Interviews

Michael Bushell, owner and lead programmer for BibleWorks


Bible Software Review: By way of an introduction, please give us any personal information you'd like to share with our readers.

Michael Bushell: My name is Michael Bushell. I am the owner and lead programmer for BibleWorks. I became a Christian while in Grad School studying physics back in Texas. That was some 35 years ago. After grad school I went to seminary (Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and Westminster in Philadelphia). I eventually settled in a job working in nuclear weapons effects for the DoD in the Washington, D.C. area. I was there some 18 years, until about 6 years ago when I left that job to devote myself full time to BibleWorks. I am currently in the Presbyterian Church in America, though most of my Christian experience was in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

BSR: When did your company start, and why did you feel the need to set this project off?

MB: BibleWorks was started around 1992. I had been working on a program for Bible study intended just to serve my own needs. I had looked at a number of other Bible Software products and was not satisfied with the capabilities or user interface. So I decided to take a stab at doing something on my own. Many of the raw databases were purchased from a company called Hermeneutika in Montana (Mark Rice) and contacts with that company eventually led to an agreement to have Hermeneutika market and sell the program. Up until 2002 sales and marketing were handled by that company. All aspects of the business are now under my direct supervision at the company office in Norfolk, Virginia. For several years I worked on BibleWorks in my spare time in conjunction with my full time DoD job. Then in 1997 I quit the government to work full time on BibleWorks.

BSR: What is your current role in the company?

MB: I am the owner and lead programmer.

BSR: When you look back, what would you identify as being the single greatest feat in the history of Bible software?

MB: Development in the industry has proceeded, it seems to me, gradually and one step at a time. So it is hard to identify a single feat that is more important than any others. If I had to pick one it would be the ability to do complex searches on the entire Biblical text and have the results almost instantaneously. That is the single features most frequently accessed by users of all Bible Software packages. Everything after that is in one sense just bells and whistles.

BSR: What segment of Bible software users do you consider to be your main target?

MB: We have always focused our talents on serving people who want to study the Scriptures in the original Greek and Hebrew. This means that most of our users are pastors, students, missionaries or lay people with an intense interest in interpreting Scripture for themselves based on the original manuscripts. We have consciously avoided branching out into other areas of the market place which are being served quite well by other Christian companies. We are in this to serve, not to duplicate the efforts of others.

BSR: In your opinion, what are the three most salient features of your application?

MB: a. We provide most of what we have to offer in a single package without unlock codes or additional charges. We have a few modules but only in cases where a publisher will not permit us to bundle their product or in cases where the royalties are too high for us to absorb. All program features are available to everyone who purchases BibleWorks. We feel very strongly that the "module glut" that has taken the industry by storm is not good for users and we strive very hard to have an entirely different strategy. So we have basically just one "bundle". This maximizes value and minimizes complexity for our users. This approach is different from any other major Bible software vendor that I am aware of.

b. BibleWorks has two search engines - one that is command-line oriented and one that is based on a graphical user interface that permits the construction of very complex queries. Both are optimized for power and speed. People will eventually stop using a search engine if they have to wait for their answers.

c. A wealth of information is available instantaneously in BibleWorks through the "auto-info" window and its many children and offshoots. All you have to do is pass the mouse cursor over a word that you are interested in. BibleWorks is customized for maximum information with minimal work on the part of the users. Other programs have adopted the idea but the BibleWorks implementation is unique.

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 it?

MB: There is no substitute for simply sitting down and reading the Biblical text and then taking the time to think about what it means. Answers that come too easily are often the wrong answers. If used improperly Bible Software tools can actually do more damage than good. They do however permit students of Scripture to find references more quickly and to perform searches on the Biblical text that would have been impossible a few years ago (or would have taken years to perform). This allows "Scripture to interpret Scripture" more efficiently than has ever been possible before.

BSR: Why do you think people should consider using your software?

MB: We are focused on one single task: providing pastors, students and missionaries with the fastest, most powerful, most comprehensive, and best supported original-language research tool available anywhere at any price. We are committed to providing our product at the lowest possible price consistent with staying in business. We exist to serve the church, not to make money. We have a reputation for aggressive development and careful attention to the suggestions of our users. In fact our programmers routinely, on a daily basis, interact directly with users. We offer a 90-day return policy. If BibleWorks is not what you need, we do not want your money.

BSR: What is the primary use you make of your own software?

MB: I have to admit that BibleWorks keeps me so busy that I don't get to use it as much as I would like. But I would not dream of doing a Bible-study or researching the meaning of a passage in the Greek or Hebrew Scriptures without it. If I am reading along in the English Scriptures and come across a verse that puzzles me, in a matter of seconds I can pop open BibleWorks, look at the Greek or Hebrew, find a long list of passages with similar word usage or sentence structure, look up key words in several lexicons, and consult Greek and Hebrew grammars on difficult (or forgotten) grammatical issues. Because this can be done so easily I am tempted to do it often.

BSR: Is there any feature lacking in Bible software in general, that you would love to see implemented soon?

MB: Frankly, if it were something that I really, really wanted, we would already be working on it. I am probably the wrong person to ask this because BibleWorks was written primarily for me. We listen to users, of course, and we do it a lot, but because it is written for me, features that I would love to see implemented soon, actually get implemented :-) We do, however, have some really cool ideas in the works, but this has become a very competitive industry (sadly) and it is in our best interests (and those of our users) to keep future plans to ourselves.

BSR: Are there any specific plans to port the software to other platforms? (Mac, Linux, PDA...)

MB: Not at present.

BSR: Besides English, is or will your software be available in other languages in the foreseeable future?

MB: German, French, Spanish and Italian are on our list of things to do. It depends on the meaning of the word "foreseeable".

BSR: From your perspective, what should Bible software be heading for in the years to come?

MB: This is a difficult question. Technology is changing so quickly that any predictions are almost guaranteed to be wrong. But it is possible to speak in generalities without running the risk of looking too foolish. There are three areas where I think change is needed: (1) The price of Bible Software in general is in my opinion way too high. The move to modularity by the industry has greatly increased the cost of ownership for the end user of useful ensembles of books. The electronic revolution was supposed to lower prices (remember the promises). That hasn't happened. (2) There are at present no industry publishing standards for electronic media. There are many wannabe standards, but users still routinely buy multiple copies of the same texts to use with different programs, not to mention print copies. This is grossly unfair to the consumer. Electronic publishing will never be a viable industry, one in which users can invest money with confidence, until there are standards. No one wants to buy a library of books that will be unreadable in 10 years. At the very least, prices should reflect the fact that, compared to print media, electronic modules may have a limited useful lifetime. (3) Something desperately needs to be done to make good Bible Software and electronic media available to Christians in Third World countries. Computer costs have dropped to the point where they are affordable in these countries (albeit with great sacrifice) but software prices are so high that most packages cost about the same as a computer. Many people pay a month's salary for a single software program. There are many difficult issues involved in this question, but they need to be addressed.

BSR: Would you like to add or share anything not covered in the previous questions?

MB: No.

BSR: Thank you so much for your time!


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