With each new release, Bible software matures and becomes increasingly user-friendly. Advanced search and study tools are available to anyone desiring to probe the depths of Scripture. What was once the domain of scholars is now within the reach of everyday people seeking to know the fullness of God's Word.
When a software company unveils a new release of its product, change is assured. These changes take many forms and may even include a complete rewrite of the product. For example, the look and feel of a new version may be very different from previous versions. New technologies are incorporated and new features built in. However, the product will usually retain some of the same flavor as past releases to make transition to the new version simple.
Within a release, updates are regularly made available to either enhance the product or to address issues that surface through widespread use. These updates usually retain the same version number but are identified by an additional number or letter, such as "version 2.1" or "version 3.0a." Each of the software companies whose products were reviewed by Ministries Today is committed to ensuring their product is problem-free, and all make updates available to ensure users are running the most current release.
Advances in computer technology enable software companies to make their offerings more interactive than ever before. Today, software can be updated via the Internet so the user has the most up-to-date programs running. Some software is designed so that as soon as the user opens the program, the software checks the company's Web site to see if any updates are available. If updates are available, they are automatically downloaded and installed.
One of the products we reviewed is brand-new this year. The other five are existing software products that have introduced updates within the last year. Without exception, all the products reviewed loaded easily and worked right out of the box. They all performed well, and no bugs or glitches were discovered. All the products presented well visually, though each was developed around the particular strengths inherent in the software.
We found all of the software products to be very useful, so it was very difficult to rate any one a clear top choice. However, based upon the user's needs, one over the rest will be his or her best choice.
Ease of use was of primary concern in our reviews, with flexibility and expandability following close behind. Every product was examined on the following points:
ease of installation and use
simple pull-down menus
Bibles and reference works that are useable throughout the text, including original languages
keyword/text searches in reference works
cut-and-paste features that allow the user to easily transfer sections of text to a word processor
LOGOS RESEARCH SYSTEMS
1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225-4372; (800) 875-6467; www.logos.com
Reviewed: Logos Bible Software Series X, Scholar's Library, 232 Bibles and Bible reference titles, $599.95. Additional libraries: Christian Home Library, 60 Bibles and reference titles, $149.95; Bible Study Library, 100 Bibles and reference titles, $249.95; Pastor's Library, 165 Bibles and reference titles, $299.95; and Original Languages Library, 56 reference titles and language tools for in-depth study, $399.95.
Comments: The all-new Logos Bible Software Series X combines a massive library of Bible reference books with intelligent automation to do much of the nuts-and-bolts work for you and is very easy to use. By simply entering a passage and clicking "Go," the software searches your digital library and opens each book to the right page and paragraph. Then, simply click and read to study the Bible in great depth. It's like having your own personal research assistant to help you.
Whether you're a pastor, Bible study leader, home user, student of original languages or simply want it all, you'll find it in Series X. The fully loaded Scholar's Library offers 232 Bibles and reference works, all searchable from a simple, Internet-style home page. At $599.95, it contains more than $5,000 worth of equivalent print books and is a great value for users who want a complete library.
Logos Series X enables users to build tremendous libraries--more than 2,500 titles from more than 100 publishers--making this the most versatile of all products reviewed.
Installation is quick and easy from CDs. You decide whether you want the complete library or selected titles to reside on your hard drive. As in the past, training is available through either CD-ROM or regional training classes.
We liked this new version. From the way additional titles are added to the library, and the way the screens present, Series X is a definite upgrade. No need to worry if you've got an older version--the new Libronix Digital Library System is backward compatible.
Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nelson Reference & Electronic Publishing, 501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214-1000; call (800) 441-0511; www.nelsondirect.com/ebible.asp
Reviewed: eBible, Deluxe Edition, 85 Bibles and reference titles, $149.00. Additional products: Standard Edition, 29 Bibles and reference titles, $79.99; and Discover Edition, 15 Bibles and reference titles, $49.99.
Comments: eBible harnesses the power of the Internet to enhance its new Web-feel software with interactivity and ease of use. Libronix, the same engine that drives Logos Series X software, does most of the work for you.
