Bible Software Review
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WORDsearch 8

Publisher: WORDsearch 8
Version reviewed: 8.0.1.129

At A Glance (1-5)
Introduction4
Interface4
Searching2
Resources5
Extensibility4
Support4
Value5
Overall4.0


Introduction

WORDsearch's goal is "serving those who preach and teach to change lives." Their focus is on pastors and teachers. But the product they have created is accessible to everyone. Located in "cool" Austin, Texas, WORDsearch has been creating software since 1987, originally under the name NavPress, until changing to WORDsearch in 2002.


Interface

When I viewed the new WS 8 desktop for the first time something didn't seem right, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Then it hit me - the text under the icons on the toolbar. Yup, the text. First, it was a very poor choice for a font. I don't know what it is, but it seems ill-defined. Second, for some reason WS decided to abbreviate nearly anything over 5 characters. So you have winners like "Rslts," "VLst," "Commty," and "Dsktp." I can't figure it out. There is plenty of real estate, so why abbreviate? All I know is it looks very corny. In the end, it's a very small thing. But it annoys me every time I see it.

On the left side of the screen is the Resource pane. The pane "flies out", which means it pops out when you move over to the left side of the screen, then slides back out of sight when not needed. This is done primarily to conserve real estate, but the pane can easily be pinned in place if you don't like that behavior.

The pane shows your entire categorized Library. All WS titles are categorized in groups such as Bibles, Commentaries, Devotionals, Study Notes, and more. Select a book and it will appear on the desktop. You can also list books alphabetically by title or author if you can't remember that certain book. A filter feature on the pane is very handy, as well as the ability to re-categorize books into any category you wish.

The Resource pane also lists resources other than WS books, such as your own personal documents, Favorites, and Verse Lists (you know, VLst's).

As you open books and they are displayed on the pane, WS will arrange the desktop for you. The best thing about the WS desktop, in my opinion, is that books that are opened that are in the same category as an already-open book will not open in another window, but appear as a separate tab in the same window. So, not only are all your similar books close to each other on the same window pane, much real estate is preserved for other windows. While not perfect, it is the best attempt at solving the issue of managing real estate while opening a large number of books. It is very well thought out, and light-years ahead of Logos' haphazard method of handling windows.

But, WS does not hold you to this arrangement. You are free to undock windows and make them their own window, or drag them to a different window where they will automatically dock as another tab. This is the best of both worlds, where the software arranges the desktop intelligently, but gives you the flexibility of tweaking to your heart's content. Also, the currently selected book in each window pane has it's own button at the bottom of the screen, so if you wish to maximize one particular window you can easily access the other windows. This is especially nice if you maximize a window, you can still get quickly to other windows on your desktop.

Resources are automatically linked as they are opened. You can turn of linking by unchecking the link box that appears on each window. Other features on the window bar are the ability to highlight text, bookmarking, and next/previous chapter buttons. Some books even present a "special features" button, which gives quick access to special items in that book, such as a list of charts or maps.

WS's implementation of the Parallel Bible view, at least as far as aesthetics and ease of use, is the best of all the software that I tested. While it doesn't have the cool comparison capabilities of Logos, WS has done a nice job of making it very readable. You can drop or add versions with ease, and you can quickly switch back and forth between row and column view, something you can't do in any other software. Even the row view, which I normally do not like as I find it hard to really compare verses, is done very well. The parallel bible view has a really nice feature that allows you to search for a word, which it locates in each of the versions in your parallel view. This allows you to very easily see how a word is used and translated across various versions. Unfortunately, the implementation was buggy, with the engine often finding and highlighting words that were not my search term. After studying it for a while, however, I realized the errors only occurred in the ESV. If you do not have the ESV in your parallel view there should not be any issues. Hopefully WS will be able to smooth out this out in a future release.

Like QuickVerse, WS incorporates a web browser right into the interface. You can open up a browser window and navigate to any web site on the internet. You can bookmark favorite websites directly to your Favorites list, so useful resources are only a click a way. While I understand the progression, and can see the inherent usefulness of a browser, I personally am hesitant about incorporating a tool that, with a single errant (or purposeful, for that matter) click, can bring unmentionable crud directly into your Bible study software. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, I guess.

