An Exchange With a Linux Developer

Published: August 4th, 2008

Karl Kleinpaste has been actively involved in the development of GnomeSword for the last two and a half years, and participated in the BibleTech:2008 Conference held this past January in Seattle, demoing some programs based on the open source platform developed by The SWORD Project.

A few days back I found a comment he had left on my old blog almost a year ago, in which he said, among other things, “We are aware that you’ve reviewed MacSword repeatedly, but it would be nice if sometime you’d peek back in on Sword to learn what’s happened lately.” That prompted an interesting exchange of emails (that is still going on), and since I have already blogged about my gripes about Linux, and The SWORD Project, I thought it might be a good time to revisit this whole area.

To put things into perspective, and as an introduction to future posts, I’d like to interact with some of the things Karl mentioned in his email.

[...] I do a lot of work with them [Crosswire Bible Society and The SWORD Project], and I am routinely disappointed by the limited press coverage Crosswire gets; and when it does get some, reviewers seem to lean entirely on the Windows UI, even though Sword is a multi-platform effort, with a half dozen or more UIs available to consider; or else we find that MacSword, which is clearly a minority application on any axis of consideration, gets reviewed over and over and over.  OK, so you like Macs, and fair enough — but does that mean that only Macs are interesting?

I have repeatedly said that I would like Bible Software Review to cover as much of the Bible software spectrum as possible. I happen to work with PCs and Macs, but also use PDAs. My experience with Linux is somewhat limited and, quite frankly, frustrating, although I have always been open to let the facts change my mind.

I have never claimed to be an expert on every single platform or Bible software. Far from it. But I do my best to be fair, and that includes giving everybody the chance to have different programs, running under diverse platforms, mentioned and/or reviewed here at BSR.

I can’t speak for other reviewers, but I do find the Linux world interesting. In fact, I find interesting anything that can be installed easily, that works right out of the box and that is intuitive to use. Now, until very recently I was under the impression that Linux-based Bible software could hardly fit that description. However, I am now giving it a try yet once more, and I will have something more to say on that in a little while.

There are many other things happening at Crosswire.  Personally, I am involved in GnomeSword development.  This is a Linux UI which has advanced considerably in the last couple of years, and these days it is buildable/runnable in Windows as well, if one is willing to install the Cygwin environment, which is a layer of software that provides a Linux-flavored girding on top of Windows to support Linux-oriented applications.

IMHO, Cygwin is too complex and the user experience is still subpar in terms of speed and compatibility. It may be okay for the more technically inclined, but it is far better to get a real Linux distro.

Beyond UIs themselves, there is ongoing module development in the Sword Project universe.  Ultimately, UI features are tasty sugar sprinkled, or perhaps ladled thickly, around the actual content (modules, in Sword terminology) that users want to read or study.  My Sword environment has 246 Bible texts in 108 different languages, including 40-some translations recently handed to us by Wycliffe/SIL, which are all in the beta repository.  We are gaining graphical resources (maps, atlases, even some artwork) and “genbook” (generic book) resources at a nice rate, mostly from public domain content. Our biggest lack is that e.g. NIV is unavailable from Crosswire [...].  We do have ESV (which Crosswire distributes directly) and NET (available from bible.org), and the NASB module set should be available soon, though it’s been too long coming; it will be available from Lockman Foundation directly.

That is good news. Content is important, although I would take issue with your definition of user interface features. I think they are important too, and play a big role in the overall user experience and satisfaction.

I guess the thing that bugs me the most about a publication calling itself Bible Software Review is that you seem to take precious little notice of what’s going on in corners of the universe like ours, and what little notice you do take seems not to concentrate on anything other than one or two particular areas (which, to be frank, do not show off as well as what’s happening in other areas, such as GnomeSword, or our relationship with Wycliffe).

I beg to differ. BSR is open to everybody. If you don’t see more info or interviews with developers of certain programs (e.g., WORDsearch, e-Sword, PC Study Bible or The SWORD Project, for that matter) is because they don’t even bother to answer my emails, despite my repeated attempts to get in touch with them. It is their right to do so, but then they cannot complain saying that they are being underrepresented or that their products go unnoticed. There is no ill will on my part. I wish ever single “corner” of the Bible software world, no matter how small, could make itself at home here at BSR.

Here’s one interesting exercise for you: Take your 2005 usage statistics survey.  Find all the Sword Project UIs mentioned individually.  Add up their usage percentages into a single, monolithic “Sword Project representation” number.  You will find that there are at least as many people using Sword Project programs as there are using e.g. e-Sword. e-Sword is a younger effort and frankly not as mature as The Sword Project in some areas, and it is certainly totally Windows-centric.  I would find it very interesting to know what the results would be, if you did that survey again now.

First of all, it is not my survey. I simply reflected on the results and made a few comments here and there. That being said, I would also be interested in having some updated results, but that’s not my call. I agree with you that there is a significant percentage of people who use SWORD Project programs, and you will be happy to hear that I intend to keep a closer eye on the current developments that are taking place.

There is a thread on Linux Bible software here, so feel free to chime in at any time. Leave a comment here or head to the forum and engage in what, hopefully, could be a fruitful conversation.

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 4th, 2008 at 6:30 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Comments on “An Exchange With a Linux Developer”

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  1. 1. Raoul Snyman
    August 5th, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I’m presuming then we’ll be seeing a review of either GnomeSword or BibleTime sometime soon. They’re both more advanced than MacSword (from what I can gather), and could do with some exposure on a site that purports to review Bible software.

    And it’s fairly easy to review those 2 apps. Download a Linux Live CD (the Ubuntu or Kubuntu Desktop CDs are such) and boot your machine off the CD.

  2. 2. Rubén Gómez
    August 6th, 2008 at 12:08 am

    Yes, that’s right. I am currently running the latest version of GnomeSword. BibleTime is a completely different story, of which I will have something more to say in a later post. Right now, I am wasting some precious time trying to run it under Ubuntu, but it is causing more grief than joy. Unfortunately, it is not easy to review apps you can’t even install properly and get to work…

  3. 3. karl kleinpaste
    August 9th, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    I still feel I might have come across a bit whiny in that first mail to you, which was not intended. But I’m glad we’ve had the chance in the last couple weeks to exchange enough email to get a grasp on each other’s perspective. And I hadn’t realized that the survey was not BSR’s — whoops, sorry ’bout that.

    Cygwin may well be too much of a problem for many Windows users. My point in mentioning it is just to make it clear that GnomeSword is available to the much larger userbase there. Also, now that I’m building an install-ready GnomeSword, the average user isn’t stuck with building it himself — install Cygwin, get a small set of GnomeSword files and run their install script, and away you go. (There simply don’t exist tools to build a single install entity for GS under Cygwin. But who knows, maybe I’ll get motivated and try to construct the tools needed myself.)

    The biggest problem for Linux users of these packages is exactly the one you ran into, which is synchronization between recent project releases -vs- package management at the repositories. There’s little I personally can do about that, but fortunately the discussion among a bunch of people that has resulted from these foibles has led to a probable much-improved result. Fedora repositories have long stayed at the leading edge, but Ubuntu/Debian repos lagged behind, and that should be changing soon.

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