Monday, September 10, 2012

Bible Software Decisions: Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos, et al

It's time again for our incoming students to get their Bible software. At our seminary, students are required basically to have a year of Greek grammar and another year of Greek reading connected with our Gospels and Paul classes. This is still not enough time to expect students to be able simply to pick up a Greek NT and start reading. I am quite aware of the various arguments about how Greek should be taught and the pros/cons of Bible software, but we have decided to make Bible software an integral part of our Greek instruction. As for Hebrew, it is not a requirement, but many of our students do end up taking at least a semester of Hebrew and can follow it up with additional reading courses. For this brief introduction to Hebrew, the software is a critical part of the instruction.

We have "required" students to use Bible software, and we do think it is an excellent investment not only for seminary but for their lifelong ministry, but we are also aware that it can be a significant investment. We encourage students to bring their systems to class so that they can use the software as we go along, but for those who don't have a portable system or who have not purchased the software, we have installed Bible software on quite a few seminary systems to which they have access.

Now, what Bible software should they get? There are some free options which work quite well. I recommend e-Sword, LaParola, or The Word. These are fine programs, but they aren't as fully capable as one of the big three: Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos. So, which of these should a student get? Ideally, we would all have the same operating system (and same version of said OS) and the same Bible software package (and same version of said software). Up to just a couple years ago, this was impossible because of the Win/Mac divide, but it really wasn't too big of a deal because we had so few Mac users. Today, I'm seeing many more Mac users, so the issue has become more complicated. With some limitations, it has been possible all along to run Accordance on a PC using the Basilisk emulator and to run BibleWorks or Logos on a Mac using one of the Windows emulators. Logos, commendably, was the first to develop both Win and Mac versions. Accordance has recently announced work on a Win version. BibleWorks is cooperating with CrossOver to provide an easy way for it to work on a Mac.

Unfortunately, matters are becoming more complicated since now students are also coming to class with their smartphones, iPads, or Android tablets, and Windows8 tablets are now on the near horizon as well. Logos, commendably again, has been particularly active in providing multi-platform options and is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle, Win, Mac, and also accessible as a web-based resource at Biblia.com. Accordance has an app for iPhone and iPad. BibleWorks has already been demonstrated working on a Win8 tablet. UPDATE: And now BibleWorks has made it possible to run it natively (i.e., you don't need Windows) on a Mac.

So, where does this leave our students as we ask them to buy Bible software? As attractive as it would be, we have been reluctant to choose one of them and make it a requirement. Each of these programs has their particular strengths and drawbacks. In practice, what has happened is that we have a few people using Accordance, a few using Logos, but the majority are using BibleWorks. Why? First, part of it is history. About 10 years ago at our seminary, everyone was using Windows and the software the Bible faculty was using was the old Bible Windows. It was a functional program (I couldn't have done my dissertation without it), but for a number of reasons, it was surpassed by other programs. (Actually, Bible Windows is still available, now as Bibloi 8.0, and is a very capable $95 program.) We considered both Logos and BibleWorks, and at that time, BibleWorks was clearly a better program for working directly with the biblical texts and was significantly cheaper as well. The Bible faculty (somewhat reluctantly) made the switch to BibleWorks, and it was also installed on the classroom and campus systems. Today, then, there is simply inertia to stay with a system that we know how to use, has been paid for, and is widely available on campus. Second, it is appealing for students to have BibleWorks when they can see it being used by the instructor in class and follow along on their own systems. I know Logos well enough to show students how to use it. The Accordance users band together and help each other out (and claim that it is intuitive enough not to need any help!). Third, in terms of what we are asking students to be able to do, BibleWorks is the cheapest and really the best 'value.' With student discounts, the full BibleWorks program costs about the same as the Original Languages Collection in Accordance or the Original Languages Library in Logos. Compare what is included in each. For obtaining access to the Hebrew and Greek texts (and associated text critical resources) and a range of English Bible versions along with lexical resources, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, Philo, Joesphus, and early Church texts, BibleWorks is hard to beat. (BTW, I commend Accordance for the new "collections" they offer in Accordance10 rather than the bundles of the previous version which I found to be very confusing.)

