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Bible Study Software Pages: QuickVerse

QuickVerse

Background

[Ed. Note: With the release of WORDsearch 11, Lifeway appears to have eliminated the QuickVerse brand. Hence I am archiving this product evaluation, originally published in January 2009. JWG]

Note: WORDsearch purchased QuickVerse from FindEx in 2011, and ported the program to a CROSS-based platform. This review pertains only to the legacy QV application platform, which used STEP books.

QuickVerse has been around for a long time – about 20 years. Their marketing material tends to use words like “leading” and “premiere” to refer to their software, which their website claims is the “#1 Bible Study Software!”. They like to trumpet that it has sold over 1 million copies, but I have no idea what that really means in relation to the other major vendors in the field, or in terms of how many people actually use the product – there have been 15 versions, after all, and each upgrade no doubt counts as a "copy sold."

Though primarily a Windows product, there are also products for Mac, Palm, and Pocket PC. My focus is on the Windows program. The current edition, released in late November 2010,  is QuickVerse 2011, which is version number 15. Major version upgrades have been on an annual release schedule for several years, with few maintenance updates between commercial releases. From my perspective, it appears the company expects upgrades to be a significant part of its revenue stream.

The product was originally developed by Craig Rairdin (who later moved on to become President of Laridian), and was published by Parsons Technology. There have been multiple corporate buyouts over the years, and, after Rairdin’s departure , the product went through a period of strong customer dissatisfaction, but has been recovering its stature in more recent releases. It is currently owned and published by FindEx.com, Inc., of Omaha, NE.

QuickVerse is a prototypical library-oriented commercial Bible Study product, being marketed primarily in various tiers of increasing cost and content. Program upgrades are also priced on the tier model, and can make for some curious pricing. QuickVerse is the last remaining product using the old STEP standard e-book format.

With limited original language support and its approach to user data management, QuickVerse seems geared more toward personal use than for lesson/sermon preparation or academic use – it’s a hobbyist’s package, in my view. However, it does have some interesting features that deserve mention. I will reserve final judgment and recommendation until I’ve completed my analysis.

In evaluating this program, I’ve used QuickVerse versions 2007, 2008, and 2009. I have no intention of continuing to purchase upgrade releases, and so will not be able to address specifics in the newer releases. However, it does not appear to me that the program has fundamentally changed, and both the feature upgrades and the add-ons to the low-end library since version 13 (QV2009) seem trivial, and not worth the upgrade price- especially since this is not a program that compares well to other programs I own and tend to use much more frequently.

The functional additions to version 14 (QV2010) were highlighted by Facebook and Twitter integration, and the low-end library adds were highlighted by a special edition of My Utmost for His Highest, and some Warren Wiersbe Bible Studies. Version 15 (QV2011) introduces facilities for community content sharing,  on-line library backup, and Flickr and Youtube integration. Content adds are highlighted by a KJV MP3 Bible, and some works from Arthur Pink and Harold Willmington at the low-end, and expansion of the ECF series availability at higher price points.

Analysis

Searching & Search Results

Since I published a fairly extensive evaluation of QV’s searching capabilities in early 2009 based on QV2007, I will not go through it again (the interface has been improved, but it hasn’t changed functionally), except to make the general observations that search performance is noticeably slower in QV than in most of the Bible Study programs I’ve used, and the Subject Scripture Search tool introduced in QV2009 seems hardly more useful than opening a Nave’s window. However, the Analytical search tool is a pleasure to work with (Greek NT only, unfortunately), and the fuzzy logic search options mentioned in the earlier post work quite well. The Word List feature is also sensibly implemented

Search results are displayed in a two-pane, explorer-like window, with the results occupying the left pane (which, curiously, is called Table of Contents, indicating that QV uses the same object to display both books and results). The right pane is blank until a result is selected in the TOC pane, at which point it shows that result in context. This context pane displays plain text, not "Bible" text, meaning all the right words are there, but "Bible" functionality – like Enhanced Copy, Add Annotation, Parallel View, etc. – is not available to the user. A button on the window’s toolbar to open up a new window of the corresponding book has been removed from the more recent versions, though you can double-click a result to open one.

