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I thought Laridian dealt only with Bible programs for mobile devices. And while that is their bread-n-butter, they also
have PocketBible, a version of their software that runs on a Windows PC.
PocketBible can be purchased, downloaded, and installed on your PC or your laptop just like a regular program.
However, Laridian has an ace up their sleeve with the USB delivery option for PocketBible. This is a version that runs
completely from a USB drive. No program to install, and you can take it, and all your notes, anywhere. No more worrying
about multiple versions of your software, no copyright concerns with installing your software on multiple computers, and
no worries about having notes in multiple places. Short of a web-based product (something so far on Bible Pro has really
attempted), this is the next best thing to having your Bible software with you anywhere you go. In fact, one could argue
its even better than a web-based product as you don’t need internet access; just a USB port.
When I popped the Laridian USB drive into the PC for the first time, it installed a number of drivers in order to make the
USB drive available for use. I did get a couple messages along the lines of "Has not passed Windows Logo testing to verify
its compatibility with Windows XP," but I simply hit the [Continue Anyway] button and pressed on with no ill effects.
After the USB drive was recognized, a new drive was available to me from which to launch Pocket Bible. At this point you
have a decision; you can run everything off the USB drive, in which case all your user-created content is saved to the USB as well.
Or, you can install the application on your PC just like any other application.
Which you decide is simply a matter of preference and use. If you want to use your PocketBible on numerous computers, it’s a
no-brainer. For instance, with 6 people in our house and only 2 computers you don’t always have a choice on which PC to use.
With the USB-contained version it doesn’t matter. The weird thing about the USB-only option is that you really can't have a
shortcut on your menu or in your favorites, as it won't be valid when the USB drive is not in place.
But if you are always going to be using one computer you probably want to consider installing the product so you don’t have to
always find and insert the USB drive to do your studies. Also, if you are super-anal-retentive like me and like to see all your
available Bible software icons all lined up nice and tidy, well then, this is your only option.
PocketBible starts up fairly quickly, unlike other Bible software programs. My first impression of the interface is that it
is uncluttered and simple, though not in a bad way. I was immediately struck by the lack of buttons on the toolbar.
Basically you have Go To, Find, four navigational buttons, two synchronization buttons, and Help. Yup, that’s it. Does this
mean PocketBible is more efficient, or just less featured? We’ll come back to that in a bit.
The software started with six windows open. The largest window in the upper left is the Bible pane. Surrounding this pane
in a rotated L-shape are windows for Commentaries, Dictionaries, Devotionals, Other books, and a Personalization Window (which
holds bookmarks, personal notes, search results, and highlights). Again, PocketBible aims for simplicity – no fancy skins
or color schemes. But, the window you are working in does change to a yellow background, which is a nice touch. You do have
full control of all the colors of the various items on the interface via the Options panel, but I like how PocketBible assumes
a straightforward scheme to begin with, as opposed to anything that could be construed as garish.
I really appreciated the consistency across all windows. For instance, all book windows have a row of tabs at the bottom
with all the currently opened books for that category. At the end of the row is a [More] tab, from where you can add or
remove books from the list. Each window also has the ability to Zoom, show a Parallel view, Close book, or Close window.
Finally, there are small buttons at the top and bottom of each thumb scroll bar, which allows you to jump to the previous or
next chapter, book, reading, etc., based on the book type in said window.
The functionality of most of these buttons is very intuitive and self-explanatory, so there is no need to dive into each one in
detail, expect for the parallel view, which is available on nearly every single window. When you press the parallel button,
the current window is split into a vertical parallel view for every single book listed in the row of tabs below the window.
Not a big deal if you only have two or three books open for the current window. But if you have a dozen it opens them all up
in a very cramped style. To get just the books or Bibles you want in a parallel mode you must first close any books you don’t
want so that the only books you have opened are the ones you want to see in a parallel view. This method is simple, but probably
more cumbersome than I would like. For instance, if I have five Bibles open that I use often, but I only want to compare two
of them side-by-side at a given moment, I have to close down three Bibles, do the parallel thing, then re-open the three I closed when finished.
Window placement in PocketBible is pretty rigid – you can’t undock, move, or minimize them as you might come to expect from a
Windows application. But the net effect is not as bad as it seems, at least on my large monitor. If you want to open up a
new set of windows, Laridian has come up with a unique method to place that window in the interface. If I want to open a new
Dictionary “set,” as Laridian calls the window, I get a dialog box with a scroll bar giving me every single option where I might
want to place this new window. It is simple, but effective (I’m seeing a pattern here).
The only time this was a problem was with the Personalization Window. For some reason, toggling a PW did not give this same dialog
box – the window is always placed on the far right. In other words, once I turned it off from the default configuration (which I
liked best after experimentation), I had a terrible time trying to get the windows back into that same configuration.
