go on. This is the Age of Google.

  16. Thad says:

    I use They have a great free tool that runs in background and lets me hit Ctrl-L from within any app (like MSWord) and look up the word on
    The tool has its own site:
    I LOVE it!

  17. Pete says:

    Interesting. I use search for definitions, but Word for spell check.

  18. Ruth says:

    Firefox also has a built-in spell checker for text fields. Since Firefox and Google are best friends, I usually just paste the word into the Google toolbar, or use

  19. eric says:

    It is funny I do the exact same thing.

  20. ProWeb says:

    Not only do I use (and desperately need) help with spelling from Google search I also use it to determine if the phrase I’m going to use on my blog is accurate.

    For example, is my next business plan is a “shoe win” or a “shoo in”? A quick Google search does what no other “spell checker” will do!

  21. I can’t believe that there are so many people doing this as well. I thought I was alone in my practice. I guess the are right when they say that great minds think alike or is it idiots seldom differ? It must be the ladder. Wait that doesn’t look right……I mean “latter. “

  22. Chris Leone says:

    Google, of course, is a great reference. The more writing I’ve been doing with my blog and job related stuff, I’ve found myself relying on the Dashboard dictionary in OS X. The thesaurus feature is great when you’re trying to find new/different words. It lacks it being able to figure out a mispelled word in which Office, and of course Google, excel.

  23. Bertil says:

    As I write in different languages, I mostly use the Firefox add-on on-line — you can change it with a click, and it’s really good at figuring out what’s the new language. Mac OS Dictionary comes really handy for ‘real’ writing, off-line.

  24. Heidi says:

    Google stealing searches from Microsoft? I know I may be speaking heresy in this pro-Google, anti-Microsoft world, but I’m not so sure that this is such a bad thing for Microsoft and such a good thing for Google.

    What makes a search valuable? When you can put an advertisement in the result set and be relatively sure that it is interesting to the user and will produce a good ROAS for the advertiser. Sure, mindshare and branding and all the other intangibles gained by a user doing a search in Google are still there. But the truly meaningful aspect of search value is in the cash made from the search.

    The problem is, a search is not a search is not a search. This is the root problem that Google is experiencing right now with trying to monetize MySpace. Google’s money machine is in their sponsored search technologies and they rely on that to beat Yahoo in forming partnerships with publishers. The problem that Google probably didn’t know going into the deal with MySpace (but that Yahoo did know) was that the majority of MySpace queries are sheer and utter crap. Totally non-commercial. Totally non-monetizable. How do you monetize a search for a user’s online alias?

    The same thing is true in this case. If I’m writing a document in Word and I need to search for how to spell “antidisestablishmentarianism” (all arguments about the word’s validity aside), I’m not going to buy anything as a result of that. What this engenders is more and more “chaff” queries that Google spends money on for serving costs, but which have no possibility of being monetized.

    So whatever. People are going to Google for a feature that other people use within Microsoft office. Is there really value there? I’m not so sure.

  25. h.r. says:

    I couldn’t live without Google’s “Did you mean:…” although sometimes people spell something the incorrect way enough that it gets its own “Did you mean:” entry on Google. In that case I look for the entry with the highest number of results and for some of those results to be from academic sites.
    This is good because Word and other Microsoft programs are not very up-to-date or informed about highly technical terms in culture and science, but the collective of the web usually is.

    Another thing I love is to go on the Wikipedia when I need to know a term or idea in another language — because sometimes a direct literal translation doesn’t mean what you want it to mean. For instance, just last week my friend had Bed Bugs in her hotel room, so I went on the Wiki and in the left-hand margin where it lists the other languages I learned that a Bed Bug was : Punaise des lits, بق الفراش, Bettwanze, Cimicidae, Креватна дървеница, etc. etc. – great for travelers!

  26. h.r. says:

    I should clarify (from my previous comment) that I meant “in the left hand margin where it lists the languages, you must click on the language of you choice to be taken to the page of the subject in that language. Then you can see the article heading in the new language and know how best to translate the term/idea.” I use the Wikipedia for this all the time now.

  27. h.r. says:

    I should clarify (from my previous comment) that I meant “in the left hand margin where it lists the languages, you must click on the language of you choice to be taken to the page of the subject in that language. Then you can see the article heading in the new language and know how best to translate the term/idea.” I use the Wikipedia for this all the time now.

    Also, sometimes it is really hard for me to read those “Let us know that you’re human:” anti-spam re-type the words you see things…and I am human! I think I messed up last time so I am trying again…

  28. Howard Owens says:

    Since Word highlights spelling and grammar mistakes (or what it thinks are grammar mistakes, which it often gets wrong, or want to correct at the expense of good writing), that usually works for me. If my spelling is so often (and it often is – – I’m horrible at spelling), then I search Google.

    That’s when I use Word, which I rarely do. Nearly all of my writing is either e-mail or in a web form, which which case I’m using FireFox’s built in speller, or the Google toolbar.

    But I use Google to check spelling a lot. And also to make sure I’m using the right word, spelled right in the right way. “Define:” is friend.