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Friday, March 31, 2006  

More Workspace Tips

In my last post, I explained how you can combine workspaces and separate windows, or even multiple workspaces, to create custom window arrangements that work for you. I showed how you can use Detach Tab (in the Window menu) to change a tab in the Workspace into a separate window, and I showed how you can use Merge Windows to merge two windows together into multiple tabs within a single workspace. But there are a few characteristics of Workspaces which I haven't covered.

The first is that you can rearrange the order in which tabs appear in your workspace simply by dragging them from one spot to another. If you have a workspace with three tabs (A, B, and C) and you want tab C to appear between tabs A and B, simply click and hold on tab C and drag it between tabs A and B.

Seems simple enough, doesn't it? But try doing that with tabs in Safari or other web browsers that use tabs.

Now, let's say you have two workspaces, and you want to move a tab from one workspace into the other. Using our example from the previous post, you might decide you want the Scripture tab in the workspace containing BDAG to be in the workspace containing the GNT-T. No problem! Just click and hold on the tab and drag it from one workspace into the other. You just need to be sure to drag the tab into the area of the workspace where the tabs appear, and you can place it wherever you want in relation to the other tabs in that workspace.

You can duplicate a tab by choosing Duplicate Tab from the File menu (or you can use the keyboard shortcut command-D). You can duplicate an entire workspace (or any individual window) by choosing Duplicate from the File menu.

You can also duplicate tabs in a workspace by holding down the option key while dragging a tab to a different location within the current workspace. You can even option-drag a tab into a different workspace to create a copy of it there.

Once you've got your workspaces set up, you can use control-tab and shift-control-tab to cycle through the tabs in a workspace. You can also use option-tab and shift-option-tab to cycle among your various windows. And, of course, you can use command-tab to switch to another application (but why would you want to?).

Finally, you can rename any tab in the workspace by choosing Name... from the Set submenu of the Window menu (or you can use the Keyboard shortcut command-option-N).

By now, you should be veritable masters of the workspace. And mastery of the workspace will become all the more important when version 7 is released, because there will be a major new feature which uses the workspace as its basis. (Don't you just hate it when I tease you like that?)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  

Working with Workspaces

In yesterday's post, I urged you to check Open initial window as workspace with tabs in the General Settings pane of the Preferences, because using workspaces "makes it much easier to manage all your windows". Another David then commented that workspaces do not make his life easier because he is typically "glancing back and forth between two windows," and he doesn't like having one window hidden every time he glances at a different window. Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better setup for today's post, in which we'll discuss the ins and outs of working with Workspaces. Thanks, David!

A Workspace is basically a container window that keeps other windows neatly displayed as tabs. Although, as the other David pointed out, the content of each tab gets hidden when it is placed behind another tab; the tab itself always remains visible along the top of the Workspace. So bringing another window to the front again is as simple as clicking on its tab, rather than having to fish through the Window menu for the name of the window.

The good news about the Workspace window is that you're not limited to just one. Neither are you limited to using only tabs or only separate windows. You can combine both methods of managing windows to create an arrangement that works for you.

Let's say you're working in the tagged Greek New Testament (GNT-T) and you triple-click on a Greek word to look it up in your default Greek lexicon (I'll use BDAG for this example). If you started with the GNT-T as a tab within a Workspace window, BDAG will appear as an additional tab within the same Workspace.

Now suppose you go back to the Greek text and continue triple-clicking word after word to look each one up in BDAG. As the other David pointed out, you're doing lots of flipping back and forth between tabs. Wouldn't it be more convenient to have both the GNT-T and BDAG displayed side-by-side? Sure it would.

The answer is to detach the tab containing BDAG so that it appears as a separate window. To do this, go to the Window menu and select Detach Tab. If you work with Workspaces a lot, it's worth it to remember that command-option-T is the shortcut for detaching a tab.

Now you've got a Workspace containing the GNT-T and a separate window displaying BDAG. Choose Tile Windows from the Arrange submenu of the Window menu (or use the keyboard shortcut command-I) to have Accordance automatically arrange the windows side-by-side.

