WORDsearch 11: Product Evaluation
The current major version (WORDsearch 11) was released in early September 2015, about three years after the prior significant product release (version 10.5). This is the second major version release of WORDsearch since the product was sold to Lifeway in 2011. With the release of version 11, Lifeway appears to have retired the QuickVerse brand, which had spent the last couple years of its commercial life as a functionally limited edition of the WORDsearch program.
The specific build evaluated here is the 18.104.22.168 Windows desktop app, published in early October, 2015, with additional testing and analysis done with subsequent releases up to 22.214.171.124.
Before concluding my assessment, I will also touch on the IOS app, evaluated on both iPad and iPhone at version 3.4.7, and on the WORDsearch functionality available at www.mywsb.com.
The immediate prior releases (10.5/10.6, 2012/2013) had mostly focused on integrating features into WORDsearch from the QuickVerse program that had been acquired by WORDsearch just prior to Lifeway’s purchase of WORDsearch in 2011. Having now undergone several additional years in development under new management, version 11 can be seen as the first real “Lifeway” edition of the program. Interestingly, not much has changed.
Version 11 introduces a new knowledge management tool called the NoteStacks window, implements a functionally-limited dual-monitor option, gives the application a more up-to-date appearance, and otherwise entails some tweaks and shuffling around of things. In my opinion, WORDsearch is a program that consists of lots of great ideas, which often never get quite finished or fleshed out to their capacity. I was hoping the new Lifeway management would develop a more polished product, but version 11 is really just more of the same.
Used as a simple Bible Study tool, WORDsearch is actually a fairly sleek product, and some users may wonder why I believe it lacks polish. Opening up, for example, a Bible window, a commentary window, and perhaps a third window for something else, the overall interface is clean and pretty self-explanatory. Navigating the Bible is done using a familiar tree-type control in a collapsible TOC pane, or by using a very handy verse-picker navigation drop-down box which works similarly to date-picker controls familiar from other applications or web sites. That box also accepts text, if you want to just type in a reference and go. Bible navigation is very easy in WORDsearch, except that the vertical scroll bars do not provide a way to move beyond chapter boundaries – an odd omission to have not fixed for the decade and a half the program has used the current interface.
This basic interface has been developed from the HTML/XML-based technical foundation of the old Bible Explorer application from Epiphany Software, which WORDsearch bought in 2003, adopting it as a replacement for its old STEP-based program. The challenge has been in scaling that effectively simple application to the demands of a functionally complex system of tools supporting a large library of integrated resources.
User-Created Content Tools
If there’s anything that sets WORDsearch apart from the competition these days, it would be in the variety of tools and options available to support user-created content. The oldest such tool is a basic text editor, called the Word Processor. Very basic, and lacking common features such as an auto-save capability (the lack of which can lead to data loss in an application as historically flaky as WORDsearch!), it creates HTML files stored within the PC’s “My Documents” file system (and hence perfectly usable outside the program), and which are searchable within the program. Likewise, externally created HTML files are editable and searchable within WORDsearch, and PDF files also appear as Documents within the program, though they are not searchable.
This HTML editor, whether as a stand-alone window or as an annotation pane attached to the bottoms of various other tools, automatically converts Biblical references to hyperlinks which provide pop-up windows of Biblical text on mouse-hover, or open the default Bible to the passage on mouse-click. However, the application does that by using (and trapping) an Internet URL pointing to a crossbooks.com website that has been dead for years, limiting the usefulness of the documents outside the program, since other applications are obviously not trapping that URL and redirecting to an internal WORDsearch function, but rather will try to open the useless Internet address of the link.
Actually, all the links to Bibles or other books exported from the program similarly point to dead URLs. It is precisely that kind of almost-working-but-never-quite-there quality that has soured me on WORDsearch over the years. The reason for this particular sloppy execution is rooted in basic design decisions made well over a decade ago and now deeply embedded in their products – I get that – but WORDsearch lost me when I realized they were more invested in doing things like porting Mac and mobile versions of the app and incorporating Twitter tweeting than they were in going back to overhaul the Bible Explorer and CROSS format core, to improve the program’s real weaknesses. This is the kind of thing I’m referring to when I say the program lacks polish.
Another old user content “document” is the Verse List, which was introduced in version 7 (2004), and remains largely unchanged since then. These are used to collect and group Biblical verses, are flexible in how they can do that, and provide local annotation capability for either individual list entries (either single verses or ranges), or for the header to any sub-sections of the Verse List document. These data objects would be greatly enhanced by the ability to export, or even by a better report generator to prepare for printing, but they can only be printed like web pages, using the kludgy Internet Explorer printing interface.
