Mac or PC: Which is Better for Bible Software?

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

by David Lang (Posted: 7/2/03)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely my own, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG. Likewise, although I speak from the perspective of a Mac Bible Software developer, the views expressed here do not represent the perspectives of my employers or my coworkers.]

If you've read the follow-up article to our recent Mac Bible Software survey, then you already know that forty-percent of the survey respondents felt that Windows Bible programs are equal to or better than the programs available for the Mac, as opposed to twenty-four percent who believed that Mac users actually have it better. (The other thirty-six percent had no opinion one way or the other.) Why do so many of the survey respondents look with envy at the Bible software available for Windows? Are their perceptions really accurate? These are the questions we'll seek to answer in this article.

Why is this important?

We Mac users are an odd bunch. We don't just recommend Macs to people; we "evangelize" them. We love to tout the Mac's advantages, and are contantly on the lookout for subtle and not-so-subtle ways to show off our iMovies and home-made DVDs, to flaunt our iPods and to show how well they sync with iTunes, to play our iPhoto slide shows and to point people to our .Mac homepages. The success of our evangelism depends on our ability to show people that we can do everything they can do on their PCs—only better, faster, and more easily than they could ever have imagined possible.

When evangelizing computer users interested in Bible study, however, it is not enough just to show the iApps--they want to know about Bible software as well. If all we can say when they ask about Bible software is, "Er . . . ummm . . . well . . . you can always use the Internet!" we're going to come off looking pretty silly. What's more, we'll unwittingly reinforce the myth that there is no software available for the Mac other than a few nifty digital media applications.

It all depends on what you're using

How the survey respondents felt that Mac Bible Software stacked up against that available for Windows depended largely on which Mac software they were using, and which Windows software they were comparing it to. This makes perfect sense, of course. If you're comparing a relatively new shareware program for the Mac with a much more full-featured commercial Bible program for Windows, what else would you conclude but that Windows users have it better?

Accordance Bible Software, the only commercial Bible program currently developed for the Mac, tended to fare the best in the Mac versus Windows comparisons. Ninety-one percent of those who believe Mac Bible Software to be superior to that available for Windows attributed that superiority to Accordance, and of those who regard Mac and Windows Bible software as roughly equal, 65% were Accordance users. But before I break my arm patting myself on the back (I help to develop Accordance, after all), I must mention that Accordance users also comprised 23% of those who thought Windows users have it better when it comes to Bible software.

No other Mac Bible program fared particularly well in the Mac/PC comparison. A half-dozen Online Bible users felt that Online Bible is equal to or better than most Windows Bible software, and one Bible Reader Free user simply remarked that "everything is better on a Mac." Conversely, 28% of those who thought Windows software was better were Online Bible users, while 50% of iBible users thought the grass was greener on the other side. The remainder of those who saw Windows software as superior were users of Internet resources, legacy Mac applications, Windows programs, or no Bible software at all.

Once again, the perceptions of which platform was better for Bible software depended largely on what the survey respondents were comparing these programs to. For example, all but one of those who compared the Mac version of Online Bible to the Windows version of the same program fervently asserted that the Mac version was better. On the other hand, those who compared Online Bible for Mac to commercial Windows programs with lots of modern, copyrighted works tended to give the nod to Windows. In other words, in many cases the comparisons given were of apples to oranges, and therefore cannot be taken as accurate indications of how good or bad a particular Mac program is.

In addition, many respondents ended up comparing Mac programs with which they were familiar to vague impressions of what life is like for Windows users. For example, many people commented that there are "more choices available for Windows." This is undisputably true, but the fact that there are more choices does not necessarily mean that any of those choices is actually better. After all, there are many more movie-editing programs and photo-cataloguing applications available for Windows, but none of them even comes close to being as good as iMovie or iPhoto.

Perceived advantages of Windows software

There are a number of ways in which Windows Bible software was perceived as being better than Bible programs for the Mac.

The first was better availability, and in this respect, Windows users certainly have an advantage. It is a relatively easy thing to walk into one's local Christian bookstore and pick up a Bible program for the PC; while Mac users generally have to go on something approaching a quest to find Bible software for their machines. On the other hand, greater availability does not necessarily lead to a better experience. The retail shopping experience can make it difficult to discern which program is best, and can lead people to invest in programs which are dying, or which have limited expandability options, or which are simply poorly designed. All the available Mac software, on the other hand, can be downloaded and tried out for free. So as long as Mac users are willing to take the time to look and compare, the comfort of retail availability can be outweighed by the comfort of knowing that you've considered all the available options.

