- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

Books are great things, but they aren’t always cheap, nor are they always easily portable. Try lugging an 800-page reference book around, for example. While eReader devices are poised to make a splash, the lack of cross-device compatibility and some user-friendly features pose problems for serious researchers and students.

What’s the answer? A small firm in Bellingham, Wash., 90 miles north of Seattle, might hold more than a few keys.

Logos Research Systems Inc., whose products have been reviewed here before, is in the process of launching Logos Bible Software 4, and it’s revolutionary both in concept and execution. And, I believe, it might have implications beyond the world of religious studies.

In the past, users would spend anywhere between about $150 to $1,500 and buy a particular Logos Bible Software “package” and receive both a software “engine” and the rights to use electronic copies of various books. Many of the reference works, on Logos, are priced at a fraction of their print counterparts and have the added advantage of near-instantaneous lookup, as well as linkage with other “books” in your copy of the program’s computer-based library.

Now that’s cool, but it could also be limited. If you didn’t schlep your computer to and from the office or classroom, you might be stuck. And forget about hand-held access: How would you pack 1,400 books on a Palm Pilot?

Logos Bible Software 4 eliminates this problem. I’m not sure of the legal moves, but the idea now is that a user can have mirror images of their digital libraries on computers at work and home, as well as a rather huge representation of titles on their iPhone, and everything works together, right down to keeping your “place” in a dozen (or more) books from where you were at work to your den to your mobile phone.

If the old way was “cool,” what adjective fits this?

One of the big things I’ve found in using Logos’ products is the tremendous synergy that erupts. If you’re researching a given topic, it’s possible to find hundreds of references and linkages across a diverse range of books and thinkers. Many serious students also like to delve into the “original” languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Again, thanks to the integration of all the texts and resources with a computerized search system, the cross-references and discoveries are almost endless.

I also like the new “home” screen of Logos Bible Software 4, which resembles a Web page or a newsmagazine layout. There are different articles and readings daily, as well as ways to dig deeper into various subjects. The overall program is very inviting and nonthreatening for the novice user.

On the iPhone side, the Logos Bible Software application, which is free at the iTunes Applications Store, will tap into your library, via a wireless data connection, and bring up the items you need or want. You can also specify titles that are of greatest need or interest. Not every Logos title shows up perfectly on the iPhone at the moment, but they’re working on refining it, as well as a Mac version of the new desktop software. Ultimately, all three platforms — Windows, iPhone and Mac — will work together rather seamlessly.

But think, for a moment, beyond the (rather large) “niche” market of people who study the Bible and related resources. Think of doctors, lawyers, accountants or anyone who needs to consult a wide range of texts — some old and some modern — on a continual basis. I would imagine that the Logos Bible Software “engine” could be adapted to these areas and that similar benefits could emerge.

For those who have a serious interest in Bible study, the combination of Logos’ technology and the firm’s access to a superwide range of titles suggest that this new product will attract a great deal of attention. Information can be found at www.logos.com, and believe me — it’s very well worth it.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.