Bible Software Review
Bible Software Review
April 26, 2008
At A Glance (1-5)
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BiblePro is a Bible software product offered by BibleOcean.com. It is an odd situation, as it feels like there is no "face" behind the website. Is it a company? Is it a person? It's not immediately obvious. Every single other package out there gives you a very strong sense of who created it and why, what it's purpose and goals are, etc. But with BiblePro it feels like there is a layer between you and the man behind the curtain. The only clue we have is the following paragraph from the web site: "Through this website I provide Bible software for Windows on a single CD for no charge. Why free? I'm a software engineer by day and at night I build professional grade software for the Christian community. No staff to pay, no advertising budget, no expensive office space. Just great Bible software that's always improving."
BiblePro is at version 12, so I'm assuming it has been out a while. It is a fairly mature product. The install is smooth, though it wants to install a "BiblePro" toolbar. To me, most toolbars are annoying at best, harmful at worse. But the fact that BiblePro wants to install a toolbar is congruent with the methodology behind the free product.
Once you download and install the free product, you are inundated with constant reminders and pleas to upgrade to the registered version, which is also "free" except for a $8.95 shipping and handling fee. When ordering the upgrade, you have to enter your email address, which is checked when you want to register the product. You can also only install on one PC at a time, according to the license.
Finally, after the first time you use the product (or update) it will automatically connect to the web-based version of the product (more on that later).
BiblePro offers basically 5 panes. A small Bible chapter tree view and a Search results view on the top left and right, respectively. The Bible view is in the top middle. The bottom left is the Dictionary/Reference view, and the bottom right is the Commentary view. Each pane, except the Bible pane, can be undocked and moved around at will, and arranged to your hearts content. The panes all have push-pins, which allow you to lock them in place, or let them scroll out of view when not using them.
You have a very wide array of aesthetic options - you can change just about anything - font size and color, visual styles, animation, scroll bars, etc. One really cool feature is the ability to change the background picture. BiblePro provides a number of nice, subtle backgrounds, but you can load up any standard jpeg picture file. Each open window pane will inherit this background. I must say, it adds a whole new dimension to Bible study when you are reading a commentary entry on top of a picture of the Battlestar Galactica. :)
All of your installed Bibles appear as tabs across the Bible pane. You can jump to a passage via the Chapter tree by opening up the book and clicking on the chapter, or by entering a the verse and chapter directly on the toolbar. There is no free-form text bar to enter a verse, simply a dropdown list of all the Bible books (in difficult-to-read 2- or 3-letter abbreviations, no less), and a spot for a chapter and a verse. My point being, in the time it takes to click on the dropdown list and find the book in question, you could have typed it three times over.
Other minor notes with the Bible view: There is a parallel view, though you can only view two bible translations at a time, no more. The Strong's version of the KJV actually highlights the words that have Strong entries; you can click on the word to see the Strong entry in the Dictionary view. But you cannot see all the Strong's words in the text, which many people actually prefer.
Commentary entries are automatically linked to the Bible passage being read. There is no way to unlink them, in fact, there is no mechanism whatsoever to view commentary entries outside of the currently selected passage. Likewise, there is no visible cue as to which commentaries contain entries for the passage and which do not. This means you have to individually click on each tab in order to determine if an entry is present.
Similarly, there is no linkage to the Dictionary/Reference works. In other words, you cannot single-click, double-click, or right-click on a word in the Bible text, or anywhere else for that matter, and have it automatically look up a word in the Dictionary pane. You must select the dictionary first, and then find the word you are looking for (if it exists) in a dropdown of all the words. It appears that the dropdown of words contains only words related to the current passage. In other words, there is no way to just look up a word in Easton's Bible Dictionary from the Reference view; you better hope it is relevant to the passage at hand. Otherwise you have to pull up the Power Search window in order to find a dictionary entry. Very odd design decision, IMHO.
Nor is there cross-reference capabilities anywhere that I could find. No linking of verses to other, related verses or passages. On the flip side, all Bible references are linked to the Bible view, and the verse will appear in a tool tip if you hover over the link for a second.
BiblePro does provide a Gospel Comparison Tool. This is actually what is normally called a "harmony", which is a book, article, or document that compares stories in the new testament across all the gospels. Most of the software packages have one or more harmonies, but they usually take the form of a book. BiblePro's GCT is actually a window that pops up listing all the events of Jesus' life. It shows four tabs, one for each gospel, each containing that gospel's account of whatever story you selected. The tab will show a green checkmark or a red x, depending on whether the story appears in that particular gospel. While this works to a point, I think a harmony is much more effective when you can actually view the narratives side-by-side. That is how most software products do it, and for good reason.
Your viewing history is available in a separate history tab. This is nice if you want to quickly go back to a passage you have read previously. However, this feature leads to one of the more quizzical options I have ever seen in Bible software. In the options, in addition to the expected items such as "General", and "Themes", is a "Privacy" section. In here you can "Clear the history of verses you have visited and searches you have run." I guess the ability to clear this out isn't bad, I just thought it humorous that it was located under a Privacy option. I can see why, say, Internet Explorer might give you the option to clear your history for privacy's sake. But Bible software? "Oh no, I can't let anyone see what verses I have been reading, that could ruin me!" :)
However, I have been saving the worst for last. While the interface itself is fine, even pretty good in places, there is one design decision that hurts BiblePro significantly - the entire package is chapter-based, not verse-based. In other words, you only view whole chapters at a time. The commentaries are linked by chapter, so you are viewing an entire chapter's worth of commentary entries, not just for a specific verse. After using verse-based software for some time, a chapter-based study methodology is very restrictive. Please note that I feel strongly it is important that we study the Bible in proper context, and that often means a whole chapter, or even a whole book, at a time. But the flexibility with verse-based contexts is almost a requirement in current Bible software.