On a related note, WS offers a Word Definition tool, which is basically a browser pre-set to four different word lookup sites - Encarta, Cambridge, Dictionary,com, and Webster's. I like the feature, but I personally which it simply offered a built-in dictionary of some sort, simply due to the speed factor. It is easier for me to use WordWeb, which I have in my Windows Quick Launch bar, then to use this feature.

One of WS's most useful capabilities, and the one that drew me to it, is the Xref tool, or, Cross-Reference capabilities. Open the Xref window and it will give you a list of every single location in all your library where the currently selected verse is mentioned. For instance, not only do you see commentary entries on your verse, but you see other commentary entries for other references that reference the current verse. It expands your Bible study immeasurably. This view changes each time you change verses in your Bible view, so it is important that it is fast. And fast it is. Not near as fast as SwordSearcher's similar functionality, but fast enough. But, you have the ability to define and choose "collections" which are a subset of books that you want the Xref tool to cover, instead of your entire library. This feature elevates the tool to a new level, as you can focus specifically on a set of books, or your favorite commentaries and study helps, or whatever. Not to mention that it's even faster, since it has fewer books to scan. And you can just as easily jump back and have it search your entire library.

Other useful tools that WS provides include a Verse List and Instant Verse Study. I dismissed verse lists initially, as I didn't see their value. While not at the top of the list, I have found them to be useful. Basically, you create a verse list with a subject title, and enter verses that pertain to that subject. I have a predestination verse list that lists all the verses that have been involved in the debate. You can also give sub-titles to sets of verses. This makes it much more useful. For instance I have a Psalms Verse List. Inside this list, I have sub-titles such as "Do not fret," and, "Blessings of the God-fearing man," under which I list the Psalmist's remarks on each one.

I wish some of the tools, like the XRef, Topic Explorer, and Notes, were dockable instead of requiring their own window. It would be nice, for instance, to dock my Notes into my commentary pane, where I think it should go. But, that is only a small thing.
Searching

WORDsearch only has one search interface, as opposed to a number of different search features that you find in other software. This interface attempts to incorporate everything you might need into a single box, and for the most part, succeeds. You can search on words, phrases, use AND and OR to differentiate your search. You can search the entire Library, just Bibles, or even collections, and it includes collections that were created for XRef.

Searching is actually quite fast, though WS falls down a bit in how it presents the results. The results screen is a bit difficult to use, with all the results listed in one big window pane. There are "Quick Links" at the top of the result screen, which allow you to jump down quickly to where the results for a certain book begin. You can narrow down your search results by searching on the search, which is nice. And you can also select a set of search results to copy, print, or export to a Verse List.

All in all, the search capabilities of WS are sufficient, but needs work on the results.



A Topic Explorer is also provide, and is useful and straightforward. You simply provide a specific topic, and WS returns a list of all the resources that have that topic tagged in their content. Clicking on a resource will show the specific content. You can also open this content into it's own window.


Resources

One of the things that I really enjoy about WORDsearch is it's resource library. It offers over 2,500 volumes, which is quite extensive. While less than half of what Logos offers, it is still hundreds, or thousands, of more resources than most other Bible software packages.

But more important than just numbers, is the *type* of content that is available. WS has received some unfair criticism in that it is not as "scholarly" as, say Logos, or BibleWorks. Yet in my opinion it is that very thing that gives WORDsearch it's appeal. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying being scholarly isn't important (it is), or that WS does not have a wealth of books written by scholars and theologians (it does). I'm simply saying that for me, and by extension the type of person I am writing these reviews for, it has exactly the type of books and resources I am looking for.

I won't bore you with listing all the various types and titles of volumes available for WS, but everything you need is spread across approximately 20 categories - Bibles, Commentaries, Study Notes, Theology, Maps & Atlases, Literature, Devotionals, etc., etc. For the average Christian interested in increasing their knowledge of God's Word, I can't imagine you won't find what you are looking for here.

Books in WORDsearch that are also available in competing product are almost always cheaper, sometimes drastically so. WS also incorporates regular specials, and provides a quarterly sales flyer with heavily discounted prices. If you consider that nearly 200 books are available for free you have a very compelling reason to go with WORDsearch.

