OED lite
The Oxford English Dictionary in one kilogram

Prefatory/promissory note: This page lacks sophistication.


With their capacious hard drives, small notebook computer such as the Casio "Fiva" are ideal hosts for reference works on CD-ROM. So let's get one to run the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (i.e. the twenty-volume monster) -- and with no nonsense about CD-ROM drives or other dongles or irritations.

Before we start

Different versions

The OED package to look out for CD-ROM and disketteThere are several versions of the OED on CD-ROM. This page is about the first version (1992) of the CD-ROM for the second edition (1989) of the Oxford English Dictionary (below, OED2). The images are of the front of the box -- the red label at the top right is that of the retailer (Strand Book Store, $320) -- and of the CD-ROM and diskette.

The diskette is version 1.10 for Windows 3.1. Like most "application" software for Windows 3.1, this runs just as well on newer versions of Windows. The CD-ROM contains dictionary data and no software; it's identical to that sold at the time for Mac OS.

Don't confuse this package with any of:

I don't explain how to install these alternatives, because the first version of OED2 is the only one I happen to possess. However, very briefly:

Drives and emulation

The obvious way to shoehorn a CD-ROM into the hard drive of a laptop involves:

  1. dedicating to the CD-ROM a logical drive (either an actual one or one emulated via a utility) within the hard drive
  2. copying an image of the CD-ROM to this drive
  3. installing the necessary software from the diskette

I first tried a drive-emulating, CD-copying utility (Paragon CD-ROM Emulator) but could not get this to work. (It seems that I made some mistake with it; I've since got it to work flawlessly for Encyclopædia Britannica 97 and miscellaneous Japanese CD-based dictionaries. It could probably be used for newer versions of OED2 as well.) So I decided to copy the content of the CD-ROM in the regular way (for me, the "copy" command within Take Command).

For this CD-ROM package, the necessary software is provided on a diskette. However, the Casio "Fiva" lacks a diskette drive. The obvious way around that is first to copy the diskette to the hard drive via LAN and then to install from that copy -- but this won't work, as the installation procedure insists on insertion of a diskette.

So much for the problems; now let's see how to do it.


What follows is a slight generalization of what I did with the first (1992) CD-ROM version (more precisely, version 1.10) of the second (1989) edition of the OED, in order to get it running on a computer ("target computer") with a hard drive but no other drives.

  1. Install the OED2 1.10 software from the diskette onto some other computer ("source computer") that does have a diskette drive. (The installation routine obligingly doesn't store the necessary fonts with most of your other fonts but instead puts them in the subdirectory "FONTS" under the one used for the software.)
  2. Copy the entire OED2 software installation, fonts included, from the source computer to the hard drive of the target computer. (You can of course do this via LAN or something like a CompactFlash card.)
  3. Uninstall from the source computer all the fonts that the OED2 software has installed. (You don't have to remember which fonts these are; instead, simply remove all the fonts that are in a subdirectory under the OED2 software.)
  4. Delete all the OED2 software from the source computer. (No "uninstall" routine is necessary; instead, simply delete the OED2 subdirectory branch.)
  5. Install the OED2 fonts on the target computer. (Use Control Panel | Fonts.)
  6. Copy OED2.DAT (606MB) from the CD-ROM to the root directory of one of the logical drives of the target computer. (Let's call this "X:".)
  7. Change the attributes of OED2.DAT so that it's a hidden system file. (This is not necessary, but will reduce the danger of accidental deletion.)
  8. Set the environment variable "OED" to "X:" (or whatever is the drive letter). With Windows 2000 (and presumably NT and XP as well), you do this by going to Control Panel | System | Advanced | Environment Variables, and there setting variable "OED" to value "X:" (no quotation marks). With Windows 3.1+ (all the way to Me), you do it by specifying "set OED=X:" (again no quotation marks) at the command line, normally via AUTOEXEC.BAT.


definition of "expapillate"Yes, the OED2 runs fine.

Here's the kind of useful information you get with the OED2. (Click the image to see the whole screen.) No other dictionary I've seen defines "expapillate"; perhaps the editors are too shy.

We can also look up a word in the definitions, and thus use OED2 as a reverse dictionary. A one-word synonym for "white rhinoceros"? Players of Scrabble please note: it's mohoohoo.

Irritated by schoolmarmish comments on your prose? You'll be happy to know that "disinterested" in the sense of "not interested" goes back to the early seventeenth century, further back than in the sense of "unbiased by personal interest". Bored by sepia-toned anecdotes of early computing? The first metaphorical "bug" wasn't identified in 1945; in the sense of "defect or fault in a machine, plan, or the like", it dates back well before the computer era, to 1889 if not earlier.

Loose ends

Points to remember and points not to worry about

OUP no longer sells this version of OED2. If you want one, perhaps it will turn up at eBay or similar.

The process described above should work for version 1.10 of the software. OUP says version 1.13 won't run off the hard disk, and indeed I tried and failed. I have no experience of any version other than 1.10 and 1.13, but Robert Holmgren says that 1.11 (or "1.11*") works like 1.10, and 1.14 doesn't run off a hard disk.

OED2.DAT must be in the root of whichever logical drive you use. (I first tried placing it in C:\CD-IMAGE and setting the environment variable OED accordingly, but that didn't work.)

It is not necessary to change the volume name of the relevant logical drive to "OED2" or anything else.

My Casio "Fiva"

Casio "Cassiopeia Fiva" MPC-206VLMy new vessel for OED2 (cum multipurpose toy) is a Casio "Cassiopeia Fiva" MPC-206VL. It weighs close to one kilogram, and it's very much smaller and lighter than a single volume of -- than one twentieth of -- the printed Oxford English Dictionary. Especially with 256MB of RAM rather than the standard 128MB, it's very nippy, and it has a 30GB hard drive that seems to invite CD-ROMs.