A Biblical annotation tool was developed for version 8 (2007), called Bible Notes or Notebooks, which allow for the creation of several independent notebooks of annotations. Each annotation is linked to a verse or a range (i.e. not to a specific translation), and creates a selectable flag within Bibles at the corresponding location, which can be used to quickly retrieve an annotation. What is not quick is creating an annotation from a particular passage: you cannot simply select a passage and create an annotation for it, you must open up a notebook and create a new annotation, assigning it the correct passage/verse reference. This, I would think, must be exactly the opposite of how most people think and work. The Notebook tool provides optional syncing to four available sync groups, multiple means of navigation, and an internal text search mechanism, though the notes are not searchable outside the tool. Based on verse reference, annotation content can be exported in the Instant Verse Study tool, but not either of the other reference-driven search tools (see Searching below). A similar export can be performed via the application’s main File menu, which uses a new internal HTML document as the export target. The windows are not dockable.
Since version 10.5, users can create their own “User Books”, a data object type taken over from QuickVerse. These dockable windows can be of three kinds: organized by either Biblical reference (commentary), topical headword (dictionary), or date (journal/devotional). They can be awkward to get used to, but they do the job. However, the content of the “books” is neither searchable nor importable. Nor can links be created to the content of these books. Exporting works better, as there is a serviceable report generator sitting in front of the Print Preview function for User Books, which allows for a degree of customization and filtering before sending either to print or to an HTML file.
Also from version 10.5, the program offers a “Sermon and Illustrations” management tool, which facilitates the centralization of prepared teaching/preaching content, providing for tracking usage history, and filtering entries on user-created topical tags to help find old, usable content from prior work. It also has a field for entering related Scripture, but it does not appear to support searching for or filtering on those entries, except as plain text! The other search tools cannot search the content of these notes, nor is there an export capability. The editor includes a clickable button for creating a hyperlink within the documents, but it doesn’t work.
New to version 11 is the NoteStacks tool. This seems to be a somewhat improved Sermons and Illustrations tool, with a broader and more general applicability. It can also serve nicely as an improved tool for annotating non-Biblical books, which still come with a simple but a problematic, unreliably designed annotation pane dating back before WORDsearch to Bible Explorer. If you’re a heavy WORDsearch user and note-taker, this tool would be worth the price of upgrading -which is good, because it is almost the only real significant improvement in version 11, in my view. I. provided an assessment of this tool in a blog post last autumn. The printing function for this tool is crude, but the “Copy” function from the main NoteStacks dialog is an effective export function for copying one or more complete note objects to a word processor, and the tool has note importing and exporting capability using a proprietary file format. There are several ways to group and filter entries, and the interface is a little kludgy, and so it has a bit of a learning curve, but this is a nice knowledge management tool. The window is, unfortunately, not dockable (and therefore can’t be moved to a second display).
WORDsearch 11 retains the eight different searching interfaces inherited from the prior version. These consist of: (1) the primary text search dialog box, which doubles as a Strong’s Number search tool; internal text searching boxes in the (2) Parallel Bible and (3) Bible Notes windows; (4) a Greek morphology search wizard; (5) a “Topic Explorer” that searches for article headwords in dictionary-type resources; and three tools for searching based on Biblical references: (6) Cross Reference Explorer; (7) Instant Verse Study; and (8) Verse Explorer.
The primary text searching tool (Search) is very fast and reasonably accurate. It is the same function for searching Bibles or other resources, and Bible context filtering (e.g. search New Testament books only, etc.) will limit the results returned both from Bibles and from other resources organized by B-C-V (Book-Chapter-Verse), such as commentaries. Search terms can include the usual array of words, “phrases”, explicit or implied Boolean expressions, and Strong’s numbers. Biblical search scope filtering can be set only to contiguous ranges (e.g. you can successfully filter to only see results from Matthew through John, or Romans through Philemon, but you cannot filter to see only results from Luke and Acts). Only one Search Results window instance exists, so if you run a second search, your first results are replaced. Biblical reference results can be exported to a Verse List, but other results can only be marked for printing, or for copying to the clipboard to paste into a document. The Results screen offers a “Jump to…” dialog box which shows a categorized view of resources included in the results, which are, in the main Search Results window, just a list of relevant resources, ordered either alphabetically, or by hit count.
