Bible Software Review: By way of an introduction, please give us any personal information you'd like to share with our readers...
Costas Stergiou: My name is Costas Stergiou, I leave in Athens,
Greece, married with 2 children and, above all, a member of the body of
Christ (well, this last is the most distinctive feature I suppose). I
work for a local telecom company and have been a programmer for about 10 years. I am the person behind the In the Beginning Was The Word software, which I develop in my non-working (and non-family) hours.
BSR: When did your company start, and why did you feel the need to set this project off?
CS:Well, there is not any company behind this effort. In The Beginning Was The Word
software started as a simple proof-of-concept by a single person
about 3 years ago, when I was trying to find an online version of the
modern Greek Bible (well, I am Greek; studying the Greek text does not
fall in the scholarly use for me). I remember I was discussing some
theological issues with a friend and brother in Christ and wanted to
look up some verses. I looked around to all free Bible software
packages available, and although I found some very interesting ones, I
just couldn't find one that would allow me to do the simplest thing:
type a word in modern accented Greek and find it in the Bible. Well, it
may sound a bit silly, but there really wasn't any such free software
around. So the game started. I got an electronic text from the public
domain and in a few days I made a small program that could read this
text and search it properly. This is how it all began.
Actually, I never thought this would become an official program.
When I finished adding all the small features I liked I just made a
web-site and shared it with others. Today, "The Word" is the most
widely used Bible software in Greece and it is used by many more people
from other countries too (also non English speaking ones). The new
version 3, coming very soon, will be a major upgrade that will fill all
the missing functionality of version 2. I think that it will raise the
standards of "what free software should be" much higher!
BSR: What is your current role in the company?
CS: I am the programmer, tester, designer, web master, and I play
every other imaginable role at the same time. Well, to be honest there
are several users of the program that have actually helped with several
issues, but I am the only dedicated person on this project. I think
that one of the reasons that I am alone in this effort is that I set
very (private) high standards on the software. Actually, for every new
feature I start by thinking, "What would I really
like from the software that I cannot find anywhere else?", and then I
usually proceed to develop almost the full list of my initial thoughts.
The only drawback with this approach is that it takes time: more time
than a commercial effort would allow, since there are many features
that are used by very few users (if I were asked to create a commercial
piece of software, it would certainly not contain all the details the
program currently includes; but this is not my goal). At the moment, my
main income comes from my secular job, so I am free to invest time in
the program without thinking that I must hurry to get it done to get
some money back.
BSR: When you look back, what would you identify as being the single greatest feat in the history of Bible software?
CS: Although I may be too young to properly answer this question
(since my past experience in Bible software is not that long), I think
it would be the ability to quickly search the Bible and annotate it
with your comments.
To be honest, when I started using Bible software and looking
through the commentaries, I was a bit disappointed by the fact that for
the same verse, respected theologians would have a completely different
exegesis (and stating this with undeniable certainty). I was a bit
shaken to be honest. At the same time, I found out that most Bible
software packages make it easy to see what others have to say, but make
it more difficult to write your own comments! Well, this last thing
should be one of the most important features and, I think, quite
underestimated in most packages.
BSR: What segment of Bible software users do you consider to be your main target?
CS: The program is primarily targeted to people that want a fast and
everyday tool to accompany their Bible studies. "The Word" aims to be
one of the programs you add to you Start-up folder and it is always
there to use. At the same time, "The Word" is a really powerful study
tool to help you go much deeper in your studies. The complexity is
hidden when you don't need it. It does not contain the wealth of
resources found in other programs but I think it is the fastest way to
do 95 per cent of what most people would want to do. Well, it is also free
(although you would never guess that if you didn't know).
BSR: In your opinion, what are the three most salient features of your application?
CS: 1. The general feeling of speed, quality, ease-of-use and
stability as you use it. You actually need to work on a program to
understand this. When you start a program for the very first time, you
don't worry how long it needs to startup or how long it takes to do
something, you usually explore its features. But after a while, what
you really want is a "tool" to do your job. I think we all end up using
the software we use based on this one simple criterion: ease-of-use.
Actually, many people who have really "used" the program cannot easily
go back to something else. I could also refer to the search engine,
customizable windows, layout, options, etc. but what is important is
how all these features look and work. This does not come easily in
software: many weeks and months have been invested to make "The Word"
easier for the user to do what he wants. I think that more than half of
the development time of "The Word" has been invested in making it fast
and intuitive to use. This is not always obvious from the screenshots!