This Casio came with two operating systems installed ("preinstalled"): a bare version of Linux, and Windows Me. I don't know of a way of running OED2 under Linux (I've seen a question about running it via Wine, but no answer); thus I was stuck with running it under Windows. And as Linux occupies three primary partitions, it leaves Windows just C: and no possibility of adding an extended partition with additional drive letters. Additional drives could only be added via emulation software.

Notoriously, Me is the worst version of Windows that Microsoft has foisted on the public since 3.0. Yet the Casio comes with a sticker saying that it's "Designed for Microsoft® Windows® Me". (What, Microsoft hasn't yet trademarked "Me"?) Considering that it comes from the same company that perpetrated Windows Me (not to mention Bob and Word), Windows 2000 is pretty good. Thanks to T. Ogasawara's provision of information on and links to the drivers that Windows 2000 needs on this Casio, agonizing over whether to replace Me with 2000 took me all of several milliseconds.

OUP's line

Some time before February 1998, I saved to my hard drive a web page produced by OUP-USA titled "OED2 CD-ROM On-Line Brochure: The OED2 CD-ROM FAQ". Since then, the page seems to have vanished from the web. Here are some excerpts from this page, with my comments.

Q: Can I copy the OED2 data-file to my hard drive?

A: Yes, but we don't recommend it. The data on the CD-ROM is compressed and optimized for retrieval off the CD-ROM. You will not notice a significant increase in speed when retrieving from the hard drive. Refer to the "Installing the OED2 Data File on a Hard Drive" tip sheet. For Windows, this will only work with version 1.10, not with version 1.13.

Comment: I do notice a significant increase in speed when retrieving from the hard drive. (Anybody who does not must surely have a stupendously fast CD-ROM drive or stupendously slow hard drive or both.) It's strange both that OUP took away this facility in the "upgrade" from 1.10 to 1.13, and that in their FAQ they do not explain the reason for this change.

Q: Is the OED2 CD-ROM compatible with Windows 95?

A: Yes, although the application is not native to Windows 95, the OED2 CD-ROM should run without any problems under Windows 95. The OED2 CD-ROM was tested by Microsoft and deemed to be compatible.

Comment: Moreover, it's compatible with Windows 2000. (It's even compatible with Windows 2000 with both "system locale" and "input language" set as Japanese.) However, I've heard of people having problems getting it to display properly with the Japanese versions of Windows 98 and NT4.

Q: On my laptop, my 3.5" diskette drive and my CD-ROM drive can't be connected at the same time. When I run setup from the 3.5" drive, I get the error message "Cannot read From Drive D:" What can I do?

A: The application searches the available CD-ROM drives sequentially. You can usually solve the problem by placing the OED2 in the first available CD-ROM drive. If this is not possible, you may have to add the following line to your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. Add SET OED=X: (where X is the CD-ROM drive where the OED is found). If you are running version 1.10, check that your OED.INI file lists the correct drive letter and edit if necessary. (Version 1.13 does not use the OED.INI file in this way; it's [sic] OED.INI file should not be changed.)

Comment: Here is what I wrote in an earlier version of this page:

This is odd: the machine onto which I temporarily installed the OED2 software in the conventional way didn't end up with any file called OED.INI. The Casio also lacks OED.INI (so the file is not generated by use of the program), and of course happily runs OED2 without it.

On reading that, Anthony Hope expressed polite disbelief. I checked again, and sure enough OED.INI was present in C:\WINNT. This suggests that, as he says, it's in C:\WIN for a default installation of Windows 95+), but I hazily remember writing the file myself in a failed attempt to have the software access OED.DAT from a subdirectory rather than the root directory. If I delete it, the software runs happily enough without it (and does not generate it).

Anthony confirms that OED.INI is unnecessary for the software, but adds that it's needed for Robert Holmgren's enhanced Word macro (of which I know nothing). Perhaps it's also needed for the OED module of Robert Holmgren and Carl Distefano's XyWWWeb library for XyWrite IV and XyWrite for Windows.

OUP's small print

According to my understanding of OUP's small print, this use of OED2 is unproblematic.

As we have seen, OUP has said that it's possible. Here are the relevant parts of the "small print" that comes with the product, with my comments:

The Owner grants to you, on the opening of this packet, a non-exclusive, non-transferable licence . . . to use the Routines and the Updates on a single computer of the type specified on the registration card. . . .

OK here: I'd previously accessed the OED2 CD-ROM on a floortop that I'm now dismantling and scrapping as it's too large for traveling with (and too noisy as well). I'm not accessing the CD-ROM or its content from my other travel computer.

You may make such copies of the disks containing the Routines and the Updates as you reasonably require for your own working and back-up purposes only.

OK here too: a disk copy of the CD-ROM seems a reasonable requirement for working with a computer that lacks a CD-ROM drive.

My small print

None of the advice here is intended to help anyone install an illicit copy of OED2. Don't ask me for a copy of either the CD-ROM or the software; I shan't even reply, although I do reserve the right to add to this page any request I receive that has an unusually high unintended amusement value.

Litigious nitwits please note: if any of the advice above doesn't work for you, or causes you to lose data, money or hair, too bad.

Last updated 5 October 2003. Many thanks to Robert Holmgren and Anthony Hope for information and comments. Can you correct or amplify anything I've written here? If so, please tell me (Peter Evans).

For much more on the OED CD-ROM see Robert Holmgren's Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on CD-ROM in a 16- or 32-bit Windows environment ("hard-disk installation, bugs, word processing macros, networking, fonts, and so forth"), a gloriously informative page. You may also learn more from this discussion thread, perhaps by participating in it.


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