Bible Software Review
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PC Study Bible

Publisher: Biblesoft
Version reviewed: 5.0F
Cost: $25 - $450
Reviewed: Nov 11, 2008
At A Glance (1-5)
Interface1
Searching2
Resources3
Extensibility4
Support5
Value2
Overall2.8
Click to Enlarge

Introduction

I got a lot of complaints when my first set of reviews were completed and I didn't include Biblesoft's PC Study Bible. I did not review it initially because version 5 had just been released to wailing and gnashing of teeth. The product had been released too early and was not ready for prime time. Since I purchase all my products with my own money, I was not inclined to plop down hard-earned cash for a product that obviously was not going to cut the mustard, as they say. So I waited and lurked in the forums until version 5.0F was released, which was generally hailed as the real-deal, probably what the version should have been released as in the first place.

Even though I purchased the product directly from Biblesoft, Biblesoft does not provide a mechanism to download it automatically; I had to wait for it to arrive in the mail. This wasn't a big deal. After all, being forced to be patient is rarely a bad thing. However, I was disappointed when the product arrived in a massive 8.5" x 11" x 2" box containing only a single CD. I'm not a tree-hugger, but c'mon, Biblesoft, let's be better stewards of our resources. I can understand the need for optimizing the product's shelf space in a brick-n-mortar store, but not when sending out via mail.

So, how does the newly improved and fixed version 5 stack up against your other choices?


Interface

After the installation (which unfortunately required a full Windows restart), I started PC Study Bible (PCSB). It takes longer to start than most, about 15-20 seconds on my machine. The first start is accompanied by the Setup Helper, which asks you some questions to help set up your initial study environment. It's a nice touch, something none of the other products have. (You can bypass the helper if you are more of a power user.)

When the interface finally opened I was presented with a home page of sorts, listing a devotional for the day from Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, along with a number of options to start my Bible study. I have to admit, PC Study Bible (PCSB) is very different then software I have used up to this point. It did not use the same design paradigms that most other packages used, and it took a while to get used to. I attempted to use it for a number of days before passing any judgment, as it is too easy to dismiss something as difficult or unfriendly, when in fact it is just different.

Opening a Bible is simple enough, using either the "Open a Bible" link on the home page, or from the quick menu on the left, called the NavPanel. But here is where PCSB diverts from most other packages. If you wanted to open a second Bible next to the first, you would assume you can simply go back to the quick menu and open a 2nd Bible. You would be wrong. While this does open a 2nd Bible, it replaces the first window you had open. Initially this is very frustrating. I'm sure most of that frustration is simply due to expectations from a dozen other Bible software packages. You simply have to get acclimated to the fact that opening resources from the NavPanel will replace the existing desktop with the new resource.

To really learn how to use PCSB you must become friends with the bottom toolbar, which contains about 25 functions specific to the open book. For instance, to open up my 2nd and subsequent Bibles in the current window, I have to hit the "Add Version Pane" icon, which will give me the parallel view I am looking for. Scrolling in one pane will automatically scroll in the other open Bible panes. However, the verses don't always line up, and PCSB does not have a mechanism to allow you to easily compare verses side-by-side. It reminds me of the "loosey-goosey" synchronization of Pradis, not the sharp and easy-to-compare mechanisms in WordSearch or Logos.



Ok, now that I have that figured out and have successfully opened my three favorite translations in parallel views, I am now interested in what a commentary or two has to say about the verses in question. I'm looking at Galatians chapter 3 so, I click the Commentary button on the top toolbar and select Luther's commentary on Galatians. The book does not open a pane related to my open Bibles. It opens the book in a separate window, separated from my original Bible window via a tab. I can go back and forth between my Bibles and the commentary, but they are not immediately linked or related. If I want to synchronize my reading of the commentary with related verses, I have to hit the "Set Bible to Current Context" button from the bottom toolbar. This will open a Bible pane in a side-by-side view with my commentary window. But, unfortunately, the commentary and Bible are not in sync with each other. As I scroll through the commentary my Bible stays put. And vice versa. I have to keep hitting that same button to bring the Bible in line with the commentary. But since the program regularly crashed the 2nd time I hit this button in a row, that quickly became an unviable option.

Crash or not, there is no similar button to bring the commentary in line if I start to read through the verses in my Bible pane. If I get too far ahead of the commentary and want to see what the commentary says about the verse in question, I must click on the commentary pane and scroll down to the verse. Painful.

