Friday, February 08, 2008

Where are the Bible study tools?

One of the reasons that this blog has languished over the last few years is that relatively little has changed in the landscape of Bible study oriented software. To my knowledge, there is still no real Tablet PC software designed to aid someone who wishes to study scripture for him- or herself.

e-Sword has been updated a number of times since I first wrote about it. While many of the new features are very nice, none of them provide any support for the pen. The whole landscape of e-Sword Bible import tools has changed substantially in the intervening time, but frankly I haven't bothered to keep up with it. I've already got 30-40 Bibles in e-Sword and any more would just be padding the bookshelves. More commercial Bibles are available, which is a good thing if you want the latest translations and a bad thing if you want them free.

GoBinder, which I mentioned in "The Student, the Fish, Agassiz and the Tablet" back in March of 2005, seems to be at the end of its life. OneNote is up to version 2007, which is a major improvement over OneNote 2003 and highly recommended, but still a general purpose tool, albeit a great one.

But really, there is not a single program that is designed for the student of the Bible who uses a Tablet PC.

I find myself with some time on my hands now, something that hasn't been true for several years. Part of what I am doing with this time is re-honing my programming skills, specifically for the Tablet PC. I would love to tackle a program like this. But in order to do that, I need to know what it should do. If, after all this time, anyone is still "out there" reading this blog, I'm asking you what you would like to see for Bible study aids with a Tablet PC twist. Post your comments here and maybe we can get some discussion going.

Some of the things I have been mulling over include importing or making use of Bibles from e-Sword as the text source, multiple notes sets per passage, flexibility in formatting of the text on the page for inductive study, creation of your own links to other passages, notes pages that parallel the text in addition to ink directly on the text. What else would you like to see?


Blogger kristie said...

Here's a site that I've been exploring and thought you’d might like to explore Bible Study Tools at has a huge library of tools with 29 translations commentaries, concordances, apocrypha, devotionals, lexicons, maps, e-books, and great reading plans. You can also highlight text, save your own notes, use a split screen panel so you can see two translations, a translation and a commentary, etc. I hope you get a chance to check it out!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Mark Payton said...

Thanks, Kristie. There looks to be some good stuff there. The thing that is really missing, though is still inductive study tools for the Tablet PC. I'm a huge proponent of using little more than a pen and paper and Scripture for a major portion of one's study, highlighting relationships, grammatical constructs, literary constructs, etc. to make the meaning of a passage clear. (ala Irving Jensen.) Nothing like that exists that leverages the strengths of the Tablet PC, though this much can be done in OneNote, Journal, even Word. A great Tablet PC tool would offer a very flexible way of doing this much, then allow for the incorporation of reference passages, outside links, etc.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Bill Campbell said...

If you do end up creating something, I'm willing to be a beta tester. I've never gotten to the point where I open up the tablet in the sanctuary (maybe it's a convertible vs slate thing), but I use eSword during group bible study and most other times I want access to scripture.

I say most because I can't find an eSword compatible NRSV translation and that's what my church generally uses in Sunday school and during services. Do you have any leads on that or any recommendations for a a decent and reasonably priced NRSV bible in offline electronic form? I even left feedback asking about this when I made a donation to eSword last month as I'm willing to pay for an eSword version, but I never received a response.

I've found multiple sites where I can read the NRSV translation by chapter online but that doesn't work when I have no Internet connection unless I know exactly what I want in advance and copy/paste.

I have thought about looking into BeST to create one, but I don't know anything about it and haven't spent time finding out much yet.

9:43 PM  
Blogger tmanning said...

I'm dying for something exactly like what you are describing. If I could WRITE and highlight directly on the text and also be able to search it later that would be so cool. Being able to use the symbols (Kay Arthur style) would be nice, too but not necessary.

I have thought about writing the program myself many times over the years but honestly I know I would spend more time writing and less time studying. Also, I have narcolepsy so it would take me at least twice as long as someone else to code and debug the thing.

If I can't have my dream software as described above, my second-best software desire would be to have the software suite from Laridian converted to work on my Nintendo DS. I have it on my Pocket PC phone now and love it but rarely use it because the screen is pretty small and using the split-screen features makes it even worse. The software already has the ability to everything that you have already described except for the free-writing thing (which is really the main thing I want). It has the ability to make searchable notes, highlight, and link between Bible versions, commentaries, etc. If it were on the DS, you could hold it like a book and have the touch screen capability, at least on one side, and have a much larger reading area. I know there are other adults who would use this too. And you know what? It's MUCH smaller than a Tablet PC so it can easily be used in church or on the bus, etc. and stored in your purse or briefcase when not in use - and it's very rugged!

If you want to develop, this may be something that you want to look into. Check out info on Nintendo DS "homebrew" for info on source code.

Either way, Tablet PC or DS - to steal a line from Field of Dreams - "If you build it, they will come."

Good Luck and God Bless!!!

10:12 AM  
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2:01 AM  
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12:11 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

Since this seems to be several years old, I don't really expect a response; but I decided to try. I have been using an HP tablet (tc4200) for a couple years and enjoy esword, but would love to have more tools as you are describing. Has anything more developed regarding this issue?

1:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Payton said...

Hi Owen,

Sadly, there hasn't been anything new to speak of. The whole Tablet PC sphere has languished lately, owing largely to Microsoft's ignoring of the platform, but also to Apple's big splash with the somewhat similar but far more limited iPad. I'm hoping MS realizes that the pen is unique and powerful and really emphasizes it in Windows 8 on tablet devices, but I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I have been using TheWORD as an alternative to eSword, but I'm not sure which I like better. Both have compromises on Tablet PCs, but each has its strengths also.

4:43 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

Thank you for responding. My HP is on its last legs, I fear. Too many crashes - battery life only about 1 hour of use. It also is much bulkier than I would like. Is there anything out there that you would recommend for a replacement? Maybe I could find some used tablet/slate on ebay or Craigslist.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Mark Payton said...


If I were in the market right now for a Tablet PC, I would look at Lenovo for convertables and Motion for slates. I really like the slate form (my TC1100 is by far my favorite Tablet ever) as long as it has some kind of decent keyboard option, which the Motions do.

I'm hoping for renewed interest in this platform after Windows 8 (though I'm not holding my breath) and some new innovation rather than all of the bland sameness that exists generally today.

6:44 PM  
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