Now as you triple-click each word in the GNT-T, the window containing BDAG will update to show the entry for that word. No flipping back and forth required.

Now, suppose you click a hypertext link for one of the Scripture references in the window containing BDAG. What happens? A separate window opens displaying the text of that reference.

Why wasn't this window opened as a tab in my workspace? Because Accordance assumes that whatever I was doing last is what I want to keep doing. Since BDAG is displayed as a separate window, any window I open from BDAG will likewise be displayed as a separate window. If I had followed a Scripture link from a tool displayed as a tab within a Workspace, the new window would have been opened as an additional tab in that Workspace.

Okay, so what if we don't want that Text window opened as a separate window in front of BDAG? What if we want a second Workspace containing both BDAG and its associated Text window? To do that, just choose Merge Windows from the window menu. The two frontmost windows (in this case, BDAG and the Text window) will then be merged together into a new Workspace window.

Note that I didn't have to open a second Workspace window first. Merging two separate windows automatically resulted in a new Workspace being opened to contain them. Next Tile the windows again to arrange the two Workspaces side-by-side. Now as you triple-click a word in the GNT-T, BDAG will display the article for that word, and if you click a Scripture link within BDAG, those verses will be displayed in a tab in that Workspace. Even though BDAG gets obscured by this tab, it will be brought to the front again whenever you triple-click another word in the GNT-T.

Pretty cool, huh? Maybe it will even be enough to entice the "other David" to give Workspaces another chance. :-)

Monday, March 27, 2006  

Some Recommended Settings

In most of the recent training seminars, I took a few minutes to recommend a few custom preference settings that I think every user should make. Here they are for the rest of you (and for the attendees of the seminar where I forgot to do this!).

Go ahead and open up your Preferences dialog box by selecting Preferences... from the Accordance menu (in OS X) or the Edit menu (in the Classic Mac OS). In the top left corner of this dialog box there is a list of different preference panels. Make sure the General settings are selected there.

At the top of this preference panel you'll see a checkbox labeled Open initial window as workspace with tabs. With this option checked, the initial window that opens when you first launch Accordance will appear as a tab within a workspace window. Like this:

Any windows you open while a Workspace window is active will appear as additional tabs within the Worskpace, rather than as separate windows. This makes it much easier to manage all your windows. (I'll talk about the Workspace in more detail in a future post.)

The next checkbox I'd recommend you check is Suppress opening splash screen. When you first launch Accordance, you see that splash screen with the program's version and copyright information, along with that lovely photo of the clay oil lamp. This is nice and all, but once you've seen it, you've seen it. So turn it off, and you'll immediately save a second or two on the time it takes Accordance to launch.

Next check Suppress opening text information. Whenever you open a new Bible text or tool in Accordance, a window will appear displaying the copyright information for that text. This only happens once per session, so if you open, say, Anchor Bible Dictionary multiple times, the copyright info will only appear once. Nevertheless, if you open lots of different resources in Accordance, these text info windows can get really annoying. So turn them off. If you want to see the copyright info for a module, you can always get it by going to About the Text... in the Accordance menu. Why get smacked in the face with that information unless you specifically need it?

Finally, I'd recommend you check Suppress save warning for all windows. The way I use Accordance, my Accordance windows are always changing. I'm constantly doing new searches; consulting commentaries, dictionaries, and other reference works; then closing them and moving on to something else. In the rare instance where I want to save the results of a search, I'll consciously choose the Save... command. In the course of my study, I don't want to get a save warning every time I open and close a window. I suspect many of you use Accordance the same way, so suppress the save warnings if you don't want to be bothered with the interruption. All we ask is that you don't blame us if you accidentally close something you wanted to keep! ;-)

That's probably enough for now. There are a few more recommended settings which I'll go over in a future post. In the meantime, I hope this is helpful to some of you.

Friday, March 24, 2006  

If It's Monday, This Must Be Detroit

I'm not much of a world traveler. In fact, I'm really more of a homebody. While I'm used to traveling a couple times a year to exhibit at week-long conferences like MacWorld San Francisco and AAR/SBL, I've never done much in the way of hopping from one city to another in rapid succession.