The PocketBible interface has been refined so that overall behavior is very intelligent. The Go To button on the toolbar is a
perfect example. Where many software packages will have separate functions to jump to a bible verse, or view the table of contents
for a book, or jump to a specific dictionary entry, all this functionality has been rolled into a single Go To button in PocketBible.
If you have a book selected, Go To will take you to the table of contents. For a dictionary, you get to select a specific word entry.
For a Bible, you are given an intuitive window to select or type the desired passage. And so on. Nicely done.
Synchronization between the text and commentaries is an all-or-nothing affair - you can’t synchronize individual windows or books, you
can only turn the feature on or off for the entirety of the interface via a single Synchronization button on the toolbar. I would
imagine some users will find this annoying, but in reality, at least for me, it’s not an issue since 95% of my time I want my books
synchronized to the current Bible text. What is much more annoying for me is the fact that the books are synchronized to the top-most
verse in the window pane. In other words, as I scroll through the text the synchronized books stay in tune to whatever verse is at the
top. But this is not how I read. Normally I will jump to a passage and then start to read down through the text. If I get to a verse
where I would like to see commentary entries, I have to actually scroll the text up so that the verse in question becomes the top-most
verse in the view. And if I am using the scroll button on my mouse, combined with the fact that all Bible text in PocketBible is in
paragraph form, as opposed to single-verse-per-line, this can become an exercise in frustration. It would be much more intuitive to
me if a single click on a verse would jump the synchronized books. Even a double-click. The current method is a pane, er pain. :)
Right-clicking in a verse actually gives you a short menu allowing you to Lookup or Find the actual word you clicked. Lookup will
attempt to find the word in the currently chosen dictionary. The Find option will find that word across all your books. We will
look into this feature more closely in the Searching section below. These two features are well and good, but I was surprised that
there was not more in-depth options based on the verse itself. But as it turns out, there is. You actually have to right-click on
the verse number itself in order to trigger the context-sensitive verse menu. I only figured this out by reading through the Help file
(reading the help? Who does that?). At first I thought this was a cool feature, but the more I used it the less enamored I became,
simply because I did not like having to precisely place my cursor directly over the verse number to get the extra options. I could see
no reason why both sets of options shouldn’t be available when I right-click anywhere in the verse. Incidentally, this is already the
case when you right-click in a commentary or a dictionary entry – all the options are available.
The extra options with the verse menu allow me to copy or highlight a verse, add notes to the verse, set a bookmark, and, could it be?
Yes! You can synchronize to that verse without having to scroll up. Woo hoo! Seriously, this only partially mitigates my complaint,
because right-clicking on a verse number and choosing the synchronize option still takes too much time, when just left-clicking on the
verse would do the same thing in a much quicker fashion. At the very least, I would recommend to Laridian to give an option in the
Options panel on which verse-based feature from the context menu would you like to have triggered with a simple left-click.
Under the Edit menu is a number of options that allow you to configure and modify PocketBible’s behavior and interface. Here is where
you can uncover and expose some of PocketBible’s more powerful features. For instance, you can add nearly all the options as buttons
on the toolbar, making it more full-featured looking and less barren.
But the best part is a very solid and full-featured Options panel. You can change or modify just about anything here –colors, fonts,
links, format of copied verses, your preferred books in each category, and so much more. One option I thought was smart was the ability
to place your personal data in the current working directory, or in your My Documents folder. This is useful if you are using the USB-only
option, so that your personal information will stay on the USB drive.
One downside -- at one point I consistently received an “Error - Unexpected Exception” dialog box with a ton of nice hex data when I would
save my options. But the program recovered nicely and all my option changes still took effect, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Later, I was unable to recreate the error.
Previously I mentioned that you could set a bookmark using the verse-context menu. In working with this option I realized that a bookmark
in PocketBible is very similar to a verse list in other packages. The act of setting a bookmark is actually assigning it to a pre-defined
category. Later, in the Personalized Window, you can view all your bookmarked verses by each category. This is a unique and clever take
on the traditional bookmark paradigm.
Laridian has used their expertise in creating effective interfaces for tiny hand-held screens to good use, providing users with a clean and
efficient interface that looks sparse compared to the clutter and dozens of windows foisted on me by some of their competitors. And I think
most users would view this as a good thing. But I was initially afraid that the overall effect would be a product that was solid, just not
for power users. However, after using the product for a while I no longer think that to be the case. The power is there, either via intelligently
programmed interface, or through the Options dialog, or through some nicely hidden interface gems that require some digging. Power users should
Searching is pretty much handled by the “Find” button on the toolbar. Clicking this button switches the view to the Search tab
in your Personalized Window. (Alternatively, you can simply select the Search tab on the PW directly.) Type in a search phrase
(which will attempt to auto-complete for you) and you will see the results in the search window for the book you currently have
highlighted. The search is lightning fast, rivaling, if not surpassing, that of current search speed kings SwordSearcher and The
Word. Your results are shown in the search window, each hit listing the word in context as a link to the actual location in the
book. Clicking the link didn’t take you to the exact location of the word, however, but usually to the beginning of the verse or
book section where the word is contained. This is a bit annoying, but the fact that the word itself is highlighted in the text
makes finding the context fairly simple.