The use of one-click technology in Libronix makes it possible to create word studies, reports, lists and much more. What once required reading through volume after volume in search of the right reference, then typing, cutting and pasting, organizing and footnoting, now happens virtually before your eyes. This next generation of Bible study software features cutting-edge technology in a very user-friendly, interactive format.
eBible installed quickly and simply. Furthermore, because it uses Libronix technology, volumes available for Logos Series X software can be purchased and loaded directly into the library. This feature brings the resources of both Logos and eBible together in a powerful combination and makes adding volumes to the library very simple. This also makes the vast libraries of both Logos and Nelson Reference & Electronic Publishing available to the user. For power and expandability, eBible is a great value for the money spent.
EPIPHANY SOFTWARE INC.
15897 Alta Vista Way, San Jose, CA 95127; call (408) 251-9788; www.epiphanysoftware.com
Reviewed: Bible Explorer 3, Premium Edition, 72 Bibles and reference titles, $379.95. Additional products: Deluxe Edition, 64 Bibles and reference titles, $249.95; Standard Edition, 50 Bibles and reference titles, $149.95; Discovery Edition, 20 Bibles and reference titles, $14.95; and Trial Edition (30 days), 73 Bibles and reference titles, $2.95.
Comments: We have seen many changes in this new release over version 2. Bible Explorer 3 has hundreds of new features, including these noteworthy changes:
Windows are automatically arranged when opened.
Point at any Bible chapter/verse reference and the text pops up in its own window.
Users can integrate their own documents into the library with either the built-in word processor or Microsoft Word.
Users can download thousands of free add-on documents, such as sermon illustrations, from the new, online Community Library.
Bible Explorer 3 automatically updates itself over the Internet so users always have the latest version.
Bible Explorer 3 replaces the solitary nature of computer Bible study with that of a community activity where users can share what they've learned or ask questions from others on the journey. Ongoing chat sessions across the Internet enhance Bible discovery and foster relationship-building with others of like interest.
No original-language texts are available, so if that's what you're looking for you may need to consider another software package. However, for the majority of users, the tools available will work just fine.
Bible Explorer 3 is a definite improvement over version 2. Using browser technology means the screens look and feel like many other Windows applications. Screen response time is snappy with very little waiting.
Installation is quick and simple with the installation wizard. Extensive help and training videos are included on CD. Bible Explorer 3 provides excellent value for dollars spent.
22014 7th Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98198-6235; call (206) 824-0547; www.biblesoft.com
Reviewed: PC Study Bible Version 3, Complete Reference Library, 28 Bibles and references titles, $349.95. Additional products: Reference Library, 21 books, $249.95; and New Reference Library, 15 Bibles and reference titles, $149.95.
Comments: PC Study Bible is as easy to use as it is comprehensive. Whether laity or professional clergy, in-depth study is easy with the tools included.
The resources necessary to explore the depth of biblical passages are included in this powerful software. Users can instantly retrieve background information and expert analysis from some of the best Bible commentaries, encyclopedias and dictionaries available. Original Hebrew and Greek meanings are available to the user, enabling him or her to fully experience God's Word.
Select a verse and have PC Study Bible do the look-up work. Intelligence built in to the software gives related information about the passage selected. In addition, PC Study Bible Version 3 takes Bible software to a whole new level with The Biblesoft Authoring System. This powerful new feature allows the user to create his or her own Bible study materials, integrate these works into PC Study Bible, share studies with other users over the Internet and continually add to a personalized library of Bible resources.
We especially like the original-language texts and tools available in PC Study Bible. Installation is easy. Insert the CD and watch it happen. Users have the option during installation to have the complete system reside on their hard drives so that the CD is not required to run the software. Easy-to-use original-language tools coupled with broad selection make this a good value for the money invested.
P.O. Box 6158, Norfolk, VA 23508; (757) 627-7016 or (888) 747-8200; www.bibleworks.com
Reviewed: BibleWorks 5, 71 Bibles and reference titles, $299.95. Additional products: The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 4th Edition, $159.00; A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament With Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, $99.00.