This week, however, I've flown from Orlando to Chicago, from Chicago to Detroit, from Detroit back to Chicago, from Chicago on to Boston, and finally, from Boston back home to Orlando. In each of these cities, we've offered one or two free all-day training seminars to help our users get the most out of Accordance. (That's why I've been so remiss about blogging this week!)

The response to the seminar has been overwhelming, and several seminars filled up to the point that we couldn't accept any more registrations. In each seminar, we've had users who are new to Accordance, others who have been using it for years, laymen interested in basic Bible study, pastors interested in sermon preparation, Greek and Hebrew scholars interested in advanced searches . . . you name it. The challenge has been to establish a pace and range of topics which would be of benefit to everyone, and I'm not sure we've always succeeded. Yet overall, most users seem to have gotten something out of these seminars, so we're convinced it's been worth the effort.

Here's what a few of those who have attended the seminars had to say:

I am now more convinced that ACCORDANCE is the Premier Bible Software in depth and ease of use!

The best thing about it was how methodical the teaching was. Even though I don't own Accordance yet, the instructions were very clear and easy to understand.

I liked how questions were answered promptly without making it seem like a nuisance, and it was amazing at how knowledgeable you all are with the Bible and the program itself.

On the way to the seminar I wondered if I was wasting a day that could be better spent. On the way home, I knew I had used the day very well. All day long I was learning things about Accordance that will prove very practical and time-saving for me. Great day!

I appreciate everything that was done. In many cases these types of trainings are charged AND they try to sell you a product(s). You have allowed us to take advantage through explanation of the product and all that it has to offer and place the importance of understanding the software instead of trying to SELL the software. For that, I am forever grateful.

The seminar was fantastic. It far exceeded my expectations and I wanted to rush home immediately to start putting all the things I learned to use.

In addition to all the positive feedback, many attendees offered helpful suggestions for how we could improve things. A consistent theme was that the newest users felt we spent too much time on Hebrew and Greek, while those who wanted Hebrew and Greek typically wished they'd gotten more of it. We'll keep refining things for future seminars, but I think most of the attendees would agree: if we come to your area, you'll benefit greatly by attending.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006  

Who Sets the Standard?

As I was writing Friday's post, in which I argued that there are objective criteria for judging the usability of a software program or operating system, I realized that I might be asking for trouble. After all, the implication of what I wrote was that there are quantifiable ways in which Accordance is easier to use than other programs . . . regardless of what people are "used to." When you make claims like that, you're just inviting people to remind you that you don't necessarily have it all together.

Sure enough, we got several comments about ways in which the Accordance interface can be improved. Thankfully, all of the criticisms were relatively mild and thoroughly constructive. They each raised interesting perspectives which I hope to address in future posts, but for now, I want to focus on the last comment we received. This user expressed frustration at the fact that he could not rename tabs in an Accordance workspace by simply control-clicking on the tab. This, he explained, is how one renames tabs in Microsoft Excel, and he described this behavior as a "de facto standard" which Accordance should observe:

Accordance does a few things in its own way, where other popular and current non-bible software has set a de facto standard. Of course Accordance predates some of this software, but that doesn't invalidate the de facto standard.

I would like to see Accordance look around more at the current software environment of common productivity applications, and incorporate common methods for user interaction.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that we sometimes do things in our own way, but we do look around at other software programs when deciding how to incorporate similar interface conventions. When we decided to add the tabbed Workspace window, we looked closely at Safari and other browsers for ideas as to how our tabs should behave. Browsers, of course, do not even let you rename a tab, since the name of the tab is dictated by the Title of the web page displayed in that tab. Control-click on a tab in Safari, and you'll just get a contextual menu with no option to rename the tab.

Now, we admittedly did not look at Microsoft Excel. I'll let you in on a little secret: not many of us even own Microsoft Office, so programs like Word and Excel are not generally the first place we look for interface ideas. :-) If there's some "de facto standard" set by one of those programs, we're not likely to know about it unless you, our users, tell us about it.

