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.

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