The ancient city of Babylon was a crossroads of cultures and languages, and the program Babylon makes good on its linguistic heritage. It can translate 31 languages from your desktop, offers a huge gallery of glossary add-ons, and gives direct access to Wikipedia results in 20 languages. In addition to deeper language libraries, the latest version introduces a new, streamlined interface, single-click document and Web site translation, and a new language detection-feature that recognizes languages without user input.
Babylon translates individual words and phrases on the fly by highlighting and right-clicking or using a hot-key combination that can be adjusted in the Settings menu. Babylon 8 also introduces a "globe" option that keeps the program running in the background and available on your desktop. You can listen to a computerized voice pronounce words in English, but you'll need to add more text-to-speech engines to hear words in other languages. Another helpful feature lets you quickly convert currency, measurements, or time zones, and you can create your own personalized glossaries with links and embedded images.
If you regularly need translations across all your programs and Web surfing, Babylon's default setting to load at start-up will probably seem like a boon. If that's not what you're looking for, you can adjust it under the Miscellaneous tab in Settings. Resource usage spiked when translating full documents, but not overly so--it worked rapidly and didn't interfere with a simultaneously running media player. The full-featured 30-day trial offers plenty of time to decide whether Babylon is valuable to you. The wide array of features and impressive options for adding custom content help this reference tool earn a top rating.