In Accordance, we've always included an option to rename a window, so we extended our existing menu item (Window menu-->Set submenu-->Name...) and keyboard shortcut to apply to tabs as well as separate windows. In version 7, we're adding contextual menus throughout the Accordance interface, so you'll soon be able to control-click on a tab to access the Set Tab Name... menu item (among other options). That doesn't sound quite the same as the Excel control-click feature, but it should at least make life easier for those who are used to the Excel approach.

Now, why am I spending so much time answering an innoccuous suggestion about how to improve a minor feature? Partly because I wanted to assure you that we do look around at existing interface conventions before we implement similar ones. Truth be told, it's also partly because I wanted to make that wisecrack about Microsoft not being our primary source of interface inspiration. (What can I say, my Mac biases run deep!) But the real reason I'm spending so much time on this is that there are more significant examples of how Accordance works differently than other programs—including a few programs which are unquestionably "standards."

Take Google's search syntax for example. If you enter a search like son of God, Google will return pages which have either "son" or "God" (the "of" is ignored as too common). To search for a phrase in Google, you need to enclose it in quotes. In Accordance, if you enter son of God, Accordance will search for the phrase "son of God." Accordance doesn't require you to enclose a phrase in quotes; just enter it as a phrase. Neither does Accordance assume that a series of words separated by spaces should trigger some kind of Boolean search. If you want to do a Boolean search, the search commands are all accessible via the Search menu, they can be inserted using keyboard shortcuts, or they can simply be typed in. We've always seen this as a more intuitive way to construct a search than Google's method which has since become the standard, and we're not about to make things less intuitive just so we can be like most web search engines.

That thinking may run a little counter to the "something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected" dictum. But then again, maybe it doesn't. I think our type-a-phrase-to-search-for-it approach is exactly what your average non-computer-literate person would expect. It's only those who have been trained to expect something else who really have to adjust to it; and even then it's not that big an adjustment. On balance, this is one "standard" to which we'll respectfully choose not to adhere.

In software development, we're always adjusting to changing interface standards and user expectations. We do our best to observe standard interface conventions, but there are times when we feel strongly that there's a better way. In those cases, we're not ashamed to "Think Different."

Monday, March 13, 2006  

Preserving the Links in the Thompson Chain

We've been talking a lot about interface lately, so it's timely that I can now announce the release of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible for Accordance. What does this classic study Bible have to do with user interface? Although I'm sure Frank Charles Thompson wouldn't have thought of himself as a usability expert, the study Bible he developed was born out of a concern for user interface.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible consists of a series of marginal notes which list related topics and cross-references for each annotated verse. Rather than listing cross-references as a long string of references, which in the original print Bible would have taken up an enormous amount of space, Dr. Thompson would simply list the next verse dealing with a given topic. To see all the verses related to a given topic, the user would simply flip from reference to reference, looking in the marginal notes for the next link in the "chain." In addition to saving space, this system had the added benefit of encouraging the reader to explore the context of each verse.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible also included an Index of Topics, which would list all the references related to a given topic, and include some basic information about that topic. In this way, Thompson's study Bible was like a cross-reference, topical Bible, and Bible dictionary all rolled into one. Over the years, the topical index has been expanded to include additional topics, charts, diagrams, timelines, an archaeological supplement, and additional helps, making it a tremendous all-around study aid.

In developing the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible for Accordance, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to follow the chains and access the topical index. Here's an example of how the typical marginal note in Thompson is laid out:

