WORDsearch 9 Released: Initial Impressions

WORDsearch 9 was released Monday, roughly two years after the release of version 8. This is the third release of WORDsearch developed on the Bible Explorer platform for CROSS eBooks. Long-time WORDsearch users who have been waiting for a return of the search results management genius of the old Ref List will not find what they’re looking for, but some significant improvements have been made to version 8 nonetheless.

The biggest improvement, by far, was a complete reworking of the window syncing mechanism. In the two previous iterations of WS, as in Bible Explorer, each window (for books organized on a book-chapter-verse structure, such as Bibles, commentaries, outlines, etc) had a sync button, which could be turned on or off by the user – a general preference setting would determine which state the window originally opened in. Every book which was synced would cause all other synced books to follow along with it as it changed context.

In WS9, there are now four distinct sync groups to which any sync-capable window can be sg01 assigned, meaning that certain windows can be synced to each other, while other windows can be synced together in a different context. This multi sync-group functionality would be familiar to users of Logos. However, WORDsearch also introduced an optional driver/slave mode, similar to how Pradis managed its sync groups – but WS9 allows the user to manage the driver status directly from each window, instead of launching a dialog box. With a driver window defined in a sync group, only the driver window will cause the other windows synced to it to change context – the slave windows can be moved around in without affecting any other windows, and will then re-sync to the driver window when the driver window changes context.

Also new is the ability to designate a Bible window as an xref target window (again, familiar to Logos users). This is a major improvement over the unpredictability of WS8 when clicking links, and is made even more useful when the target window is joined to a sync group.

Another long-overdue improvement in WORDsearch is support for a NOT operator in search strings, which is entered as ANDNOT.

sdiag01 Searching, in general, has become a bit friendlier, because of several subtle changes to the Search dialog interface that make it easier to find and select books to search. The Search box finally supports the ability to type <> delimiters, which allows the user to use one or more Strong’s numbers in the main search string (as opposed to using the special "Strong’s #" search dialog, which will only accept a single number).

Also new are options to automatically include plurals of English nouns, and various forms of English verbs. A new Spelling Helper applet on the search dialog box can help eliminate bogus searches due to spelling errors, as well as generating lists of available words in the selected resources. These extra helps are not quite as robust as the similar features in QuickVerse, but they should prove to be useful.

WS9 introduces the concept of the Carousel, which allows the user to define a set of frequently-used books of particular types (Bibles, commentaries, and dictionaries, roughly speaking), which will always be available to "flip" to from a similar window type, with a single mouse-click or keystroke. As you flip from favorite to favorite using the Carousel, the contents of the books will attempt to sync to the preceding favorite, though it’s hard to do that consistently with dictionary-type books.

In prior versions of the WS Verse List, the entire text area was "hot" for triggering sync events, and any time you clicked on a verse or passage in a Verse List, every window with syncing turned on would move to the verse you’d selected in the VL. In WS9, only the reference itself is "hot" for syncing; you can select the text of a verse without triggering a window sync. Furthermore, VLs now have Sync buttons, meaning syncing can be turned off altogether, or a specific sync group can be chosen. Clicking a "hot" area (ref) in a VL that is un-synced will drive a "target Bible" window to display the verse in the context of the translation defined by the VL ref link, making it easy to find the range of the passage you may want to expand your verse result into.

The Cross Reference Explorer (XRE) has been markedly improved from it’s initial iteration in WS8. There is now a Cancel button to kill unintended searches. Multiple hits for a reference within a single page/section are now collapsed into a single entry in the search results, with a (#) indicating how many hits are available on the page. The tree control for results has also been improved to require less mouse-clicking to get to your results.

XRE search hits in books (not user docs, unfortunately) are now highlighted in the content pane WS9 Cross Reference Explorer(making the tool MUCH more useful), and the content pane now automatically scrolls so that the first hit is visible – usually.

Bible Notes are also now searchable by the XRE – functionality that was always selectable in WS8, but never worked. This is a great way to create your own inverse cross-reference resource.

One of the key capabilities lost in the transition from WS7 to WS8 two years ago was the ability to create links in documents to sections of books. This capability has returned in WS9, and it is extremely simple to do – unlike the multi-step process involving bookmarks in WS7. WS9 also provides a simple interface for creating links to Biblical passages within documents and Bible Notes using plain text for the link (as opposed to Biblical references, which continue to automatically generate links to Biblical passages).

Fans of Inductive Bible Study – among others – will appreciate the new ability to assign labels to any or all of the dozen highlighting colors available, though I believe highlighting would be far more useful for Bible study if it were supported within Verse Lists. Another nice touch in WS9 is that highlighting can be applied now as either traditional highlighting, or as colored underlining.

The Instant Verse Study tool can now be populated using a Collection, and the Copy button now makes it very clear that content is only being copied to the clipboard, requiring the user to paste it wherever he wants to use it. Collections are much easier to use in this version, and a Manage Collections window has been provided. A Library Manager tool allows the user to hide unwanted books, and the SmartLink scripture popups will no longer position themselves so low on screen they cut off text.

On the downside – and avoiding complaining about what the program doesn’t do – several significant problems either persist, or were introduced with this release.

[Update: the problem described in this paragraph has been fixed in a maintenance release.] Searching MyDocuments for text – one of the potential deal-makers that could set this program in a class by itself among its competitors in this respect – has gone from blowing up whenever it encounters a malformed HTML file, to blowing up whenever it encounters a PDF file that is not an HTML file. Needless to say, no PDF file is an HTML file, and if you’re like most people these days, and you have PDF files (which WS has supported since WS8 as library resources), then document searching is utterly broken for you. The original problem goes back at least to WS7 – probably to the earliest versions of Bible Explorer – and the function is rendered worse than useless at this point. Search will not even return results from CROSS books if there is a PDF file in the search path.

[Update: the problem described in this paragraph has been fixed in a maintenance release.] Similarly to the initial release of WS8, support for Personal Notes for non-Bible books has vanished from this release. When WS8 was released, even the icon for Notes was gone from the windows, but it is still there in WS9 – it just doesn’t do anything. It remains to be seen whether they will make a comeback in WS9, like they did in WS8, but there was a hue and cry two years ago when they disappeared, and I can’t imagine the user response will be any different this time around.

I’m finding changes to the Search Results display a bit hard to adapt to (I’ve been using WS9 in beta sr901 for several months). There’s more of a tree structure now, and there is a pronounced focus on how results are distributed among the books of the Bible. That’s all terrific in theory, but there is no way to segregate results from multiple translations – they are treated independently within the results for each book of the Bible, but I sorely miss being able to scroll through the full results of each queried translation independently. I also miss the hit numbering, which has disappeared from the left-hand column. I understand what they were trying to do, and I’d like to see them refine it, but this screen looks more like a rough draft than a finished piece of work.