The second way Windows software was deemed to be better was in terms of available modules. A quick look at the boxes on the shelves of that same Christian bookstore will turn up the names of a bunch of different Bible translations, commentaries, and reference works -- many of which are not currently available for the Mac. It's enough to make a Mac user green with envy, but a closer look will soon reveal that there are patches of brown on the other side of that fence.

For years now, Windows Bible software developers have tried to distinguish their software not by features and interface, but by the Bible translations and books which they include. Logos has been the most aggressive and successful at amassing a large quantity of available modules, but other developers have managed to get certain works which Logos cannot get. Many of these developers used to seek exclusive licenses with book publishers so that they could effectively prevent their competitors from licensing those materials. While most publishers now seem to know better than to sign exclusive licenses, many are reluctant to create market confusion by licensing to more than one software program, so the effect is still the same: a fragmented market in which certain modules are available for certain programs and not for others.

This situation has forced many Windows users to purchase multiple Bible programs in order to be able to get all the modules they really want to use. For example, if a user wanted the InterVarsity Press Reference Library and the Anchor Bible Dictionary, he would have to use Logos; for Ryrie's Study Bible notes, he would need QuickVerse; for the NIV Study Bible and NIDNTT or NIDOTTE, he would need Zondervan's Pradis software; for original language study, he would need BibleWorks; for . . . well, you get the idea!

Now, to be perfectly fair, it is not as though the average Windows user has to go out and buy four different programs just to get a decent selection of modules. Not every publisher is reticent about licensing to more than one software developer at a time, and there is therefore a great deal of overlap in terms of the modules which are available for each Windows Bible program. Nevertheless, when it comes to those modules which are licensed for use with a single program (such as the ones listed above), the user is faced with the choice of either doing without that module, or purchasing another program in order to be able to use it.

There was an attempt several years ago to counter Logos' aggressiveness by developing an open standard for electronic publishing known as STEP. The concept was that publishers could publish their books in STEP format, and those books could be used with any Bible program capable of reading STEP. Unfortunately, STEP quickly became a least-common-denominator kind of format, and improvements to the standard came slowly. It didn't help that Parsons Technology, the developer of QuickVerse and the original driving force behind STEP, got bought out by one company, which got bought out by another, and another, until they got so distracted by corporate concerns that their development efforts became seriously derailed. (For an interesting history of the rise and fall of a Windows Bible software developer--including the story of the ill-fated QuickVerse for Mac--see Craig Rairdin's History and "Why did you leave Parsons technology?" web-pages.) To make a long story short, STEP is effectively a dead technology, and the Windows Bible software market is back to every-man-for-himself.

My company is often asked why we only develop Accordance Bible Software for the Mac, essentially ignoring 95% of the market. Besides the fact that we all despise Windows and life is just too short to mess with it (which is probably the truest answer we could give), we often point out the advantage we have in terms of licensing. Where most publishers will only license to one Windows Bible software developer in order to avoid market confusion, they are willing to license to Accordance because of its Mac-only status. Thus, while you would need to purchase and learn four different Windows software packages to get all of the modules listed above; you can get every one of them for Accordance (with the exception of the IVP Reference Library, which is coming soon). Basically, while there are certain texts which even Logos is likely never to have, the field is basically wide open for Accordance.

Now, that doesn't mean that we Mac users won't sometimes feel like second-class citizens when it comes to getting good Bible study materials. As I pointed out in another article, we've found that it takes an average of two years from the time we begin talking to a publisher to the time when we actually sign a licensing agreement--and many publishers won't even consider licensing to us until they've first made their materials available for Windows. Of course, not everything takes this long, since once we've established a relationship with a publisher it is usually a much simpler matter to license additional materials from them. Still, as Mac users, it is not unreasonable to expect that Windows users may be able to get their hands on cool new stuff long before we do. On the other hand, once we do get those materials, our experience with them is often much better. Users who are familiar with both the Logos and Accordance versions of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the Theological Journal Library, Koehler-Baumgartner, and the like often marvel at how much easier to use and more powerful the Accordance versions are.