  • Parallel passages are marked with "p.p." and are formatted as Scripture hypertext links. That is, if you hover over or click on them, you'll see the text of those verses.
  • Next is a list of topics related to the verse. To the right of some topics, you'll find a Scripture reference. This represents the next link in the "chain" of cross-references.
          If we had formatted these references as Scripture hypertext links, we would essentially have created a "dead-end." You would click the link to see that verse, but there would be no easy way to find the next link in the chain. We therefore decided to format these references as internal hypertext links. In other words, when you click on the reference to Job 26:13, you'll be taken to the marginal note on that verse within the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible itself. There you'll find a link to Job 33:4, where in turn you'll find a link to Psalm 104:30, and so on throughout the "chain."
          To see the text of each of these verses, just hover your mouse over the bold-faced reference for the verse to which each note belongs. Or you can use the "still more excellent way" of using parallel panes (which I'll talk more about below).
  • If you don't feel like traipsing through the chain one verse at a time, you can get a bird's-eye view of each topic by clicking the Topical index number to the left of each topic. This will take you to the Topical index, where you'll find summary information and a complete list of references for that topic. Drag a selection across all those references (making sure your selection starts and ends inside a hypertext link), and a window will open displaying every verse related to that topic.

    In my opinion, the coolest way to use the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is to display it in a parallel pane alongside the text of the Bible. Then, when you click on the link to go to the next verse in a chain, the Bible text will scroll in parallel with the pane containing Thompson. That way, you can go from verse to verse within a chain, and immediately see the text of those verses in context.

  • By formatting the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible as we have, we've done our best to preserve the experience of following a chain of references throughout Scripture, while also making it easy to jump to the Topical Index and view all the references for a given topic at once.

    I haven't even gone into all the supplementary material, archeological information, charts, photographs, and additional information which the Thompson module includes, but I think many of you will find it invaluable. This is not the public-domain edition of Thompson which can be found on the internet, but the current edition published by Kirkbride Bible and Technology in conjunction with WordSearch. We're very excited to be working with WordSearch to make this resource available to our users. For more on the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible CD-ROM, see this page.

    Friday, March 10, 2006  

    Usability and Familiarity

    At the start of this week, I made a distinction between programs with a "steep learning curve" and those for which there is simply "a lot to learn." I then argued that while Accordance users have a lot to learn, the consistency of the interface reduces the learning curve and makes it easier to master new features. Rubén Gómez of Bible Software Review picked up on this discussion and added his own thoughts:

    Reading [David's] post I was reminded of my own experience with what I sometimes call "the triple crown" (Accordance, BibleWorks and Logos). I have been a user of these three excellent programs for quite a while. I've seen them grow and become standards in different areas, but the one thing they all share in common is that they have become very complex packages. Any given user who is familiar with one of these will most likely think that the other two have a "steep learning curve" if/when they are exposed to them.

    One of Rubén's readers then commented:

    Ruben, your comments on the learning curve of current Bible software, especially as it pertains to moving from one package to another correlates to a recent article I read on usability in software:

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/de...stDraft/ 03.html

    The correlations the author draws from moving between a Windows and a Mac are applicable here, I think.

    In the linked article, the author defines usability as follows: Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected. He goes on to paint a scenario of a Windows user being frustrated with the "clunky interface" of a Mac because the Mac doesn't operate the way he has been trained to expect. For this user, the Mac is less usable than Windows because it is unfamiliar.

    I hear arguments like this all the time, and there is certainly some validity to them. The users who often have the hardest time getting their minds around the Accordance interface tend to be the long-time users of other Bible programs. The people who instinctively double-click to do X and press a particular key-combo to do Y may get frustrated because Accordance doesn't do what they're used to. Yet generally, once these users grasp the overall concepts behind the Accordance interface, they start to see that Accordance actually makes their Bible study easier than it's ever been.

    It's certainly true that the more deeply entrenched someone is in a particular way of doing things, the harder it will be for them to unlearn existing habits and adapt to new interface conventions. Yet those who draw a correlation between usability and familiarity don't typically stop there. They go on to imply that all interfaces are somehow created equal; that it's impossible to say "Brand X is easier to use than Brand Y" because "it all depends on what you're used to."

    In my opinion, that's a copout—one which is often used to excuse bad design. Sure, people can be trained to use poorly designed interfaces, but that doesn't mean we can't evaluate one operating system or software program as being easier to use than another.