One thing that is important to note. WORDsearch has a "little brother" called Bible Explorer, that is reviewed separately. A special version of Bible Explorer has been licensed to Lifeway publishers and retitled as Bible Navigator. While BE and BN are primarily the same product, they are not the same as WS. However, and this is important, they all share the exact same book format. So, any books purchased for one set are usable by another. This can be very useful information to know. For instance, in my browsing one day I found the Bible Navigator New American Commentary set on sale at
Rejoice Software for only $250. Considering it costs $500 on the WORDsearch website, I jumped on it right then.


Extensibility

WS is extensible in a variety of ways, just not the one way I wish it was, which I will get to in a moment.

First, are the Desktop Notes. These are your personal notes linked to a Bible passage, regardless of which translation you are viewing. A small paper icon next in the Bible text informs you when a note is available. The Notes window provides a nice WYSIWYG editor that does just what you ask with no quirks. It also links verses as you type, which is extremely nice. No need to click a button, and no need to enter archaic character combinations to offset a verse, WS just knows. The Notes window also provides a great set of Navigational options, allowing you to easily jump to other notes for other verses that you have entered. And the Notes w indow is synchable, just like most other windows, so it will stay in sync with your Bible text as you study.

There is also a separate notes system for associating notes with non-Bible resources, such as a commentary or a Bible dictionary. This system is actually what was used in WS7 as it's only note feature, and was extended to Bible text as well. While functional, it is not nearly as nice as the Desktop Notes, and is the main reason why I did not use the notes feature in WS7. Hopefully in future versions the non-Bible note capability will catch up with the wonderful Desktop Notes capability.

WORDsearch has the capability to read any HTML-formatted document. With a little work this single feature can extend WS significantly. You can move any HTML document to the WS library and categorize it as desired. It will then show up in the Documents section of the resource pane. So, while not integrated directly into the WS Library, these documents are close at hand. The usefulness of your own documents is increased with the option of including them in your searches and XRef (though I had trouble getting the latter feature to work).
Any document that you created can be published, which makes it available to the entire WORDsearch community. Published documents can be obtained from the "Community" tab on the Resource pane.

WS does not allow you to create books in its default format, called CROSS. Users have been asking for the ability to create CROSS-compatible books for some time but so far WS has neglected to offer this feature to anyone other than a list of partner publishers. For now you have to be content with creating pseudo-books wit the Documents feature. Hopefully WS will open up the CROSS format someday.


Support

WORDsearch has excellent support. I have had to call them three times for support, and each time the phone was answered by a live human being who was able to help me immediately with my issue. WORDsearch also responds quickly to emails, but for the fastest service a phone call is best. A question about the parallel Bible ESV bug I mentioned above was returned in less than two business days, and with the right answer (updating the ESV). FAQs and training videos available on the web site round out the upport offered by WORDsearch.

There is a very active WS community that is centered around what WS calls Discussion Groups. Discussion Groups are built right into the WS interface, and provides a set of groups for users to communicate with each other and with WORDsearch. You can request books, get technical support, and obtains tips and tricks to help you in your study. While the community is not as varied as Logos or e-Sword, I think probably due to the fact that it is contained within the interface itself, it is extremely useful and the users have helped me out on more than one occasion.

Attempts to push the community outside of the WS boundaries by creating Yahoo groups has met with only limited success.


Value

WORDsearch is available in a number of boxed sets that can get you started easily and quickly:

WORDsearch 8 Preaching Library: $500
Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible New Testament: $250
Thompson Chain Reference Leaders Library: $199
Thompson Chain Reference Bible Library: $50

These are list prices. If you shop around you can find them much cheaper. WS is running a special right now on the Thompson Chain Reference Bible Library, offering it for $35. (Existing users were even given a $20 coupon in the spring catalog that can be applied to any purchase!). If you hunt around you can usually find the products cheaper as well. I would start out at
Christian Book, and also check out Rejoice Software as well.

WORDsearch is much more than the sum of its parts. Other software packages may beat it out when comparing an individual feature here or there, but WS has done a fantastic job of pulling all the features together into a very useful, well thought-out, and easy-to-use product that gives you a ton of value for the price. I highly recommend WORDsearch, and it is my Bible Software product of choice for my own personal use.


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