Review of MacSword 1.2  
   
  Version: 1.2  
  Developer: Will Thimbleby  
  Rubén Gómez  
Overall Rating:  6.5
User Interface: Searching:
Ease of Use Features:
Help & Support: Modules:
Customization: Original Languages:
Speed: Price:

June 13, 2005

A review written by Rubén Gómez, Bible software translator and beta tester. Copyright © 2005-2009 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author. This is an update of a previous review of MacSword 1.0 that you may find here.

A lot of things have changed since the release of MacSword 1.0 (February 16, 2004). So much so that it could probably have been labeled "version 2.0." The program has certainly reached the point of being fully usable as a Mac OS X Bible software application. Needless to say that it lacks the power, sophistication, and content of other commercial packages. But considering the fact that it remains an Open Source project, its many improvements will be most welcome by Mac users.

MacSword can now be installed by simply dragging its folder into the Applications folder (for clean installs) or copying the application over an older version of the program (if you are updating it). Similarly, the freely available text modules (found under the Raw Zip column) can be unzipped and then dragged and dropped inside the Modules folder. This has greatly simplified the installation process.

Help

Help is very, very scanty, and should be updated and enhanced (and proof-read!) as soon as possible. Okay, Mac OS applications are generally quite intuitive, but not to the point where just a bare-bones help facility is enough!

Interface

MacSword's user interface looks the same, but it has become more a lot more flexible and customizable. For one thing, multiple modules can be displayed at the same time in parallel panes and scrolled simultaneously. But apart from that obvious feature, there is a more subtle improvement. It is now possible to customize the main Toolbar and add a new Reference text box. This box is great for doing some advanced navigation. We can enter any given number of verses, in no particular order, and the window will display them exactly as we typed them (Figure 1).


Fig. 1 The Reference text box is used to overcome the default display behavior of MacSword (one chapter at a time), and allows for a much greater flexibility in looking up texts and copying and pasting into other applications.

My only major complaint with this Reference box is that it does not keep track of the references and URLs (of the type "sword://Footnotes@WEB/John1") entered, which is rather disappointing. I hope this can be changed, as it would alleviate the tedious work of having to retype things over and over again.

Searching

MacSword has adopted a completely different search syntax based on Lucene's query language. The former regular expression searches are not supported anymore. [1] Instead, one can use the more familiar Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT - which must always be written in all caps - or its equivalent symbols &&, || and !). The default behavior of searching has also been modified. Double wild card searches are gone (yippee!), and searches default to AND unless otherwise specified [2]. This is a lot more intuitive than before. I do miss, however, the former Ignore Case checkbox, which allowed for toggling case-sensitive searches on and off. Please bring it back!

This version includes many new search features. For example, single (?) and multiple (*) wildcards can be used to build searches, although never as the first character of the search term. [3]

Searches can be grouped by means of brackets (e.g., (paul OR silas) AND timothy), and proximity searches are also possible by using quotes around the search terms and adding a tilde (~) followed by a number at the end of the string. Thus, "jesus passover"~10 will find the 5 references (i.e., verses) in the RSV where both words appear within a maximum distance of 10 words (notice that these searches are nor order-specific).

Fuzzy searches can be performed by appending a tilde (~) to a single search term. So, if we enter the search sin~, the program will return "son," "sit," "sin," "sign," "sins," "sink," and a whole lot more. We can decide how "fuzzy" we want the search to be by appending an optional parameter between 0 and 1 (the default, when no parameter is specified, is 0.5). The closer to 1 (e.g., sin~0.8) the better, if we want to find only slight modifications of the word. [4]

But perhaps the most significant improvement in the whole are of searching is the ability to search for Strong's numbers and combinations of words and Strong's numbers. To do this, numbers must be preceded by the field name ("strong") and a colon (:), as well as a "g" or an "h" (for Greek and Hebrew, respectively). One simple example of this would be strong:g652 (80 references in the KJV, a Bible text that includes Strong's numbers). It is a pity, though, that these searches are not highlighted, and that search results do not actually display any numbers. To fix this would clearly mean turning this useful feature into an excellent one. See other possible uses of searches with Strong's numbers in the Table below:

strong:g652 NOT apostle*

3 references in KJV

apostle* NOT strong:g652

3 references in KJV

servant (strong:g652 NOT apostle*)~14

1 reference in KJV

m*n NOT (m*n strong:g444) [5]