    At OakTree Software, we do our best not to hide behind the that's-easy-for-you-because-it's-what-you're-used-to argument. We believe there are some objective criteria by which to assess a program's usability, and we want to make sure Accordance meets those criteria. I'll talk more about some of those criteria in upcoming posts, and I'll try to give some practical examples of how we've done our best to meet them. This, I hope, will accomplish three things beyond merely being an interesting theoretical discussion:

    1. It will give you an "inside look" into some of the thinking behind the Accordance interface.
    2. It will expose some of you to easier ways of doing things in Accordance than you may currently be using.
    3. It will help you better understand the way the Accordance interface works, so that when you explore a new feature you haven't used before, you'll be better equipped to anticipate how it should work.

    Whew! That ought to keep me busy blogging for a while! :-)

    Thursday, March 09, 2006  

    Tip for Organizing Ranges

    In the comments on Tuesday's post, someone suggested that we add the ability to group ranges into submenus of the Search Range pop-up menu. That's not a bad idea, and one we might consider implementing in a future rev. Until that happens (if it happens), here's a trick I use to organize my search ranges: I add divider lines to my Search range pop-up menu in order to group like ranges and make it easier for my eye to spot the range I want.

    To do this, just create a new range and give it a name consisting only of dashes (e.g.: "-", "--", "---", etc.). You need to use different numbers of dashes because each range name has to be unique, and you need to give each range a definition, even though you won't actually be able to select these ranges in the menu. Once you've created these ranges and placed them where you want them to appear in the list, just click Update. Your Search range pop-up menu should now display these dummy ranges as divider lines.

    Personally, I have four sections of ranges set off by divider lines: (1) Hebrew Bible/Old Testament ranges such as "Pentateuch," "Historical Books," etc. (2) New Testament ranges such as "Gospels" and "Pauline Epistles," (3) individual OT books, and finally (4) individual NT books. I place the individual books at the end of the list so that I don't have to scroll past 39 OT books just to get to my commonly used NT ranges.

    I hope this is helpful to some of you. I'll try to get to Tool Sets (mentioned in another comment on that post) soon.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006  

    Consistency Leads to Depth

    In yesterday's post, I talked about the consistency with which the various dialog boxes in Accordance are layed out, and how that makes it easier to explore the various options which are available. Today, I want to talk about how this goal of consistency often adds depth to the addition of new features.

    Way back in version 1.0, we introduced the "at" symbol (@) as a means of joining a word to a grammatical tag. So, for example, if you want to find the Greek verb agapao where it appears in the imperative mood, you would search for:

    The "at" symbol basically tells Accordance to find only those words that meet both criteria: that is, words with the lexical form agapao that have been tagged as imperatives. This is different from doing an AND search, which will find any form of agapao appearing in the same verse as any imperative verb.

    Fast forward to version 4.0, when we added Bible texts with Strong's numbers. Other programs had offered that feature for years, but in most cases, the implementation left something to be desired. So when we decided to implement Strong's numbers, we did so in a way that was analogous to our grammatically tagged Greek and Hebrew texts. We displayed the Strong's number and its corresponding Greek or Hebrew word in the Instant Details box, rather than forcing the user to display them in the text itself (yuck!). We let you triple-click a word in a Strong's number text to look it up in the corresponding Greek or Hebrew dictionary, just as you could do in a Greek or Hebrew text. We included the Strong's numbers in the statistical information provided by the Analysis window. We enabled users to view Strong's numbers in the Parsing and Syntax windows. We let you option-click the Search button on the Resource palette to search for the Strong's number attached to a selected English word. And finally, we let you use the "at" symbol to search for combinations of English words and Strong's numbers.

    I vividly remember the first time Roy showed me that you could search for "[Key G25]@-lov*" to find every place where agapao is not (notice the minus sign) translated by some form of the word "love." I think I said something to the effect of, "Wow, I didn't realize you were going to do that!" "Why not?" he replied, "The Strong's number is just a tag, so it should work with the 'at' symbol."

    This simple extension of an existing feature took the use of Strong's numbers in Bible software to a whole new level, and it was a clear example to me of how the consistent application of an existing interface convention can lead to powerful new capabilities.

