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An Obsolete Competition?

As I mentioned before, Michael S. Heiser, Academic Editor for Logos Bible Software, has blogged about the past Bible Software shootout at SBL. But what I found really interesting were his thoughts around the “status quo of Bible software.”

In this post I’d like to interact briefly with the first two points he deals with: Syntax and Books.

Let me say up front than I would answer ‘No’ to the question I’ve used as a title for this entry. My reasons for it are the following:

1. Syntax

a) Syntactical databases are just another level of tagging. They do no supersede or render obsolete the other levels (e.g., morphological databases) but rather complement it. Syntax does open new and interesting avenues for doing research, but I would be reluctant to consider it a panacea for all our problems.

b) I’m not sure who exactly is “making light of it” (i.e., syntax databases) or charging syntactical tagging with being “subjective.” The truth of the matter is that  tagging the Greek New Testament, whether it be for morphology, syntax, diagramming or even punctuation, is always a combination of objective and subjective decisions. So, I think the approach adopted by Accordance or BibleWorks at the shootout session is equally valid on this count.

c) I would not be at all surprised to see Accordance or BW (or both) come up with syntactical databases (see, for instance, this forum thread). So the key here will be –sooner rather than later– not so much who’s got the feature but rather what’s the best implementation in terms of intuitiveness and ease of use.

2. Books

a) Logos is a digital library. Accordance and BW are not. So let’s compare apples to apples.

b) At the end of the day, it is quality that matters. More doesn’t necessarily mean better. Standard resources are not that many. If you have what you need to have (the tools of the trade), you are not missing out, regardless of the program you use.

c) I’d like to know more about the “under the hood issues” that apparently make searching Logos’ many titles “superior”. I can say that I find BW’s integration and searching of its secondary resources less than ideal, but the seamless integration and extremely powerful and versatile searching capabilities of Accordance’s tools are quite impressive and, some of them, unparalleled.

3. Final Comments

It seems to me that unless we define clearly the rules of the “game” and what we mean by “cutting edge”  we will be talking at cross purposes. In my opinion, the game of Bible software is all about letting people access and interpret the primary texts. Everything else, including the program itself (and that goes both for the user interface and the secondary texts), should be subservient to that goal. In line with what I have just said, I would consider syntax searching, root searching or cross-version/cross-language searching as examples of “cutting edge” features.

Finally, let us keep in mind that the really important “wow” factor is to be found in the attainment of the original goal (see above) in a clear, unobtrusive, intuitive way. Other things may be the “icing on the cake,” but in my book they are neither cutting edge nor particularly wowing. If this is considered to be the “old way,” so be it.

Update: Check out Rick Mansfield’s post (I’m sorry. The author decided to delete it), and Danny Zacharias’ blog entry.

SBL Bible Software Shootout

Last Saturday, a Bible Software Shootout session was held at the SBL Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA. Participants were (in order of appearance) Logos, SESB, BibleWorks, Accordance and Olive Tree. If you are like me, you would have loved to attend. Sadly, I couldn’t be there. Still, modern day technology does help us to get the big picture via tweets, blog posts and so on.

So, what happened? Karyn Traphagen compiled a list of tweets by people who attended the session over at Boulders 2 Bits, whereas Rick Mansfield wrote a more comprehensive post on his This Lamp blog, and, more recently, Mike Heiser gave us his take on it. We can expect to read reports by David Lang at the Accordance Blog shortly (it’s here actually), and I heard that the Olive Tree Blog will be carrying info on the session too (right here). At this point I don’t know if we will read anything from BibleWorks.

These were the five challenges each presenter had to address:

1. Give the parsing of a word and its meaning from a standard source.

2. Show all the occurrences of a word in the NT and LXX and show the Hebrew word which corresponds with the Greek in the LXX (if there is a correspondence).

3. Find all the occurrences of oi de in Matthew’s gospel followed by a finite verb within the clause.

4. I want to study a part of speech, e. g., demonstrative pronouns or interjections. How do I get all of the lemmas for that part of speech, get all the occurrences of those lemmas, and the results organized in such a way that I could write an article/monograph on that part of speech from the data?

5. I want to study the inflections of the Hebrew middle weak verb, and I want to see what the range of possible variations is for each of the conjugations (perfect, imperative, etc.) person, number, gender, and stem. This means I need to find all the middle weak verbs, find all their occurrences, and organize them in such a way that the variation of their inflections are immediately apparent. The goal of the data organization would be to allow me to write an article about the variations of the Hebrew middle weak verb.

Everybody seems to agree on the fact that all packages were able to solve the problems posed, except for Olive Tree, (but that is understandable given the current limitations of mobile devices and their OSes in certain areas). It is also acknowledged that it was stimulating to learn about the different solutions adopted by each one of the “contenders.”

