As a college instructor and a writing tutor I encourage the people with whom I work to develop their vocabularies. The two most important books a writer can own, in my opinion, are a quality dictionary and a cross-referenced thesaurus.
Unfortunately, many people rely on the puny selection of words offered by the thesauri that accompany their word processors. My least favorite of these is the enfeebled thesaurus that Microsoft throws in with their MS-Word software.
I have students who turn in papers with the occasional odd word choice, and invariably they tell me that "Microsoft Word recommended this word" or "I picked it from the list of synonyms in MS-Word." Most of them have never touched a thick book like Roget's Thesaurus, and students often use words whose meanings or connotations they do not understand.
Moreover, the MS-Word thesaurus provides a limited choice of synonyms. For example, Microsoft listed eight synonyms for "beautiful" when I looked for a word this morning, while the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus gave me a whopping 39 from which to choose. My Roget's Thesaurus, however, listed over 100 different synonyms for "beautiful," including a quote from Chaucer: "fair as is the rose in May."
No wisecracks from Apple users here; I have sampled the Apple iWork thesaurus, and it leaves me unimpressed (I resisted the urge to create a metaphor along the lines of "I have tasted that sour Apple" - no purple prose from me today, sorry).
The cynical side of my brain fears that MS-Word is not only dumbing down its faithful users, but is also turning us into efficient, unthinking technicians who sacrifice art for the sake of expeditiousness.
For the sake of all that is holy, throw off those rhetorical Microsoft shackles and invest in Roget's Thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary! The future of the humanities might just depend upon you, dear reader.