In earlier versions, results were listed as references, and grouped by translation. This made it easy to get a high-level picture of what your results set looked like, but to see what each hit said, you had to either click the reference and view it in the context pane, or hover over it with the mouse to bring up a popup. Since QV2008, the results pane has shown each result in a mini-pane up to four lines deep, listing the reference on the top line, followed by up to three lines of the verse text (which may be cut off, depending on verse length and on how wide you make that panel). This approach gives the user a better immediate sense of what each hit is, but at the expense of making it hard to get that easy high-level view of the all the hits. A solution that enabled users to toggle between refs and verses mode in the results panel would give this screen greater usability. If I had to pick one, I’d prefer the old refs-only view, since I could easily hover over any ref for which I want to see the verse – and it’s not like the current ‘verses’ view gives me anything like a concordance layout for easy comparison of how the search terms are used: it’s actually hard to read.

Search Results can be saved and retrieved, which is a nice feature. Items can be manually deleted, but there’s no way to add anything to a results set. A button on the Results window launching a ‘Search In Results’ process is an improvement in the recent versions, but one that actually brings to light several weak points of the program.

While it’s nice to be able to search within results, new results can only be ANDed against the original results, indicative of an overall lack of search results manipulability that is unfortunately all-too-common in the industry. Furthermore, the new results get populated in a new window, which gives no indication of the original search terms. While I appreciate the ability to have more than one Search Results window open, QV goes too far in not allowing windows to be re-used for new (or even modified) searches. Maybe this works for some people (everybody studies differently), but I very quickly end up with an unmanageable number of windows open every time I study in QV. Aggravating this is the way QV labels tabs on each window. These labels are often very wordy, which adds to the sense of clutter, especially when windows start multiplying to the point where they get pushed out of view. Furthermore, the tabs do not support mouse-over popups to identify missing info: a label telling me a tab contains "Commentary on the Second Epis…" does not tell me a lot, despite using up an inordinate amount of screen real estate. QV2007 had a handy popup window selector in the bottom corner of the main window that gave the full name of each book/window. This has been expanded upon to include the context (e.g. current verse) for each window, which is an important improvement, but the control has been moved to the ribbon bar at the top of the application window, where it is not always visible. It was more useful having this on the bottom status bar.

In summary, I find the Search Results handling in QV to be inadequate for my purposes, particularly since there is no Verse List type of object to make up for some of the the shortcomings. When I study, I tend to need to re-run searches several times to get exactly what I want, and then I usually want to build on those results in some way. With QV, I tend to produce a confusing array of windows, with no way to consolidate information into a meaningful datasource from which to work.

Working with Biblical Texts

Like probably every product out there, QV allows the user to choose to display Biblical texts in either paragraph mode, or new line for each verse mode. QV extends that slightly by offering a third view which places horizontal lines between verses. The program also gives you some font size and typeface options, as well as prefs to select text and background colors. Unfortunately, these are all global settings, meaning you cannot have one window showing a Bible in paragraph mode, and another window showing new-line-per-verse mode. Still, combined with the application’s skins options, I’m happy with the ability I have to set a comfortable look and feel.

A built-in parallel view tool is serviceable, if a bit awkward to navigate. You can also sync side-by-side Bible windows and approximate a parallel view. If you view your Bibles in one of the verse per line modes, this works reasonably well, but I find it sloppy and hard to follow in paragraph mode. It doesn’t help that the current verse indicator is just a small blue arrow in the left margin – if the current verse were highlighted in all synced texts, it would be much easier to follow this faux parallel view. Another design frustration related to parallel viewing is the lack of support for changing Bible-Chapter-Verse (BCV) context (hence syncing window movement) by scrolling. You can grab a window and scroll it up and down, but the only way to change the verse setting is to click last/next arrows, or click a new verse in a BCV display tree. Furthermore, the current verse is always set to the top of the display window, so you can’t see the verse before it. I’d prefer a bit of context on each side.

I’ve seen displays of the sacred text that were crisper to the eyes, easier to navigate, and functionally more dynamic, but QV is serviceable if you’re looking to keep it simple. The History window is a very handy device I wish more vendors would emulate.

QV offers several format options for copying Biblical text to a word processor, including the ability to select the complexity of citation on the fly, and fairly extensive control over prefs. It also plugs into MS Word’s Smart Tags feature, which allows users to expand references into verses automatically in Word. Personally, I find the feature more trouble than it’s worth, but if you don’t have another resident applet to handle that kind of thing, and you also don’t want to startup the QV application, perhaps you could find use for this MS Word integration.

QV comes up a bit short in terms of providing Biblical texts. I can’t think of another program that doesn’t offer a Hebrew text. Perhaps that isn’t a big deal, depending on the audience they’re writing the software for, but even the freeware out there provides one. QV also offers the smallest selection of English translations of all the products in its class. In their defense, they do have most of what might be considered the major American Bibles (though they may want to add the NET), and they are one of only a handful of software publishers providing the New American Bible, so I give them points for that.

