Windows Bible Software Coming to OS X

What impact will it have on the Mac market?

by David Lang (Posted: 3/31/05)


[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 or my employers.]

A Surprising Turnaround

Tueday morning, Logos Research Systems announced plans to release an OS X-native version of its Bible Software/Digital Library System. Promised around December of this year, the Mac version of Logos will enable Mac users to access Logos' substantial catalog of Bibles and Bible-related books without having to resort to an emulator or a separate PC.

In following the news, I stumbled across a reference in the MacCentral forums to the fact that QuickVerse, another popular Windows Bible program, will also soon be released for OS X. I went to, and sure enough, there is a prominent banner advertising QuickVerse for the Mac. Slated to be released in "late Spring," QuickVerse for the Mac will apparently be available in two packages, though I could find no information on the contents of these packages.

I then checked the blog of Bible Software Review to see if Rubén Gómez was covering all the news, and lo and behold, he reports that SwordSearcher is also planning a Mac version for release in "late 2005 or early 2006."

Including iLumina, which released an OS X-native version in October of 2003, that makes four programs once only available for the PC which will soon be available to Mac users.

Why Now?

Both Logos and QuickVerse have some history with the Mac, but for most Mac users, that history has been somewhat checkered. QuickVerse released a somewhat half-hearted attempt at a Mac version way back in 1989, but quickly discontinued it. Craig Rairdin, the original developer of QuickVerse, has written an interesting history of that program's early development. The section on "QuickVerse for the Macintosh" will prove to be an all too familiar story to most Mac users. Treated as an afterthought, the Mac version was not terribly well received, and the developer attributed the poor sales to the Mac's limited market share rather than to its own failure to understand the market.

Logos, on the other hand, generated great excitement in 1997 when it announced that it would be porting the Logos Library System to the Mac. Six months later, they announced that they were discontinuing the effort, citing "reduced demand from customers and the discontinuation of support for the Macintosh porting tools Logos was using."

Now, to be fair, it must be noted that QuickVerse is now owned by a different company which cannot be faulted for the PC bias of the original developers. Likewise, Logos' decision to drop Mac development was partly the result of Microsoft's decision to drop support for the porting tools Logos was using. My purpose here is not to cast aspersions on these companies, but to point out that the decision by these companies to support the Mac is a reversal from their previous history.

Given this history, why are these companies once again promising to develop Mac versions of their software? What has changed to renew their interest in the Mac market?

Obviously, I can't say for sure, but I would like to interpret this as anecdotal evidence that Mac market share is once again on the rise. I suspect that these companies are seeing growing numbers of their own users switching to the Mac and requesting Mac support. I also suspect that the continual buzz about OS X, the iPod, and the Mac Mini has them hoping to find "gold in them thar hills." Logos also cited their increasing focus on the academic market, where "it's a real liability not to have a Macintosh product."

Credit also must be given to Apple's improved developer tools and Cocoa's promise of rapid deployment. Each of these developers has announced what I would consider to be an ambitious release schedule, unless they've each been secretly working on a Mac port for some time. If they really are able to meet their promised shipping dates, it will be a credit to Apple's new development tools.

Prepare for Impact!

What impact will all these newcomers have on the Mac Bible Software market? Before I can answer that question, I need to give the usual disclaimers.

For years now, I've been writing and editing articles for CMUG, while working as a developer of Accordance Bible Software. That has always meant walking the "conflict of interest" tightrope, and now is certainly no exception. As a long-time Mac watcher, I have an opinion about all of these new Mac Bible programs which I believe is worth sharing. On the other hand, I develop a competing product, and so recognize that my opinions may not be without bias. My solution is to warn you, the reader, of this potential bias, and leave you to judge whether or not my analysis is valid.

Now, disclaimers aside, let's ask the question again: What impact will all these newcomers have on the Mac Bible Software market?

First, this is unquestionably good news for Apple and Mac users. While I have argued elsewhere that Accordance gives Mac users a better overall option than any of the Bible programs available for Windows, it has nevertheless remained true that certain electronic resources have only been available via Windows software. If Logos can keep the promise to deliver its vast library of materials to Mac users, that deficit will largely be erased.

The availability of Logos, QuickVerse, and SwordSearcher for Mac may also lead more people to switch to the Mac. Imagine a pastor who is tired of worrying about Windows security issues and who is seriously considering getting his first Mac. If he has invested heavily in Windows Bible software, he has three options: (1) sell it and buy Mac Bible Software, (2) run it on a Mac using Virtual PC, or (3) keep a PC around for Bible study. While I'm all for option number 1, this pastor may have some electronic books which are not yet available with a Mac Bible program. Virtual PC, on the other hand, is notoriously sluggish, and so less than an ideal solution. And, of course, keeping a separate PC around requires going back and forth between two different machines. This dilemma creates a powerful incentive just to stick with Windows. But if that pastor can switch to the Mac and still run his existing software, an enormous barrier to switching is removed.

Ultimately, more choices are almost always a plus for the end user. Increased competition means lower prices and (hopefully) better software. More software programs mean greater credibility for the Mac platform as a whole, and that in turn increases its overall viability. For a variety of reasons, Mac users should be celebrating these announcements.

Can They Pull It Off?