    Note: For more on the use of Strong's numbers in Mac Bible Software, see this article I wrote for the Christian Mac Users Group.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006  

    Leveraging Your Options

    In yesterday's post, I explained that even though Accordance offers a dizzying array of features and options, the consistency of the Accordance interface reduces the learning curve and makes it easy to master most of what there is to learn. To see what I mean, let's look at the Define Ranges dialog box:

    You use the Define Ranges dialog box to define ranges of Bible books, chapters, and verses to search. If you want to limit a search to the "Torah" or the "Gospels," you can do it by defining those ranges. Once defined, these ranges appear in the Search Range pop-up menu located in the More Options section of the Search window. To access the Define Ranges dialog box, just choose "Define Range..." either from the Search menu or from the Search Range pop-up menu itself.

    This dialog box consists of a list of current ranges (top left); buttons for creating a new range, deleting a range, or moving a range up and down in the list (top right); a field for entering the name of the range; and a field for entering the books, chapters, and verses which define the range. To define a new range, simply click the New button, give your range a name and definition, then click the Update button. Your new range will now appear in the Search range pop-up menu and be easily accessible forever afterward. What could be simpler?

    Now let's look at the Define Highlight Styles dialog box. This dialog box is where you define the colors, shapes, and patterns you want to use in highlighting the text of the Bible. To open this dialog box, choose "Define Highlight Styles..." from the Display menu.

    Look familiar? You've got a list of styles; buttons for creating, deleting, and arranging styles; a field for naming the style; and pop-ups for defining the style. If you know how to define search ranges, you know how to define highlight styles.

    Want to create a Tool Set, a Search All group, a Map layer, or a Timeline layer? Call up the dialog boxes for those options and you'll see a layout very similar to the two we've looked at here. Want to rearrange your Text and Tool modules? Select the appropriate module type from the Edit Modules submenu of the Edit menu, and you'll see very much the same thing.

    I'd be willing to bet that many of you have never even looked at some of these options. But if you've learned to use just one of these dialog boxes, you already know the basics of working with all the others. That's a world of customization at your fingertips, and I hope you'll agree that the learning curve has been anything but steep.

    Monday, March 06, 2006  

    Steep Learning Curve or A Lot to Learn?

    Occasionally, I'll hear someone describe Accordance as having a "steep learning curve." It's usually followed by a statement like, "I've just begun to scratch the surface of what this software can do." This latter statement tells me that what they really mean by the phrase "steep learning curve" is that there is a lot to learn.

    This distinction is significant. Strictly speaking, a program with a "steep learning curve" is one which requires a great deal of effort just to master the basics. For example, when I first tried to use Adobe GoLive 5.0 to set up a web-site, I tried reading the manual, consulting the help, and just tinkering on my own, and I never got anywhere. It wasn't until I bought one of those "For Dummies" books that I could even begin to make heads or tails of GoLive. That was a program with a steep learning curve, because the barriers to entry were so high. (To be fair to Adobe, if I had been more familiar with some of their other applications, such as PhotoShop, I probably would have found GoLive's interface to be less intimidating. And, of course, the interface may have been improved since then.)

    A program with a steep learning curve is different from one that presents you with a lot to learn. With Accordance, it's not that hard to figure out how to do the basics: such as how to search the Bible or how to access a tool. But there are so many options and resources available that it can make the beginning user feel like he'll never learn it all. And it's not just the beginning user: scholars who use Accordance to do complex Greek and Hebrew searches still feel the same way, because there are a host of options available to them which they may not be using.

    Admittedly, there's a lot to learn if you want to get the most out of Accordance. Fortunately, most of the options and resources in Accordance operate in exactly the same way, so once you learn how to do one thing, you've learned how to do a half-dozen similar things. This week, I'll show you how the consistency of the Accordance interface reduces the learning curve and makes it easy to master most of what there is to learn.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006  

    Spreading the Word

    Yes, we are taking Accordance on the road again. Our experience tells us that seeing is believing. When people see the software, the new features, the way everything works together, and how easy it is to do apparently complex tasks, they become enthusiastic users who start to spread the word themselves.