There are two search mechanisms. One is a simple search, which simply looks for all instances of your phrase in the currently selected Bible. The search is quite fast. The number of results is limited by a number that can be modified in the Options. It defaults to 250, but can be changed to whatever you desire. This was not immediately obvious, as I was frustrated on why my testing only return 250 results when I knew there was more. A search history is maintained, with each search saved under a different tab in the Search view. You can remove the entire history with a Delete History button on the Search view, but you cannot remove individual searches; it is all or nothing.
A Power Search is also available. Here you can choose which books, or groups of books, that you wish to search through. You can search all words, any of the words, or exact phrase, but more advanced searches using AND and OR is not available. The Power Search has separate tables for Bibles, References, Commentaries, and Strong's. In other words, you cannot search for a word or phrase across those four main categories, which is extremely limiting. Not only that, under the Commentary search you can only search one commentary at a time. Not what I would call a "Power" search.
A nice touch is that you can export your search results, as well as the current chapter, commentary, and reference entry, to a Word, HTML, or PDF document. This could be quite handy.
The free download version provides only a few basic Bibles and reference/commentary texts. Even though the web site states "BiblePro can be used forever for free" the free version nags you constantly about upgrading. I felt like I didn't want to click on any option for fear of being yelled at. I bet most people either uninstall the product or order the upgrade just to get the thing to shut up.
Once you order the upgrade, you can wait for the CD or a link is provided for you to download it right away. I opted f or the former (I think i missed the download link the first time around). When I got the CD I installed it right away, but found that it did not install all the resources. There is a special tool to install resources from the CD. You must install them one at a time, and then must restart the program after they are installed in order to make them available.
The web site seems to be a bit misleading when it comes to available resources. It claims the free CD comes with "43 Bibles 250,000 Commentaries 1,750,000 References." Now, the 43 bibles consist of the standard AV, KJV, KJV with Strong's, BBE, and so on. Outside of that most of the 43 are simply different languages. I think the 250,000 commentaries is actually commentary
. Ditto for the references. This feels like a bit of exaggeration and does not do anything to hinder the used-car salesman atmosphere of the product.
There are no contemporary resources at all for BiblePro. Everything is a classic (obviously not bad in and of itself) or in the public domain. There is no contemporary Bible versions, thought the author states he is in negotiations to bring the INV and NASB to BiblePro.
You do have the option of entering your own notes. They are tied to a chapter only, of course. The notes editor is definitely nicer than most providing true WYSIWYG capabilities. Your notes are included in the search, however there appears to be a bug when you try to hit the link to jump to your commentary entry. A message appeared stating "That tool is not installed." Nor is there any mechanism to delete your notes. You can blank them out, but the program thinks a note exists. Another disappointment is that there is no mechanism to make any verse references in your text actual links to the Bible view.
There is no ability to create your own modules.
Support is minimal. There is an email address for support, and a support form on the web with a dozen pre-defined questions, though you can select "Other" and type your own.
There was no response to an email I sent concerning the error I received when searching on My Notes.
There are no user groups or any sort of user community that I could find.
One more minor issue that falls under this category. You can check for updates directly through a menu option, though it simply connects you to a web page comparing your version with the current version and giving you the option of downloading the new version. This works well enough, but the problem is you cannot install any upgrades in place. In other words, you have to completely uninstall the previous version, and then install the new version. This is unnecessarily difficult, though you don't have to install the new version unless you want. Thankfully, all your books, notes, and other settings are kept in place.
The author states he provides free Windows Bible software on a CD, but charges $8.95 for shipping. There is no option to download the product
unless you order the CD
. In other words, it's not really free. If it was, you would have the option to download the full non-nagging product without being required to order the CD. It just seems a bit fishy to me.
The product is decent, but there really isn't anything too compelling. It has a nice notes editor, and the export features are better than most packages. But the chapter-based methodology really detracts, as does the constant nagging if you don't want to order the free CD. This is a definite middle-of-the-road value here, and I am probably being a bit too generous with that.
In closing, I want to mention BiblePro Online, and intriguing product also available from Bible Ocean. Basically it is a web-based product very similar to the standard BiblePro. This is not BiblePro with just a web interface, it is a true internet-based application, where you can do your entire Bible study over the internet without having to download anything. It is not my intent to review BPO here, but I do believe this is where all software is headed. BPO is very similar to BiblePro in form and function, though with fewer features and no mechanism to save personal notes. It is also more sluggish, being internet based. While BPO is still behind it's windows-based brother, I beleive this is where software in general is heading, and it won't be long before BPO is a viable alternative to traditional installed software.
You can try out the online version here:
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Jerry [ at ] Fostertribe [ dot ] org