You can search on individual words or phrases. You can utilize Boolean expressions, such as AND, OR, and NOT. You an also use
wildcards when you can’t find the exact spelling of that word you know is there somewhere. Combining all of these into a simple
search field gives PocketBible a very flexible and powerful search tool. For instance, the following gave me all the verses that
contained both James and Bartholomew but not Peter, where I didn’t know how to spell Bartholomew:
(James AND Barth*) NOT Peter
But wait, there’s more! Literally, there is a [More] button that gives you some interesting options. You can search inside specific
categories (which searches inside all your bookmarks for just the given category), in specific sets of verses, or, in a unique-but-doubt-I’ll-ever-use-it option,
verses that are highlighted in a specific color. I guess I can see if you are very particular about highlighting, using specific colors
for specific categories, how this might be useful. But most likely not for me.
This search as described would be good. But here is where Laridian once again utilizes some nifty interface tweaks to make an apparent
simple function much smarter. You will notice right above the search results a small drop-down object that lists every single open book
with the number of hits for the search phrase in that book. Selecting the book from the drop-down will show you the search results for
the same word in that book. Even better, you can actually select a book as normal by clicking on it from the regular interface, and the
search results will switch to the results for the newly-selected book. This is extremely intuitive and useful, especially when I
noticed it didn’t appear to be doing another search. In other words, it the original search was done for all open books at once!
This makes the speed of the original search even more amazing.
But wait, there’s even more! With a book or Bible text selected, you can just start typing search words or phrases “blindly,” provided
they make sense for the book in question. For instance, with NASB selected I just started typing in a verse. My words actually appeared
in the window title, and when I press [Enter] it jumps right to that verse. Similarly, when my dictionary program is selected, typing
“sacrifice” directly will push me right to that entry.
And did I mention it was fast? Granted, it only had to search through about 15 books for my test. But still, the results return in a
very gratifying sub-second time frame.
I purchased the Bronze edition of PocketBible, and was pleased with the provided Bibles for the price. I appreciate it when the
cheapest library includes the NASB and the NIV, translations that are usually reserved for the more expensive bundles in other
software products. On the other hand, the library is light on most of the other categories. In fact, this is PocketBible’s biggest
area of concern in general – the overall number of available volumes is just plain small. I counted roughly 120 volumes across all
categories available to the PocketBible user. This number just doesn’t hold up to any other similarly priced products, from
e-Sword to Bible Explorer.
The reason for this comes from Laridian’s focus as a product for mobile devices. This is an excerpt from an interview of Craig Rairdin,
founder and president of Laridian:
We target mobile device users. For the most part those users aren't interested in carrying 4000 reference books in two dozen languages
around with them all the time. They need the essentials at their fingertips. And while they're interested in the original languages,
they don't regularly read from nor study from Greek and Hebrew Bibles. A few good English Bibles and some quality reference books and
So I understand the reasons, and they make sense to a point. For basic bible study and teaching, which is the focus of these reviews,
PocketBible’s library will do nicely. However, I would really want to see a more diverse and growing library, especially in the Commentary
and Dictionary categories.
PocketBible has the ability to save personal notes for each verse. As previously noted, you right-click on a verse and select “Add Note”
from the context menu. You are presented with a separate window in which you can type your text. The editor is very basic, just a large
text field. There are no word processor-type functions to help you format your text in a visual fashion (normally known as a WYSIWYG editor).
The editor does allow a basic subset of HTML tags that do all you to do some formatting. I really shouldn’t have to enter archaic (to a
non-programmer) tags in order to give my text a modicum amount of formatting. Not only that, but there is no way to actually see what my text
is going to look like until I hit [Ok] and view the note in the interface. If it’s not exactly what I wanted I have to Edit the note again.
Lather, rinse, and repeat, until you finally get what you are looking for. At least the verse references are automatically linked for you.
Once the notes are in place, they do flow well in the interface. As I navigate through different books, my notes update automatically. The
notes window also provides a list of all your notes together, so you can jump to a specific note directly.
On a related note, all of you personal information - notes, categories, bookmarks and highlights – are stored in a single file. This is great.