Comments: Making the software easier to use was the primary reason behind the development of BibleWorks 5. This software has always been designed for original-language research of the Bible, thus putting it in a class of software seemingly out of touch with more casual users. For many years, serious Bible students have relied on BibleWorks' vast library of original-language resources and Scripture texts. However, with the release of BibleWorks 5, anyone can have the same access as scholars to the more technical aspects of biblical scholarship.
Fifteen original-language texts are included, with an additional 24 in languages other than English. This software is very easy to use and includes many useful tools to research word occurrences, word meanings and word usage. To accommodate varying levels of computer and Bible software skills, BibleWorks 5 offers three levels of user interface: beginner mode, standard mode and power-user mode.
The version database compiler enables users to build their own Bible versions for use in BibleWorks 5. These user-generated versions can be displayed and searched just as the other Bible versions included. Missionaries and translators can simply present the text to BibleWorks 5 in ASCII text format with verse references for each verse. Then the version database compiler compiles the database and installs it in BibleWorks 5. Suddenly, a new version has been added!
We like BibleWorks 5 for two primary reasons: (1) the ability to study God's Word in languages other than English; and (2) the ability to compare numerous lexicons and dictionaries to one another. Installation is a breeze with the setup wizard. BibleWorks 5 is an excellent value for the number of original-language resources and foreign language translations included.
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS INC.
351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; call (800) 323-9400; www.tyndale.com or www.iLumina.com
Reviewed: Ilumina, 1 Bible version, 1 visual encyclopedia, more than 70 animated Bible stories. Additional products: Ilumina Left Behind expansion series, full text of each book in the Left Behind series and more, $24.99.
Comments: Ilumina offers a new twist on Bible software. This product falls more into the category of a multimedia Bible than into a research or in-depth study tool. The release product wasn't available for our review, so we previewed a press copy that included a demonstration of the quality of the video, Bible text, maps and more.
The release of this product by a major publisher marks the beginning of a new direction for software vendors. The nature of this software will appeal to an entirely different user than an in-depth study package. What stands out with this product is the commitment to making the Bible a story in which the user can take part. This is accomplished by drawing the user into the story with high-quality audio and video clips that present biblical truth both visually and audibly.
Children will benefit from this software, as will adults. Many Christians have trouble "getting into" the Bible. This interactive product may be the answer for them as they experience the Bible and develop a hunger for God's Word.
We were taken with the quality of the video clips included in the review copy and trust that the released product will contain equivalent quality. Ease of use and other features were unable to be determined due to the lack of a full-featured, release version.
Tom Gill is dean of The Gathering Place Institute in Lake Mary, Florida, and a frequent contributor to Ministries Today and Charisma magazines. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When faced with the myriad choices available in today's Bible software market, it's important to keep in mind some very simple questions. Answering the following questions will help you sort it all out and steer you in the right direction.
1. How important is it to you to have original-language study tools? Too often, users are enamored by the wealth of original-language tools available but have little or no understanding of Greek or Hebrew linguistics. This doesn't mean the tools are unnecessary or that the user has wasted his or her money. Rather it means the user may not get the most value for dollars spent because he or she ends up not using the tools.
For example, some software includes morphology tools that enable detailed search and study of original-language texts. Most casual users have no understanding of what morphology is, let alone how to apply this linguistically to Bible study. However, for those who have more familiarity with Greek or Hebrew, these tools are of great importance.
Most Bible software programs include basic Greek and Hebrew helps to assist you in understanding words in their original language. These are not exhaustive, but are easy to use and sufficient for most situations.
2. What is your budget? Software prices range from $14.95 to $999.99. Within this framework, you can hit nearly every price point.
How much do you have to spend to get "good" software? All of the software packages Ministries Today reviewed are good and easy to use; the differences come in the number of Bible versions, reference works, commentaries and original-language resources, for example, in each work. Evaluate your needs and then weigh those needs against your wants. Doing this will enable you to choose the best entry level.
3. Is the product's library expandable? Often, users desire more than their budgets can bear. If that sounds like you, consider investing in software that allows the library to expand by purchasing additional titles later. Another advantage to building your package this way is that you can develop a library tailored to your individual needs and desires.
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