Additional points for their Analytical Greek NT, which is the UBS4, with Friberg morphology. The text is very nicely presented, with the Greek sentence structure and the versification each being clearly identified. Furthermore, the search tool accompanying this resource is terrific. If there is a good reason to invest in QuickVerse, it is this resource. It is bundled only with the outrageously expensive “Platinum” package, but can be purchased as a separate module for $25.

Creating & Notating: User Content

When creating notes for Bible verses in a software program, there are two basic approaches: commentary mode, which assigns the note to a BCV context, which can be synced to any translation (or commentary, etc.), and footnote mode, which assigns the note to the specific translation you are using at the time. QuickVerse smartly provides both options to users, with Annotations being version-specific, and BCV-based User Books handling commentary-like functionality for user content. Creating verse notes in a user book is a strangely complicated process that results in notes buried three levels deep in a TOC tree. They only support notes for single verses, not ranges. Frankly, they’re too clumsy for my liking, but I’m sure folks who use QV as their primary study environment find them more useful than I do.

Whether editing an Annotation or a User Book entry, the ribbon bar switches to an Edit mode that provides easy access to basic text functions, as well as a few wizards to help with creating hyperlinks to verse contexts, book content, Google maps, or other URL-addressable content (websites, etc.). Although you can move both these kinds of user content objects between QV installations, they are unfortunately not available to other programs, such as word processors or html editors. User Books can be searched with the main search tool like any other library book, and the Annotations have their own search utility, which allows text searches of notes associated with selected books.

One of the neat quirks of QV is that is keeps track of highlighting, joining it at the hip with bookmarks. Bookmarks can be assigned user-determined categories, and highlights are basically a bookmark with the category “Highlight.” A “Bookmarks & Highlights” screen allows the user to get an overview all the markups in the library, and provides a bit of flexibility in viewing it, but I think the screen was more useful before the interface change in QV2008. Earlier versions of the Marker List included the Scripture reference or book paragraph heading that was highlighted or bookmarked, which the newer screen omit! That would seem to be a critical piece of information! The older screen also displayed a timestamp for when bookmarks were created – a very useful piece of information that is still available in the new versions, but only by clicking open a bookmark object to edit it. Having “Name,’” “Category,” and preview information available is a nice touch in the newer screens, but I consider the change to be a net loss – by a long shot – considering the loss of other information.

Two additional User Book types are available in QV: Date-based books, and Topical books. The topical books are pretty straightforward: each section of the book is a node given a user-defined word, such as Hope, Faith, Resurrection, etc. These are convenient objects in which to keep track of thoughts, ideas, or other content relevant to a series of subjects or topics. You have to create multiple levels of nodes in the template provided before you can start writing, the topical entries you create do not appear to show up in the program’s topical navigation tree, and searching these books, while it will return hits on words within the text of the lowest level (4th level) nodes, does not give any indication of the subject entry under which the word was found.

The date-based User Books are similar to the others, except that each user entry is a node beneath a month-day date. These might be useful for journaling, or perhaps for storing sermons. Again, searching with the standard book search tool will find content in these books, but give no indication of what date the entry was made under (you can double-click the search result to open the originating book, but that’s a pretty sloppy way of looking at search results).

There is no free-form text object available in QV. Likewise, there is no verse-list type of object.

Summary

I have not evaluated how the various components of the program work together to create the total user experience (shame on me for never getting around to finishing this, even after two and a half years!), but I am concluding this review regardless, as QV has become a dead product as a result of the WORDsearch purchase. It seems quite certain that QV2011 will be the final version of Quickverse.

[Update: To the contrary, WORDsearch did release a version called QuickVerse 10, but it is not an upgrade of the legacy QuickVerse program, but rather a stripped-down version of WORDsearch 10.5, which incorporated a number of features similar to legacy QuickVerse. The program reviewed here is certainly end-of-life.]

Ultimately, this will be a good thing for QuickVerse users, as WORDsearch is a superior product, the selection of resources is much deeper, and the owning company seems much more deeply committed to serving God by promoting the study of the Bible. That being said, WORDsearch lacks any analytical search tools, and would benefit greatly from adopting QuickVerse’s approach to thesaurus searching, use of word lists in the search dialog, and vastly superior mechanism for managing annotations & highlighting. I hope this purchase proves to be a win-win for users of both products.