Babylon is a single-click translation and information source utility program. When a user clicks on text with the right mouse button or combination of the right mouse and another key, the Babylon window appears with a translation and description of the clicked word. It is a tool used for translation and currency conversion, as well as for obtaining other contextual information. Babylon has a patented OCR technology and a single-click activation that works in any Windows program, such as Word, Outlook, Excel, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader (PDF documents). When activated, Babylon opens a small popup window that displays the translation.
As well as its own dictionaries developed in-house, Babylon users have created over 1200 reference works (mostly during its freeware period) that are available to Babylon users. These include general and technical dictionaries and monolingual glossaries. These titles span over 60 languages and are indexed under 400 categories covering subjects such as arts, business, computer, health, law, entertainment, and sports. Many of them have been compiled and submitted by Babylon users. All may be accessed free of charge on the Babylon Online Search pages Babylon Ltd. has also partnered with publishers of dictionaries and encyclopedias, such as Oxford University Press, Merriam-Webster, Encyclopædia Britannica, Larousse, Langenscheidt, Van Dale, Melhoramentos, and Taishukan. Dictionaries from these publishers can be bought for an additional fee and used with Babylon software. Since 2006 Babylon provides access to a static version of Wikipedia in thirteen language versions (Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish). Babylon displays the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry, and gives users a direct link to the entire article on Wikipedia.org.
As well as its translation product, Babylon Ltd. offers a free translation box to webmasters and affiliates. Babylon has also developed and offers an information retrieval product for the business market.
In May 2008, Babylon launched a beta version for two free online services which do not require software installation - the 'Free Online Translation' for bi-lingual translation and the 'Free Online Dictionary' for mono-lingual lookup and reference.
The concept of Babylon began in 1995 with Amnon Ovadia who had the idea of creating an English-Hebrew dictionary that did not interrupt the reading process. The company was founded in Israel in 1997 by Shuki Preminger appointed president and CEO, Yaacov Dunitz of Mashov and Ovadia as VP R&D with the financial backing of Mashov Computers (now Formula Vision Technologies Ltd). and filed a patent for its innovative translation approach that same year. Babylon quickly grew to be considered among a select group of innovative Israeli software companies such as ICQ. The year after its launch date in 1998, the company boasted some 2 million users, mostly in Germany and Brazil, growing from 420,000 to 2.5 million users over that year. By 2000, the company claimed over 4 million users and the program was ranked among the most popular downloads by ZDnet France, AOL Germany, and Tucows, among others.
Financial trouble brought instability to the company in the early 2000s. In the spring of 2000, Babylon Ltd. failed to raise $20 million in a private placement, which ended the company's hopes of launching an IPO for the company. Also, in 2000 Babylon Ltd. lost NIS 15 million. Further stress came with the collapse of the Dot-com bubble. In 2001, Babylon Ltd. continued shedding money, with the company costing its parent company Formula Vision NIS 4.7 million.
As a result of financial losses, the company moved from a freeware to payware model, which led to some user complaint about undermining the 'spirit of the internet'. Also, in earlier adware versions, the company attached the controversial Cydoor component (often considered spyware) to the software. Versions up to 4.0 were found to be tracking users. Recent versions do not include spyware. However, frequent popup windows ask users to update their programs. Even users with valid licenses get their licenses revoked and popup windows appear every day.
The company IPO took place at February 2007, and its stocks are traded in TASE under the symbol BBYL. Major shareholder of Babylon Ltd. are Noam Lanir, Reed Elsevier (LSE: REL, NYSE: RUK) and company founder Amnon Ovadia.