Originally upgraded to its current form as part of WORDsearch 8 (Nov 2007), the Parallel Bible tool is one of the outstanding elements of WORDsearch, and it includes an internal text search function. The window itself facilitates the synchronous display and scrolling of a theoretically unlimited number of Bible versions (you will in reality, of course, be limited by screen space and purchasing power). In “column mode”, the displayed verses are blocked off in a table format to produce both vertical and horizontal visual consistency, while allowing each verse to remain nestled in its literary context. “Row mode” lines up the versions vertically, easing detailed comparisons. This tool is the best I’m aware of for comparing translations on a verse-by-verse basis.
The text search in this tool utilizes a simple text entry box, and accepts single words, “phrases”, or Boolean expressions, as well as Strong’s numbers formatted like <G312>. Results are found for any of the Bibles active in the Parallel Bible window, and the tool offers results views that are either filtered on hits (show only verses where at least one translation uses the search term), or “in context”, meaning that it continues to show the entire Biblical text, with search hits highlighted, and with navigation buttons to move back and forth through the hit list. The tool supports copying (to clipboard) or exporting to Verse Lists, prompting for selection of translations to include, but it does not allow for the simultaneous selection of non-contiguous verses, which can make exporting unnecessarily tedious.
The Bible Notes search facility is a simple text search for word, “phrase”, or Boolean expression, returns the results within the Bible Notes window, and provides a toggle to switch views back and forth from notes to search results, though the toggle setup uses two very different click targets, awkwardly implemented.
The Morphological Explorer is a reconstruction of the Greek search tool from QuickVerse, utilizing a wizard-type interface, which shows Friberg-tagged UBS4 occurrences of selected Greek roots matching the morphological characteristics selected from a display of appropriate options. This is really more of a UBS4 filtering tool than a search tool. Roots are typically defined in the lookup via executing right-click options on Greek words in various resources to “Explore Morphology” of the selected word. There is no way within the Morph tool to manually type or paste a root to explore, though they can be selected from a scrolled list. The tool offers function selections to copy, print, and export selected results to a Verse List, but these actually return an error stating that the functionality will be available in a future “smart update”. The tool was first published as part of release 10.5, in June of 2012, so it remains to be seen how soon that “smart update” might be released. This is an inferior Greek analytical tool, but serves its purpose: WORDsearch users are not typically looking for much original language capability from the program.
Another feature introduced in WS8 (2007), the Topic Explorer is a search tool that searches for subject headings, as opposed to searching for words in the bodies of articles. These headings could include dictionary entries, or chapter titles, or several other kinds of text, but the point is that the results will be considerably filtered compared to a free-text search, and should provide more focused results. The search scope is, by default, all books in the library containing the right kind of data (English headwords), but it can also be further limited to resources defined in user-created “collections”. The search term can be manually entered within the window, or a TE search can be triggered via executing a right-click option to perform a Topical Search on a selected word in any resource, including user documents. It’s a fairly quick search tool, providing several display options for organizing the resulting resources, and provides a preview pane, which is much more functional than the static snippets returned by the standard Search tool. The original resource can be accessed via an “Open in new window” button above the preview pane. Text can be copied from the preview pane, but results cannot really be exported or saved, and the resulting resources list cannot be edited. This tool is designed for previewing resources, which would then be opened for study if desired.
Instant Verse Study, Verse Explorer, and Cross-reference [XRef] Explorer are similar tools for finding content related to selected Biblical passages, but there are some significant differences between them. The oldest of them is the XRef Explorer, introduced in WS8 (2007). This search tool returns an organized list of links to sections of books which contain references to a single search verse entered either via a WS verse navigation combo-box at the top of the tool, or as driven by optional membership in a Sync Group, which, for the sake of system performance, should really only be done if a smallish number of resources are loaded into the XRef Explorer search scope. The search scope, by default, is all books, though you can manage the scope by designating a “Collection” of resources as the search scope. The search engine searches the body of resources for references to the verse being searched for, so results can be pretty promiscuous. The results list is organized according to library Category of the resources. Basically a sister-tool to the Topic Explorer, the XRE is likewise a stand-alone, un-dockable, two-pane window, with the list of results in either the left/top pane, and a content preview pane to the right/bottom. Search terms are generally highlighted in the preview pane to assist navigation, though sometimes hits can be hard to find in the preview text. Like the TE window, the preview pane offers a button that will launch the previewed resource in a new window.