Again, I am aware of other factors that go into 'value' (usability, interface, multi-platform support, library management features, inclusion of non-biblical resources, etc.), so that is why we haven't settled on one as the required package. Given the other factors I mention, it does explain why we are mostly running BibleWorks. I'd be interesting in hearing what other institutions have chosen to do.

5 comments:

  1. Mark, I am not a professor (yet); I am a student of the scriptures, and quite ahead/behind the curve in this religious tech space. Having said that, I want to level probably a more pointed question than the answers and perspectives you are asking for here:

    Why aren't you teaching folks how to build a Bible reader?

    I understand that some of the issues related to Bible software has to do with not so much the content, but knowing the needed features for instruction, learning, and application. What you seem to be wanting here is some easier or more grounded means of teaching specific ways of using these software packages in studies. That doesn't happen solely by concentrating on a specific package, but pooling their features, plus the needed skills, into something of a lesson.

    If I could make the recommendation in this wise, it would be to take John Dyer and the DBS's work with Browser Bible, and make that the introduciton to tech and Biblical studies, alongside Hebrew and Greek beginnings. To learn how to program the code that makes the letters appear, how to manage a websites oval website, and see directly the challenge of language support and user in traces, that's what makes for the kind of core compentencies in the text that transcend just knowing an app or having a specific library.

    Plus, you end up with a suite of folks who will know first hand the issues of restrictive licensing and publishing, which is every seminary's real issue with the text as taught.

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  2. Your suggestion is very interesting to me. I'm finishing up my 4th year at Bible College now but in first year I threw together a web app using the parsed tischendorf data online and then starting in second year a friend and I wrote an actual desktop application (called verity - theverityproject.com if you're interested). Even this year, I was working with the text of Mark a lot and needed to do some weird stuff with it so I put together another little web app (with html5 goodness, it was lots of fun). Without a doubt this put me ahead in awareness of text critical issues, manuscripts and licensing (though I don't think licensing is an important issue to wrap your mind around) but I'm a geek.

    I don't think it's practically possible to train guys to do this stuff because you're essentially suggesting bits of a compsci degree shoved into seminary education. It would probably be beneficial but it's not practical.

    What I would like to see though is data freedom - hebrew parsing is the simplest thing to point to. I want christendom to purchase data from bibleworks et. al. and make it public domain. Because then we could find free software that was equivalent to bibleworks or accordance.

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  3. @Antoine: I'm not quite sure how to respond to your comment. There is just no way that our students have the time, ability or interest to work on developing a Bible reader. That's why we count on the Bible software that's out there and folks like John Dyer (with his Bible Web app http://biblewebapp.com/study/ among other projects) and @James perhaps doing the kind of work you are imagining. (BTW, nice work with your TheVerityProject.com) Another effort that is along the lines of the kind of work James mentions is OpenScriptures.org.
    Also, in my post, I asked what other institutions are doing, I should point out that Logos has been very active in quite a few theological institutions: http://www.logos.com/academic/whylogos

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  4. Thanks James and Mark for your comments, I think I can answer both with this:

    One part of Biblical studies is information literacy. You essentially learn how context shapes conversation and rely on language and context to do so. That's not much different than what happens in the field of information architecture. The IA field though looks beyond the content and asks how to structure the content so that it's contexts can be utilized for a need. James' (web) app does this. And I would argue, when you are training sentence/mood structure for Hebrew and Greek, seminary professors are doing the same.

    So yes/no to saying that some info science would be useful. And yes, I would go as far as saying that if you can build an app for yourself or others, even it's a we page like Dyer's, James, or my own All Books, then you will be forced to know the text more intimately not just for your studies, but also in a manner that speaks to how people are engaging digital scrolls now.

    Just a thought. Am interested in the folks that do lead classes and what skills and apps they use. Mine is just a suggestion to push further (as usual). Kind regards to you both.

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  5. Due to ill health I am selling all my licences for Logos 5, Bibleworks 8, Notabene 9/10 and Accordance 10. If anyone is interested please email me at woofiesbooks@hotmail.com and I can provide more details.

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