Naturally, the fact that Mac users may someday be able to get within Accordance everything to which Windows users currently have access may come as little comfort to some people. Those who because of interface or price are not yet sold on Accordance, or those who want access to those materials now, may continue to regard Windows users as having it better when it comes to Bible software. My point is simply that the Windows user's advantage in terms of available modules is not an out-of-the-park home-run. And for Accordance users who can wait, the long-term advantages of being on the Mac may well outweigh any short-term delays.

Another aspect of Windows Bible software which our survey respondents perceived to be an advantage was its price. And it is here that I can offer little in the way of argument. In most cases, Accordance is only somewhat more expensive than many commercial Bible programs for Windows; but in a few cases, the difference can be significant. These differences in price are mitigated somewhat by the fact that Accordance does more, and does it more easily, than any Bible program available for Windows; but it is uncertain whether the superiority of the software can completely justify the difference in price. Price is therefore something that my company needs to review, and an area in which, for the time being, Windows software does have something of an advantage.

By far the least common way in which Windows Bible Software was perceived to have an advantage was in terms of its features. In most cases, these kinds of criticisms were based on unfair comparisons, such as comparing a Mac shareware program in its infancy with some of the more full-featured Windows programs. Aside from those, there were two respondents who praised the electronic library concept of Logos: one of whom stated that Logos was better at browsing multiple titles than Accordance. One other survey respondent praised Logos for its 3-D mapping feature, but it was unclear whether this gentleman was familiar with the 3-D capabilities of the Accordance Bible Atlas. (For those who are interested, compare the animated GIF of Logos' 3-D map here with the screenshots and QuickTime movie of the Accordance Atlas found here, and see which you think looks better.)

Perceived advantages of Mac software

Those survey respondents who believed that Mac Bible software is superior to that available for Windows pointed to two perceived advantages: features and interface. Here's a sample of the kinds of positive comparisons that were made:

"Accordance is easily the best designed Bible software on any platform, and while it's not perfect, it has, bar none, the most powerful analytical features, the best structured content AND is the easiest to use."

"The Online Bible I've used on a PC has a horrid interface, nothing like as intuitive as on the Mac. I found that I spent two or three times as long working out how to find what I wanted."

"I have the latest copy of almost every Bible study program currently available on Mac or PC, but . . . since Accordance 'upped the ante' in development about four years ago, I only use my Accordance."

"Online Bible loads easier onto a Mac. And . . . the interface works much smoother on a Mac than on a Windows machine."

"Accordance will do everything you need and more. . . . when I evaluated bible software I evaluated windows versions as well. . . . I couldn't find anything in the windows versions compelling enough to want a windows based product."

"PC users just can’t get over how easy it is to use the Online Bible."

"Logos may have an extensive library, but it is next to useless if you can't find what you need. Everybody I have shown Accordance to has been wowed, and that is with my basic installation, not including all the extra tools that are available. :-)"

"From what I've seen, Accordance is heads and shoulders above anything available on Windows--a major reason why I continue to be a Mac user"

"I would demonstrate the simplicity and usability of Accordance."

"I used to think that there were some advantages to using the Logos system, but as Accordance expands I certainly can't think of any now."

"Logos has more texts available, but falls behind [Accordance] on some of the advanced features. Logos also does not feel as refined to me in some areas, especially advanced searches."

"My understanding of Logos from conversations with users is that while a multitude of tools are available, they lack integration and the search capabilities of Accordance."

"On Accordance it is far easier to find what you are looking for. I have the worst time finding things on logos and libronix."

"For those of us who do not have to have the French, Russian, and 32 latin variations on the Scriptures (BibleWorks) I would say Accordance is a much better buy because of its ease of use and thoughtful design."

Mac or PC?

So what's the verdict? Is Mac Bible software better than Windows Bible software, or vice versa? Ultimately, that's for you to decide. In this opinion piece, I've tried to reassure the Mac evangelists out there that we have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to Bible Study software. Though Windows users may have some advantages, they also have good reasons to think the grass is greener over here. Accordance, the only commercial Bible program for the Mac, stacks up quite well against the best Bible software available for Windows. Online Bible, the most mature freeware/shareware program for the Mac, offers a level of power and ease of use which many PC users "just can't get over." As the newer Mac programs continue to develop, the advantages of using a Mac to study the Bible can only increase. Life is good for the Christian Mac user, and it can only get better. Be sure to pass that on the next time you're chatting with someone on the "other side of the fence."