The Instant Verse Study (IVS) tool is a dialog box for selecting resources to generate a report of content related to a Biblical verse or range of verses, which is copied to the clipboard for pasting into a word processor document. The Search scope is limited by design to resources indexed by Bible reference (B-C-V), such as Bibles, Personal Bible Notes, and library resources that are organized like commentaries, which would also include things like Study Bible Notes, Bible Outlines and Handbook, and some verse-by-verse word study books (e.g. Vincent’s Word Studies). The search scope can be loaded by individual selection, but it is really designed to be loaded by picking a Collection, and also has the ability to create new Collections from the IVS dialog. One peculiar trait of this tool is that it will not only return content for in-scope resources which have a section dealing with the search verse, but will also create an entry for selected resources with blank results, indicating specifically that no results were found. It does not provide citations for exported content, but only a header with the resource name and search referent. The IVS tool does not return legible results from Bibles written in non-Latin characters, but does properly copy such characters from commentaries. This is the only one of the Bible reference lookup tools that can be launched from a right-click option within Bibles.
Something of a combination of the Instant Verse Study and Topic Explorer tools, the Verse Explorer is the most complex of these three Scripture reference lookup tools, and the one most in need of an interface overhaul – the tool’s start screen consists of printed instructions for use. The search term entry box is, I believe, the only such box in the program that is not the WS Bible Navigation tool. The search scope selection dialog does not interact with Collections, so every selection/deselection is manual, and there are no ordering options of other navigation assists available. Once you run the search, the resulting screen is very well done, and easy to use for both exploring results and for returning to edit the search scope, but it can take some time to figure out how the book selection process really works, as the multi-tab dialog has overlapping resources, and can be confusing. The fact is that the six selection tabs relate directly to six sections into which the results are organized on the page, and which consists almost entirely of links to resources (i.e. no preview pane). There is no export function.
The first section (Bibles) of results displays the actual Biblical text of the search referent in each of the translations selected on the first tab. Translation selection is critical in this tool, because the resulting verse translations provide the English words which will form the search terms driving the results of the next three sections on the page. Neither Greek nor Hebrew (nor interlinear) texts are available to select here – this is a tool geared toward verse-specific commentary, and English words.
The second section (Dictionaries & Encyclopedias) contains links to entries in any of the library resources selected in the corresponding second tab which contain entries for the English words included in the translations displayed in section one. In other words, this section shows search results against selected books from your Dictionaries & Encyclopedias category, which match the words used in the translations you chose in the first section.
The third section (Word Studies) acts just like the second, looking up the words from the translated verses in section one, but it looks them up against the books in your library’s Word Studies category. Remember that it is English words being looked up, since original language texts are not supported in this tool, so the Word Studies resource would have to be indexed on English terms in order to produce a result in this tool.
The fourth section (Topics) works exactly like the preceding two, except that it queries books indexed for English terms which are in all categories other than the categories used on the preceding two sections. Between the three sections, you get essentially the same results of a Topic Explorer search, but for all the usable words in all the translations selected for section one, as opposed to one word at a time, such as you would have to so in Topic Explorer.
The fifth section does not look up words, but, like the IVS tool searches commentaries and other resources with B-C-V indexes, to find content related to the initially supplied Biblical reference.
Section six looks up the Biblical reference in any selected Cross Reference resource, and displays the actual results at the reference for those resources, instead of just returning links. This XRef section is great. I’d love to see a mini-window spun off of this tool containing just the Bibles and XRef sections, and having the ability to join a Sync Group – it would be fantastic as a follow-along window for comparison while reading/studying.
Most of the major English Bible translations are available, along with several more obscure versions. Notably absent, however, is the New American Bible, which disappeared from the WORDsearch catalog around the time the NAB “revised edition” update was published. Side-by-side comparisons can be very effectively performed in several formats (including using Greek & Hebrew texts). I have not found a Bible Study program that does as good a job of providing effective means of viewing versions in parallel.
Original language capability is not the primary focus of WORDsearch, but a reasonable collection of lexicons and other original language supports is available for their English-first audience, often accessible via Strong’s tagging of texts, which includes both basic and interlinear Greek and Hebrew texts. The interlinear texts, based on BHS5 and UBS4, are very useful for the English-first student looking to peek under the covers at the original language texts, including audio links to hear pronunciations of the aforementioned Strong’s tag. The underwhelming Greek “Morph Explorer” for the UBS4 with Friberg morphology was noted above. No similar tool exists for the Hebrew text. Another glaring omission is the lack of the LXX in any form.
WORDsearch offers a decent range of top-shelf academic works in terms of dictionaries, lexicons, and commentaries, as well as many lesser-weight offerings. However, their focus is decidedly toward the expository and even devotional end of the spectrum rather than the exegetical and academic side. They’ve also rolled the old NavPress LESSONmaker back into WORDsearch. It’s a library-oriented program geared toward preachers, particularly those of the American brand of evangelicalism. So, there’s lots of sermon outlines and sermon collections available to go along with all the exposition and application-oriented works. There also seems to be a too-heavy presence of 19th century works cluttering the library. At this point, it is pretty much a Southern Baptist product, though I imagine most Christians could find an appropriate set of useful resources within their offerings – though they may not find a pre-packaged bundle to their liking, I know I can’t at this point.