716 references in KJV

Range searches are also possible (e.g., [745 TO 747] in Strong's Greek lexicon), but its usefulness is rather limited, due to the fact than there is currently no way to enhance or constrain these searches at will. Until that can be done, we may end up with quite unexpected search results!

Searches can now be run on any portion of the Bible thanks to the new Edit Ranges feature. Also, unlike version 1.0, books other than Bibles can be searched. Finally, Search results can be dragged to a word processor, although when doing that all highlighting will be lost.

Not only are searches much more powerful and flexible than before. They are also infinitely faster. This is because each module is indexed before it is searched for the first time (Figure 2). It does take some time to complete this process, but it's a small price to pay when you consider that from that moment on any search will be virtually instantaneous.


Fig. 2 MacSword indexes each one of the modules we add to the library the first time we run a search on them.

Searches in Greek and Hebrew work just as English searches. The contents column shows the search term in red (Figure 3). Note, however, that only the main text is displayed. No Strong's numbers, morphology codes, footnotes, etc. are visible.


Fig. 3 Search results of a Greek search in WHNU.

To see the results in full context we must click on the reference and then tweak the settings of the new text window to our liking (Figure 4). This is all a bit cumbersome, and ideally should be simplified, so that all the information available is properly displayed and highlighted right on the Find dialog box.


Fig. 4 Clicking on the first verse in the Find window above (Figure 2) opens a new text window with the whole verse in context and highlighted. Strong's numbers, morphological tags, and so on can be displayed via the Options menu, but the yellow highlighting will disappear when we do that.

Suggested searching improvements

All searches should be highlighted, and stand-alone wildcards allowed. This would make it really easy to find out what English words are used in the KJV to translate Strong's number 746 (ARCHE) - e.g., * strong:g746 (see note [3]).

Implementation of field searching beyond Strong's numbers searches would be desirable (e.g., morphology:NDSF with a morphologically tagged Greek text should be able to find all dative singular feminine nouns in any given search range, and "heading:jesus"/"footnote:jesus" could be used to locate headings/footnotes in an English Bible - as opposed to the Bible text itself - where "Jesus" appears).

The usefulness of the Find text box would be greatly improved if it could be made to "remember" searches between different study sessions, or if searches could be saved and retrieved at a later time. As it is now, all previously tracked searches are lost when one quits the program.

Personal commentaries

This is another excellent feature which allows users to write their own notes on any given text. These commentaries are easily edited and formatted (currently only italics and bold type are available), and Bible references can be turned into live links. These will be displayed as tool-tips if the option is checked under Preferences (Figure 5).

Fig. 5 Personal commentaries can be displayed in parallel with other Bible texts, just like any other commentary, and will scroll together with the rest.

Bookmarks

MacSword includes the ability to bookmark Bible texts and commentaries (Figure 6) for easy retrieval. These bookmarks can be color-coded, underlined, grouped, edited, rearranged, etc., and offer great flexibility.


Fig. 6 Bookmarks are good for study purposes, and can aid in navigating modules.

Conclusion

MacSword has come of age. It is both usable and enjoyable. But it is now when it will have to move ahead trying to keep a fine balance between adding new features and fine-tuning those already available. Not an easy task for a developer! At any rate, this is by far the best non-commercial Bible software application available for Mac OS X users. If you haven't got it yet, you are missing out!

Pros

Very customizable
Available under the Mac OS Services feature (where supported)
Much improved search syntax, features, and performance
Can't beat the price.

Cons

Highlighting inconsistencies
No XOR (exclusive OR) Boolean operator, and, more generally, still some search limitations
Poor help system.

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Last updated: 23/02/2010