The tabbed-window paradigm creates some interface baggage. For instance, when I click on my Bibles tab to get back to my parallel Bible view, the tab itself takes up position as the left-most tab in the list, and all other tabs move to the right. This isn't a big deal when you have two tabbed windows open, but when you have four or five, it becomes unbearable. As you move back and forth between books the tabs keep moving, so in order to get back to a particular tab you have to read through all of them each time to find where it is now located.

Another byproduct of this paradigm is that the little red X "Close" button on the top right of your open books closes the entire tabbed window, not just the right-most pane. Closer inspection shows that this is obvious from the placement of the button itself (i.e., there is not a red close button on top of each individual pane). However, at the beginning on average I accidentally closed out my entire working window two or three times per session when I simply was trying to remove a single Bible pane from the current desktop. It took a long time to get used to the fact that I had to click the "-" button on the toolbar to accomplish this. Since this is Windows software, I would expect something more windows-esque in this context.



That being said, the bottom toolbar is a useful feature. I love the idea of a context-sensitive toolbar that is always available and gives you numerous features and power at your fingertips without having to dig. For instance, when viewing the Strong's definitions for a word you can see that a small "e" appears on the toolbar, giving me quick access to an Englishman's Concordance. Very nice. The Englishman's Concordance, BTW, comes up immediately, much faster than most other packages, and provides an easy-to-use list from which to further study a specific word.

One of the features I love the most about Bible software is the ability to find all the references to the current verse throughout your entire library. PCSB is no exception here, and has a nice method to find this information. You can right-click on the verse and select either Cross-References (specific references to the verse in question, such as a commentary entry), or Smart-References (more obscure and embedded references to your verse in all the book texts), which brings up a pop-up window with the references from which you can launch a new window with that reference. PCSB goes one step further and gives you access to all books in both lists by using a special "links" icon in the Nav Panel. Clicking this button will give you access to the entire list in a categorized, tree-list view. The amazing thing is, this list appears nearly instantaneously, vying for this first spot in this category with the previous cross-reference speed king, SwordSwearcher. However, PCSB does lag a bit when you actually click the book as it pulls up the reference, while SwordSearcher is nearly instant. I should say that you can follow a very similar path for doing an in-depth study on a topic.

PCSB suffers from a number of minor interface issues, things that show a bit of sloppiness in either design or programming.

Some of the popup dialog boxes still have old-style icons that look very out-of-place compared to the nicely rendered toolbar, which you can see by clicking
HERE. Note the Close icon (which is a standard back to Windows 3.1) compared to the toolbar icons on the top. Also notice the html codes embedded in the description. (If you're not a programmer, look for the ampersands in the reference description right after the word David.) This just feels sloppy to me.

Viewing the embedded footnotes in a Bible text was very annoying. I had a terrible time consistently opening the footnotes. There were times when I clicked, double-clicked, clicked while standing on my head (you should have seen it), and I could not get the footnotes to appear. Other times, a simple click did the trick. However, even when it works the cursor does not change form to indicate the character is clickable, like you would expect in an interface in 2008. (I finally found that right-clicking on a verse and selecting Toggle Footnotes in the context menu eliminated all ambiguity, but that doesn't change the fact that the simple "click-on-a-footnote" capability is suspect.)

Hovering over a Bible reference in any book does not make the Bible verse appear for quick reference. This is the only Bible software program that I have used that does not do this simple function. Clicking the reference does nothing either. I must double-click the reference to see my Bible verse in a secondary pane. Hovering does work when inside some areas, such as search results and Smart-References, but not as a general rule across the program.

A final example is the popup window you get when you attempt to open a Bible. There are a number of no-no's on this window alone:

  • There is a checkbox that says "Click here to open the Treasure of Scripture Knowledge instead of a Bible." Since I am trying to open a Bible, this option makes no sense to me. I mean, I understand what it does, but it seems out of place on this dialog box.

  • I can type in the reference, or I can choose a book from the drop down list. But if I choose a book from the drop down, I still have to leave my mouse to type in the rest of the reference in the chapter and verse boxes. If I was going to type it in, I would just use the Bible Reference in the first place! Especially since changing the book via the drop down list changes the Bible Reference field to [Book] 1:1 anyway. The separate chapter and verse boxes are superfluous and should be removed, or better yet, changed to context-sensitive drop downs themselves, based on the selected book and chapter, respectively. This is how nearly all other packages do it, and for good reason.