Window Management & User Interface
Overall, window management capabilities – from linking & syncing, to desktop layout and navigation controls, are adequate, but not much more than that. Four available Sync Groups is enough, and a Master/Slave option for managing them (called Group Driver) is an excellent idea. Also, I’ve mentioned above the verse picker navigation available in almost all Scripture-oriented windows: I’ll mention it again, it’s terrific. Navigating history was always a challenge in WORDsearch, but the new History window mitigates that. Linking between windows doesn’t always completely work – if a resource is open but not selected in a docked window that is not the active window, triggering a link to it seems to move it to the selected status within the docked window set, but does not make the window active, meaning it does not have focus, and could remain buried behind something. I’ve also never seen my “Middle Liddell” sync. I’ve treated the new Library tab and the rest of the new WORDsearch 11 “look & feel” in a blog post, so I will not repeat it here.
Window arranging, unfortunately, is done either completely automatically, or completely manually. By now, it should have been made possible for a user to impose a layout design to which automatic docking conformed. One huge contributing deficiency is that many window types cannot even be docked with other windows, which also means they cannot be moved to the new “2nd monitor” display introduced in version 11. The tools lacking docking ability, and that thus cannot be moved to the second window, include: Documents/Word Processor; Verse Lists; Topic Explorer; Xref Explorer; Morphological Explorer; Verse Explorer; Bible Notes; Sermons & Illustrations window; NoteStacks window; Word Definition window; History window; and web browser window. Nor can you place your Search Results window in the second pane. Nor can you show your Library tab in the second window.
Other areas of the interface where WORDsearch has long been in need of improvement include the management of Collections, and the management of saved layouts, which is currently handled by a combination of the concepts of Desktops and Templates. Templates were introduced some time back as an apparent attempt to correct or compensate for some of the weaknesses in Desktops, but it would have been better to keep it simple, and fix Desktops. Historically, Desktops have represented not simply saved layouts of resources, but were also used to store (and segregate from other Desktops) user data such as annotations and highlighting. There are other options available now for annotations, but highlighting still belongs to a specific “Desktop”, rather than to the user who did the highlighting.
WORDsearch for iPad/iPhone and the Web
The IOS version offering from WORDsearch is an odd duck, and indicative of the half-baked nature of WORDsearch in general. After logging into the IOS applet, the library will be populated with most of the titles in your WORDsearch library, but the categories under which the books are organized are different from the categories used in the desktop application. Some category assignments will be the same, but many are different – there appears have been a completely independent process of categorization. Worse, the books are not synced with the CROSS books on the desktop platform. If you apply highlighting or a note to a book in your WORDsearch IOS app, it will be synced across all your IOS devices, but it will not be synced with your desktop app! Likewise notes and bookmarks.
The library organization of the web version (www.mywsb.com) appears the same as the IOS version, at least at a glance, and the available annotation tools are very similar, but, again, the annotations are not synced between www.mywsb.com and either the IOS or desktop environments. Three different platforms, three different sets of notes. Yuk!
The functionality of the IOS app seems limited to the annotation functions mentioned in the preceding paragraph, and I’ve yet to figure out how to populate the secondary pane. The website is much the same functionally, except that it adds a serviceable Word Study Tool pane, and a decent Parallel [Bible] Tool – plus it provides much more screen real estate. iPad users might be better off using the website than the IOS app, though you still won’t be synced with your desktop version.
I’ve largely moved on from WORDsearch to Logos, because of the latter’s on-going commitment to publishing important Catholic resources, as well as its superior core application stability, predictive context menu options, original language capabilities, and my much higher confidence level in platform longevity and in the value of my investment in their proprietary eBooks. However, I still find WORDsearch to be a useful program, especially for displaying parallel Biblical texts.
I could no longer recommend it to fellow Catholics (as I could and did previously), but many people from non-magisterial faith communities looking for English-language Bible Study software would find this program adequate, especially owing to the generally user-friendly interface, and the wealth of options for user-generated content management. If the available content suits your needs, the application should suffice. It is not a high-end tool for original language study by any means, but it gives the generalist enough information to drill into the Word. It seems to have largely overcome the serious instability and other shortcomings that plagued it during earlier versions, but this platform still needs an awful lot of improvement, professionalizing, and functional convergence to make it a good bet for serious investment. Where the SBC/Lifeway takes it from here is anyone’s guess, but may God bless them in their endeavors.