    So, David and I are off to Chicago this month for seminars on the 17th and 18th, followed by Detroit on the 20th, South Hamilton on the 21st and Boston 22nd. It's not too late to sign up, but some locations are pretty full already.

    Then in June and July, Roy and I will take Accordance to conferences in Amman, Jerusalem, and Edinburgh. The Jerusalem conference looks really interesting, and registration for both it and the accompanying optional tour is still open.

    I am looking forward to meeting many of you face to face on these trips.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006  

    Why We Don't Bother to Count

    In my previous post, I announced the addition of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture to Accordance. You'll be seeing many such announcements in the coming weeks and months. In fact, our biggest problem right now is keeping up with all the new resources we're working to release.

    Yet while you'll be seeing lots of new resources made available this year, one thing you won't see is a quantitative measurement of how many electronic books are currently available. You see, we just don't bother to count them all.

    One reason for this is that it's not all that clear what constitutes a "book." Does each volume of a multi-volume work count as a "book," or do you just count each "title"? What if you have a module which contains the equivalent of multiple print books? For example, we offer one module containing three books by E. M. Bounds on prayer. We list it as one module, but we could easily advertise it as three "books."

    Things get even murkier when dealing with things which are not "books" at all. How does one count the various Theological Journals or the archives of Biblical Archaeology Review? Does each issue count as a "book," or each year of issues, or should each journal or magazine be counted just once?

    Similarly, we offer a few modules on the Library CD-ROM which are more like pamphlets than books. It seems a stretch to list such things as books, and we've actually been criticized for even releasing them and listing them as distinct modules. Do we count these separately, or lump them together so that they'll be big enough to count as one "book"? If the latter, how many pages or megabytes of information would be enough to qualify as a "book"?

    All of this ambiguity surrounding the term "book" only serves to illustrate the vagaries of replicating books in software. That's why you'll hardly ever hear us using terms like "e-Books" or "electronic books." An Accordance module is so much more than an electronic version of a print book that we find the term "book" too limiting—it may communicate the idea that you can read a work onscreen, but it doesn't communicate the ability to search; the division into logical "fields" of content; the integration with other modules; the ability to show or hide things like red-letter, poetic formatting, superscripts, and verse references; or any of the other benefits Accordance modules have over print books. In fact, the ability to be read enjoyably is the one area where a print book still has some advantages over its electronic equivalent.

    When we create an Accordance module, our primary concern is not how we can replicate a print book in software; but how we can best accommodate the way a user is going to want to access the material. If a user buys a multi-volume commentary, does he want to have to remember which volume to choose for commentary on a given passage? Does he want to go through the trouble of creating a tool set or Search All group just so he can search the whole thing at once? Of course not. So whenever we can, we combine multiple volumes of a single work—or occasionally even distinct but related works—into a single Accordance module.

    Even when we have to publish multiple volumes separately, we still go through the trouble of offering a complete alternative. For example, when we developed the Pillar New Testament Commentary, the publisher wanted users to be able to buy individual volumes rather than having to pay for the entire set. So we developed eight separate modules: PNTC-Matthew, PNTC-Mark, PNTC-John, etc. But we also realized that users who did buy the whole set would not necessarily want to deal with eight separate modules. So we combined all eight volumes into a single module called Pillar NTC. That way, our users have the option of buying individual volumes, along with a convenient way to access the entire set.

    For all of these reasons, we don't tend to emphasize the number of resources that are currently available for Accordance. We don't give totals for each package we sell, and we don't give a grand total. We've never bothered to count, because it's too ambiguous, and because it's just not our primary concern.

    Please note that this post is not meant as a criticism of those Bible software developers who do advertise the quantity of resources available. There are many who do it, and they each tend to count in slightly different ways. I certainly understand why they do it, and I sometimes wish I had such a convenient way to convey the massive amount of material which is already available for Accordance. My purpose here is not to criticize others, but to point out something which I feel is a distinctive about Accordance. It's just one more way in which we tend to "Think Different" about Bible Software.