  • Why is there a big gap between the Book drop down and the chapter and verse boxes?

  • The "Display Extra-Canonical Books in Drop Down List" checkbox appears regardless of whether the current selected Bible has the extra books or not. Again, context-sensitive. Be smart. Give me that option when I select a Bible with the extra books in it.

    You could accuse me of being too harsh, and maybe I am. But these are the same standards I have for software I approve at work, and I have a hard time not being the same way with the software I use. Although I am sure many PCSB fans would disagree, and possibly accuse me of not being able to break my study paradigm, I found PCSB's interface to be difficult and often non-intuitive. I was often hamstrung trying to do what I thought were basic functions, and spent way too much time trying to figure things out than I should have. Even products with what I would consider a higher learning curve and a clunky interface, such as Logos, at least have a consistency that allows you to "catch on" after repeated use. This never happened to me with PCSB.


  • Searching

    PCSB has two search options. The first, and easiest, is a basic concordance search, which is utilized by hitting the Concordance button on the top toolbar. This button does not cue off your currently open Bible, as you might expect, but requires you to select your translation in the concordance search dialog box. The search dialog box has other standard options you would expect, such as search range, start and end books, and the ability to search footnotes (a nice touch). Search results are returned in a nice result set, with the list of “hits” on the left, and a Bible pane on the right. You can hover over a verse in the result list to see that verse, our double-click the verse to see it in the Bible pane (personally, I think you should be able to single-click for this functionality; why make the user utilize extra clicks when it’s not necessary?).

    One interesting note, while watching the tutorial video, it shows that this concordance result list also returns a list of Strong’s numbers alongside each hit, so you can see which Greek work was translated into your search word for that verse. However, my search results did not have this feature; I suspect it is available in one of the more high-end PCSB versions.

    PCSB also provides the ability to search just your current book. The Search button on the bottom toolbar will provide a search dialog box very similar to the concordance search, but appropriate to just the book you are currently reading. Search results are listed at the top of the book, and double-clicking on a hit will move the book to that particular location.

    The final search capability is the Global search. Utilizing this search will search for a word or phrase selectively through your entire library. You can use “Boolean” searches to modify your search. For instance, you can search on “Jesus and (mary or martha)”. Obviously, a full search will take some time. There is an option in the preferences section to limit the number of results returned in a search. This default is set to 5,000. The search results are returned just like the other search types – as a single long list of hits. While this works well for the Concordance search and the Book search, it does not work well for the Global search, which will normally return a much larger result set. It would have been nice if the results were presented in a tree view, allowing you to open up the results from each search individually, instead of having to scroll down through thousands of hits to get to the book that you want.


    Resources

    PCSB has a nice set of resources. Not huge, like Logos, but definitely more than some of the cheaper options. All your desired Bible translations are available, and there is a good set of commentaries, dictionaries, pastoral helps, and word studies. There really wasn't much that I could find that was lacking in this area.

    However, PCSB offers less value than its competitors when it comes to your initial purchase. Basically, you get fewer resources for similarly-priced boxed sets from other publishers. For example, below is a comparison of PCSB's most expensive set (arguably the best bang for your buck) with similarly-priced products from WORDsearch and Logos:

    Software Package Number of Books Price
    PC Study Bible Professional 147 $450
    WORDsearch Preaching Library 245 $350
    Logos Leader's Library 230 $310

    As a side note, for some reason a large number of PCSB add-on resources are not available as a download, but must be shipped to you on a CD. I do not know the reason for this, and feel this is something that Biblesoft should strive to improve. Every single product I have ever purchased from WORDsearch is instantaneously downloadable.


    Extensibility

    You can enter your own notes by clicking the Note icon on the bottom toolbar. After that point the process is a bit cumbersome. A notes pane appears, from which you have to select another button determining how you want to create your note. Once you do that, yet another popup window appears asking you for the verse range for your note. Since 90% of the time I am creating a note for a specific verse, this last step especially should be refined. Find a different method for the user to designate they want a note for a range of verses. Don't make them answer the question repeatedly.