It means backing up all your personalized input is a snap. You simply need to copy the Laridian Data.db to the location of your choice. It also
means you can copy this file back and forth between different PocketBible installations and keep the exact same notes. This could be very useful
in a household like mine where we have more than one computer, but you don’t know exactly which computer will be available at any given time.
I already have a program that syncs My Documents between my desktop and my laptop. So, if I do some work in PocketBible on the laptop, but later
need to continue my studies on my desktop, all my updated notes and personalizations are present. Neat.
Laridian also provides an authoring tool named BookBuilder that allows you to create your own books. Actually finding solid information on BB,
however, was an exercise in frustration. The help file makes mention of it, stating information can be found on the web site. But there were not
outright references to the product that I could find anywhere. I found mention of it in the Copyright notice, and also in the Revision History
section. But it was not listed in the Product pages, which is where I expected to find it. I finally found the product page by going into the
Knowledge Base and doing a search on “BookBuilder,” which gave me a direct link to the product pages. I finally was able to find the product under
the Window Mobile family of products on the web site. But if the product is useful for other Laridian products, Laridian may want to consider
expanding its presence accordingly.
BookBuilder comes in two flavors – standard and professional. The costs are $29.99 and $99.99 respectively. These seem to be reasonable priced,
and fits with Laridian’s more middle-of-the-road pricing model. For instance, creating new books in SwordSearcher or e-Sword is free, while doing
the same in Logos requires you to take out a small personal loan. I like Laridian’s take here – you pay a fair price for a useful extension.
I did not purchase either BookBuilder product, so I cannot review the exact functionality. My take, from reading the instructions and the product
pages, is that you create an HTML-tagged file, and utilize the BookBuilder program to turn that file into an actual PocketBible-compatible book.
The professional version has a number of extra features and programs designed to make this process even easier, and is recommended for those who
are desire to create books for general public consumption. If you use the professional version, Laridian will also help you go through some extra
steps to make publishing your books even easier.
Given the availability of BookBuilder, I was hoping to find repositories of non-Laridian books on the web. However, I was unable to find any.
I don’t know what that means, perhaps I did not look I the right places, or maybe 3rd-party books are reserved for more formal retail outlets.
If you know of any, please let me know.
I was very impressed with Laridian’s support overall. They have a solid set of support options, and keep them well up-to-date.
First is the online support system. This consists of a well-populated knowledgebase repository and a ticket reporting system. The
knowledgebase consists of articles, FAQs, and known issues that can be looked up to help solve a particular problem. If the knowledgebase
does not help, you can submit your problem via the ticket system. I was impressed with the support system, being a centralized location
to view current status and the history of any and all issues you have reported.
One neat feature of the ticket system (which I don’t think is specific to Laridian – I’ve seen it used on other websites) is that while
you are entering your issue it will attempt to find knowledgebase articles that pertain to the subjects referenced in your submission.
I thought this was a nice touch. I submitted a ticket asking why I couldn’t easily sync to a verse without scrolling (knowing I had
already figured it out on my own). It took less than a day to receive a response, which was excellent.
Laridian also maintains a blog, written by Craig Rairdin, founder and president of Laridian. Craig posts
with decent regularity, usually every week or two. I always appreciate when the owner or president of a software company makes it a
point to communicate with his user base in such a fashion. Not only is this a great way to get information on the company, but it
provides a sense of connection with the company itself. This sort of intangible can be invaluable. Craig’s posts, and more importantly,
his tireless response to all the comments, give you a sense of his passion for the product, and by extension, his users.
On the flip side, I was disappointed that Laridian does not offer a forum for its users. Nor could I find one that may have sprung up
outside the company walls, such as a Yahoo group. A forum can be one of the strongest support points for a company, letting the users
share information and often do the support work for the company. A passionate and satisfied user base is the best sales and support
tool a company can have.
PocketBible is available in three, reasonably-priced, products:
One thing that is important to remember in this review is that I am comparing the Windows desktop version of PocketBible with other
desktop Bible software products. Laridian has built its resume on PocketBible for mobile platforms, such as Windows devices, Palm OS,
and now the iPhone. While these are all excellent products, made even stronger by the integration of books and synchronization of
personal data across all platforms, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the company’s foray on to the Windows desktop.
At first I was cool on the product, as the simple interface belied the power underneath. But I soon grow to appreciate its efficiency,
and the many subtle and not-so subtle features that make PocketBible a worthy contender. It is obvious that Laridian programmers need
to be more resourceful when coding within the constraints of a mobile screen, and it is nice to see they have brought that restrained
mindset to the desktop, resisting the urge to create a cluttered interface with their newfound freedom. Laridian has created a
competitive Windows desktop Bible software program at a reasonably-priced entry point that can stand on its own. When you combine
that with the take-it-anywhere capability of the USB-only feature, or the ability to synchronize with Laridian’s mobile products, you
have a very compelling solution indeed.