2. The investment of time and features in the personal notes area.
As I said above, I think that the Bible study software should primarily
facilitate writing down and organizing our own thoughts. Commentaries
are good, but I expect Bible software to help me organize my own
thoughts about different doctrines. We know that the Holy Spirit helps
us accomplish that, and we should trust more in this promise of the Lord
3. I think the "Clipboard monitor" function is one of the most
interesting features (I think "The Word" is the first program to
implement such a feature). With this function enabled, the program
actually monitors the clipboard in the background. When it locates some
text it quickly parses it and if it finds any verse references it pops
up a window with the Bible text. As simple as this may sound, it is
really an invaluable tool when reading texts from the Internet! You
need to try it for 1-2 days and you will not be able to do without it.
As you read a text, you just select the verse reference with your mouse
(in your favorite program), right click and copy it. That's all.
BSR: If you had to recommend the use of Bible software to
someone who has never been exposed to it before, how would you go about
CS: Well, it is like explaining to someone the benefits of using MS
Word vs. writing a letter by hand; little can be said until you
actually see and understand MS Word! (well, I am not sure my father
would be persuaded anyway to stop hand-writing his letters). However, I
think that reading your printed Bible cannot be replaced by any
software. We are talking about two different things that are not
Organization of thoughts and notes is the primary advantage of
computer assisted study, and of course the instant access to huge
electronic libraries of commentaries and notes (although, as I
explained above, this can also be confusing because of the wide range
of interpretations from different theologians).
BSR: Why do you think people should consider using your software?
CS: Although I could say that it's free and they have nothing to
lose trying it out, this is not what I believe; I don't design and
write the software as a free package. Rather, I write it as though it
was for sale! I never rationalize: "OK, it is free after all, what do
you expect?". I envision and develop the program as if there was a big
company behind me that demanded some high quality software and big
Having said that, I think that the program really stands out in the
freeware arena, and it is the wealth of features, quality and ease of
use that would make someone use it. Actually, most happy users are
the ones that have just used it and realized exactly that. Also, I
would refer to the fact that it properly uses non-English texts and is
already translated in 6 languages (most packages out there aim for the
English user; from the ground up, "The Word" aimed the Greek users and
as it developed I decided to properly support non-English languages as
well, in the interface and in the Bible texts area).
BSR: What is the primary use you make of your own software?
CS: Reading the Bible, searching through it, taking notes. What most
people need for their everyday study. Actually, one could conclude this
by checking "The Word" and seeing how simple and fast is to perform
these tasks. I hope and pray that other people too will spend more time
with the Bible and that "The Word" (or any other program) can help
people advance in the knowledge of the Word of God.
BSR: Is there any feature lacking in Bible software in general that you would love to see implemented soon?
CS: I don't think I can give an answer here since the "needs" are
really evolving with the software itself. I can only wish something
that is not on the user perspective: a generic, accepted, open source
encoding format for Bible resources. After having spent all this time
looking for a standard, I have been very disappointed by the fact that
there is not the slightest agreement on an open, general accepted
standard for encoding Bible texts. Well, this is also the case for
every other standard in computer industry that just reflects a generic
problem (or maybe attitude).
BSR: Are there any specific plans to port the software to other platforms? (Mac, Linux, PDA...)
CS: Not at this moment. Although some people have asked this
question, the unfortunate reality is that you actually need to rewrite
your software for each platform, if you want it to have the quality and
feel of a native application. So actually this would mean double
investment in time, debugging, etc., which is only a dream for me today.
BSR: Besides English, is or will your software be available in other languages in the foreseeable future?
CS: The primary language of the software was/is Greek! The program
is currently translated into 5 languages and there are another 5 being
prepared at this moment. What is most important though is to have the
program behave properly in all languages, not only displaying
correctly. "The Word" is designed from the ground up as a Unicode
application that can work properly in every language (well, this is the
main reason it all started in the first place after all).
BSR: From your perspective, what should Bible software be heading for in the years to come?
CS: Users are the ones to answer this. I could only answer on behalf
of "The Word", but this would not reflect the general "Bible software"
BSR: Would you like to add or share anything not covered in the previous questions?
CS: At this moment I realize that "The Word" has become a project
that requires more time investment if I really want to see it advance.
My current life-style (normal job, family, etc.) really leaves me with
little time to work on the program and this is something I am unhappy
about. I am really thankful to God that He has allowed this effort to
bring forth certain blessings to the people that have used it
(especially Greek people who had no serious native-language alternative
until now) and I would like to continue under the guidance of Him. My
limited Christian experience has shown me that unless something is of
God, there is no reason to pursuit it.
Some very big changes are underway in my life style which involve
quitting my current job and moving away from my current residence;
although I cannot say that this will be a total commitment to full-time
work on "The Word", I do expect, under the guidance of God, to increase
the overall effort in the progress of the software and also find an
appropriate means of generating an income (through donations) that
could possibly help sustain the everyday needs of my family. I would
like to leave this to the hands of our Lord and be wise enough to
listen to His guidance!
BSR: Thank you so much for your time!