How well will these new entrants to the Mac Bible Software market be received? That all depends on how well they succeed at porting their software to the Mac, and how they treat their Mac-using customers. Let's take a look at some of the challenges involved:

First, Mac users expect Mac software to feel "Mac-like," and it's not always clear to Windows developers what that really means. Most make the mistake of thinking that they just need to replace Windows interface widgets with Aqua interface widgets. I suspect that's one reason why these developers are estimating that the port will only take them six to nine months to complete. But Mac interface standards go beyond the look and feel of pop-up menus and radio buttons. Mac users chafe at visually cluttered interfaces, an injudicious use of screen space, having to take unnecessary steps to accomplish simple tasks, or feeling forced to do things a certain way. If these Windows developers aren't willing to refine their existing interfaces in order to meet the expectations of Mac users, they're likely to be criticized harshly for it.

Mac users, like most minorities, want to be taken seriously without being patronized. They want what Windows developers have to offer, but not at any cost. For these Windows developers to succeed, they need to have long-time Mac users on their development teams, among their support staff, and among their sales staff. They need to covet the loyalty of their Mac-using customers, and be willing to listen to the most fanatical Mac users among them. If they make the mistake of thinking that they're doing Mac users a favor and that we should be grateful for whatever we get, their efforts to support the Mac will ultimately backfire.

Assuming They Can...

Let's assume, hoever, that these developers can and will pull off a successful transition to the Mac. How will that affect the existing Mac Bible Software developers?

Online Bible is still not available for OS X, though promises continue to be made that it will happen some time this year. If some or all of these Windows programs beat it to market with an OS X version, that certainly won't look good. Even if it does release an OS X version this year, sales of its Basic and Deluxe CD-ROMs may be hurt by SwordSearcher and QuickVerse on the low end.

Likewise, MacSword has rapidly earned a following as a free OS X-native replacement for Online Bible. If SwordSearcher proves to have more and better features at a minimal cost, it may win users away from MacSword. However, since MacSword is free and SwordSearcher is not, MacSword has little to lose.

iLumina, because of its unique place in the Bible Software market, will likely be relatively unaffected by the new entries. After all, they've been doing just fine in the PC market, where all of these programs already have a significant customer base.

How will Accordance be affected? Since Accordance has always fared well in comparative reviews with Windows software, and since we never have been content to rest on our laurels, I'm confident that Accordance will continue to be seen as the most powerful and elegant Bible software available for the Mac. I'm also confident that we don't have to worry about our existing users dumping Accordance in favor of another program. I'm certain that many of our existing users will supplement Accordance with programs like Logos, so that they can have access to some of the content which we do not yet, and may never, have; but as far as I'm concerned, that's a positive rather than a negative.

Another potentially positive effect of this new competition is that my company will no longer be accused of exploiting a "monopoly" in the Mac Bible Software market. This is an accusation that has always bewildered me, because our long-time status as the only developer of commercial-quality Bible software for the Mac was simply the result of our sticking with the Mac long after everyone else had jumped ship. We did nothing to undermine MacBible, BibleMaster, WordSearch, Thompson Chain HyperBible, and all the other Mac software that was eventually left to languish. We simply stuck it out and found ourselves alone.

Nor did we get lazy or complacent when that happened. After all, we were still a Mac-only Bible software developer trying to create a compelling reason for people to stick with and switch to the Mac. We've worked hard to stay ahead of the Bible software available for Windows. Nevertheless, there have been those who look at us like we're the Microsoft of Mac Bible Software! Thankfully, that will no longer be possible.

Where this Windows migration will certainly affect us negatively is with people who are switching to the Mac from Windows. For example, a recent comment on a Mac forum greeted the news of one such program coming to the Mac with the words "great, but too late." This person went on to explain that he had wanted that program when he first switched to the Mac, but since it wasn't available, he purchased Accordance and "has never looked back." Might we lose sales like that one when familiar Windows programs are available for the Mac? Absolutely. But then again, the availability of these programs may encourage more people to switch to Mac than might otherwise have done so. Perhaps such switchers will stick with the Mac version of their existing software, but supplement with resources which are unique to Accordance, such as our Bible Atlas or Timeline. In the end, sales to switchers may end up being a wash.

Where the increased competition has the most potential to "hurt" my company is in lost sales to Mac users who are buying Bible Software for the first time. If we fail to communicate why Accordance is still the best choice as a Mac user's main Bible study program, or if we are not careful to stay competitive with respect to price, those users may well opt for one of these new programs instead. The gulf in features and content between Accordance and the Mac shareware programs available has been wide and getting wider, but Logos and QuickVerse will narrow the gap in features and will offer new content which is not available for Accordance. With more choices available, we'll have to work harder to convince Mac users that Accordance is the right one.

Up with Macintosh!

Regardless of what it means for my company, all this new software means that the Mac will likely become the premier platform for Bible Study Software. After all, we'll have the most powerful Bible program available (Accordance), the program with the largest number of available books (Logos), one of the least expensive commercial programs available (QuickVerse), and the most media-rich and educational Bible program around (iLumina). Not too shabby for a computer platform which accounts for a mere 5% of the personal computer market.

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A Personal Perspective on the Problem of Evil: How God brings good out of tragic loss.

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