And that’s the end of the agreement. If you want to know who won this shootout –where no one got hurt–, you’re out of luck. It depends on who you listen to. I’m always amazed at how sensitive this whole area of Bible software comparative reviews/presentations is. If you read the different comments and reactions to posts here and there you will soon realize that, for the most part, people tend to be rather defensive when exposed to software packages other than the one they are most familiar with, and very few dare to “think outside the box.”

If someone recorded the SBL session on video it would be great to know. Failing that, it would be nice to be able to access the content of each presentation so that everyone could draw his/her own conclusions about the pros and cons of each program. Don’t you think?

Update: Accordance handout can be downloaded from this page. Olive Tree’s presentation can also be downloaded here (PDF file).

Tony Cartledge, who attended the session, blogs on the shootout here.

Accordance 8.4 Is Available

Following its policy of providing great free point upgrades for current version 8 users, OakTree Software has released Accordance 8.4. The most important feature is, undoubtedly, the fact that when the option Copy as Citation is used for a given selection of text  in any tool pane, the citation now includes the bibliography.

There are several options that can be set under Preferences — Bibliography. To start with, Accordance supports two widespread formats: SBL and Turabian styles, and in either case the bibliography is displayed below the citation or inserted automatically as a footnote, depending on how we set our preferences.

According to its developers, this option will be enhanced in the near future, but look here to see all it can currently do.

For a full list of changes and improvements, check out this page.

Bible Analyzer 3.8 Update

Bible Analyzer has just been updated. These are some of the new features available:

·    Book/Article Display now within main Window, with separate Window option.
·    Books/Articles can be searched as with Dictionaries and Commentaries.
·    Text to Speech Capability; can speak a selection or whole page.
·    New Audio Player with High-Quality Midi hymns.
·    Related Verse Search feature allows selection of words from entered verse.
·    A Prayer List Editor that automatically opens and saves prayer notes.
·    Can now jump to individual book hits In Search Results.
·    Can change the background color of select windows.

Check all the changes here. Also, you may want to take a look at this videotutorial explaining the new program features.

Logos Bible Software 4.0 Launched!

The new version of Logos Bible Software is being launched today. LBS 4 sports a completely redesigned User Interface, based on Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). This allows for a more modern, slicker look and much greater flexibility in handling windows, menus, etc.

Overall, LBS 4 is more visually appealing than its predecessor and makes heavy use of charts, photographs, maps and infographics. If we add to this the new text-to-speech feature we are in for a pretty good multimedia experience.

The Home page now looks like an online newspaper, with plenty of links to both local and online resources for further study, but the familiar Go button, where one enters a biblical passage or a topic, is still there as an easy, no-frills launchpad for beginners.

Version 4 comes with some nice library management improvements. These are a welcome addition amidst the increasing number of titles included in most library packages today. Worthy of mention in this area are the ability to add custom tags to resources, an easier, automated way to create collections of books and an enhanced annotation system (including clippings).

The new Reading mode (F11) turns the computer into a book reader (full screen), whereas the Drawing mode (F8) lets presenters draw lines, shapes and so on while projecting to a larger audience.

Apart from the more obvious changes, LBS 4 now indexes all the resources, which results in a dramatic speed boost when performing searches, and allows users to have more control over reports.

Other features worth noting are the fact that map sites include links to Google Maps and Wikipedia, and that  selecting any word or group of words on morphologically tagged Bibles (or Bibles with interlinears) highlights the corresponding term(s) in the other open resources. This feature, called Sympathetic highlighting (a cross-language highlighting of sorts) is shown in the figure below.

However, not all the changes are necessarily for the better. Personally, I don’t like the new implementation of the reverse interlinears (displayed above), but hopefully Logos will offer the possibility to keep the older v. 3 format alongside the new one in a later release. Similarly, as someone used to typing Greek and Hebrew, I am not enthused with the new input system for writing  the biblical languages (introducing the prefix “g:” or “h:”, the program automatically displays a drop-down menu with all the Greek or Hebrew words, respectively), but I take it as a concession to the majority of user who might find pressing the F2 key and typing away something not particularly easy to do.

Here is a brief list of what we may expect in the near future, as well as the features that have been dropped.

What’s coming in future releases of version 4

Importing notes from version 3
Sermon File Addin
Personal Book Builder
Sentence Diagramming

What’s missing from version 3

Speed Search
Graphical searches (i.e., Graphical Query Editor)
Remote Library Search

At any rate, LBS 4 and Libronix DLS 3 can live happily together. Furthermore, they can be run concurrently on the same computer, which should make the transition easier for everyone, except, perhaps, for Logos :-) .

So, the release of Logos Bible Software 4 is a clear sign that the company wants to focus on improved  Bible study aids (e.g., the new handouts or the Bible Explorer tool) in the context of a more flexible, adaptive and productive user interface. In due course, LBS 4 will be available on three different platforms: PC, Mac and iPhone (in this case as a sort of extension of the desktop version. See here for more details).

Finally, check out the (many) new resources and configurations available, including upgrade discounts for existing customers.