    The notes editor is underwhelming, to say the least. Standard Windows keyboard combinations do not apply. Using Ctrl-Arrow to navigate words does not work, and Ctrl-B and Ctrl-I do not bold and italicize, as expected. In fact, Ctrl-B and Ctrl-I both bring similar, but not identical, dialog boxes to change your verse reference.

    And just to pour salt in the wound, Copy, Cut, and Paste do not work anything like you would expect. Ctrl-C does not copy your highlighted text. You have to right-click to see the Copy commands. And there is no cut command. And notice, there is no paste on the context menu. So, simple things you expect to be able to do, such as highlight a piece of text, hit Ctrl-C, move your cursor, then hit Ctrl-V to paste the text into a new location simply do not work and become an exercise in frustration.

    Biblesoft offers the Biblesoft Authoring System to create your own reference materials inside PCS. References you create are available directly inside PCSB with the same cross-referencing as other resources, just as if they had been created by Biblesoft. Not only that, resources created by other users can be distributed and obtained by others free of charge.

    The product isn't what I would call easily accessible, however. I couldn't find it in the product itself, nor could I find any reference to it on the website. As a last resort, I actually checked the product help (no way!). It turns out, the authoring system is a template and a list of macros to be used in Microsoft Word. Upon reading this I was expecting a difficult and unrewarding process. However, I was completely wrong. The macro system is very well done, well-documented, and easy to use. Within 20 minutes I had a fully-referenced, embedded document inside PCSB. The beauty of this system is that most everyone uses Microsoft Word; you don't have to learn an arcane editor (Hello? Logos?) to create nicely-rendered PCSB documents. It even supports images.

    I did not follow through and attempt to place my document on the free
    Biblesoft Exchange, simply because I did not have the time to create a fully-rendered document just for the purposes of this review. However, many other people have. At last count there were approximately 135 user-created reference works available for download at the Exchange site. I did, however, download a number of these resources and installed them into PCSB. The process was painless and quick.

    The only downside is that the process is Word-specific. With my new PC I am trying to utilize free software only, and as such am now using OpenOffice. There are no macros for OpenOffice, so if you don't use Word you are out of luck. Fortunately, Word was still installed on my old machine, which is where I did the work. The Biblesoft forum moderator suggested that it would not be hard to create OpenOffice-specific macros, and Biblesoft would even assist in publishing them, but so far there have been no takers.

    I have to give high marks to Biblesoft for creating such an easy-to-use system that puts your works nicely into the PCSB framework, without charging extra. WORDsearch and Logos could learn a thing or two here.

    I felt the strength of the authoring system overcame the deep flaws in the note-taking system just enough to keep from canceling each other out, bumping the score for this section to a 4.


    Support

    Biblesoft provides excellent support for its products. In addition to a solid help file, you can get good support via the following methods:

    1.
    Online knowledge base
    2. Forums
    3. Technical support phone and email

    The forums are a great avenue for technical support. In addition to the normal helpful PCSB users, Biblesoft has a dedicated support person assigned to the forums as well. I was extremely impressed with this person. His patience, knowledge, and helpfulness went way and above the call of duty.

    In accordance with my review criteria, I emailed tech support a simple question to gauge the time lapse and accuracy of the response. The very evening that I emailed my question, I received a phone call from Biblesoft tech support. Yes, let me repeat that – I received a phone call. Apparently they had attempted to email me the answer to my question only to have the email bounce as spam. The support person was calling to give me the answer personally, as well as help me unblock their domain from my spam checker if needed. Now be serious – when was the last time you received a personal phone call from the technical support? I was trying to think of the last time it happened to me, and I came up blank. I was very impressed.


    Value

    At the time of this writing, Biblesoft was heavily discounting its boxes sets when purchased through the Biblesoft website store. In fact, the prices were significantly cheaper than you could get elsewhere, such as Christianbooks.com or Amazon.com. For instance:

    Professional  $449.95
    Advanced$299.95
    Complete$199.95
    Plus$124.95
    New$62.95
    Discovery$24.95

    These are all excellent prices for the product. But the real question is – does the price reflect real value to me for what I paid, not only on its own standing, but also when compared to other products. Unfortunately, I have to say in this regard PC Study Bible falls flat. Even though I shelled out a chunk of money for this review, I found nothing compelling to keep me coming back after the review is complete. I simply find little value when compared to its competitors.


    Copyright, 2002, 2008
    Foster Enterprises
    Email me at: Jerry [ at ] Fostertribe [ dot ] org