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Synchronizing Custom Dictionaries With The Cloud

Everyone I know who writes about technology has developed an extensive custom dictionary file for Microsoft Office. Sometimes it seems every third word I write is a company, product name or some piece of tech jargon that Word doesn't recognize. Since I work on several different computers, I use SugarSync to keep my custom dictionary up to date.

While I use SugarSync, the basic technique I use should work with DropBox, or any other file synchronization service. All you have to do is move your custom dictionary to a folder you synchronize across all your computers.

The first step is to figure out where the custom dictionary on each of your computers is hiding. The default path for Windows Vista and Windows 7 is C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\UProof. Why it's not in the ...\Microsoft\Proof folder where you would expect it to be, I don't know.

The custom dictionary file is just a text file of the words you have added. If you have different custom dictionaries on multiple machines and want to keep all the words, just concatenate them. Word will sort them and doesn't mind if there are duplicates. Office 2003 won't add words to a dictionary file bigger than 64K. I don't know if this limitation continues through Office 2007 and 2010.

Once you've figured out what custom dictionary you want to use, copy it to a folder that you sync across your machines. I used \Magic Briefcase\Dict since SugarSync syncs the Magic Briefcase folder that holds all my in-progress work anyway.

Now you need to tell Word to use the common dictionary. In Word 2007, click the magic ball thingie at upper-right, and then click the Word Options button.

Click New and select your new file. Then select it and click the Change Default button.

As long as all your computers stay online you should be able to access and update the dictionary as much as you like. Word writes to the dictionary file only when you add words and reads it when you open a document or start a spell check. I've added words on one computer and had them synchronize in about a minute.

If you add words to an offline laptop and another computer before the laptop has a chance to sync, you'll end up with the new words from whichever one had the latest update, and it's dictionary file will overwrite the older one.

While I was at it, I configured SugarSync to include the Users\<me>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\templates, and Users\<me>\appdata\roaming\microsoft\signatures folders so I always have my templates and Outlook signatures.

Frankly, this works better than roaming profiles ever did on a LAN.

Editor's Note: Howard mentioned dictionary synchronization on Twitter, and I asked him to write something up about it. It's a neat tip I haven't seen elsewhere, and I wanted to share it.