Logos 4...

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(David) Several weeks ago Logos Software suddenly began advertising a new version (No. 4) of their Bible software. I've owned Logos for years and my frustration with their publishing practices has been expressed on this blog in the past. But beyond a business model which charges often-ridiculous prices for public domain books, and book sets which contain an inordinate amount of chaff, I have consistently found the intricacies of the software off-putting. Logos has never been easy to use. It's complex, counter-intuitive, challenging software. Consequently, I seldom use Logos for anything but simple Bible searches.

So an updated version promising greater speed and ease-of-use sounded attractive. How could things get worse? Any simplification would help, especially since I've found it hard to incorporate additional book collections I've purchased over the years into my work flow. So I ponied up $150 for the upgrade and here's what I found.

First, secrecy dominates Logos Software's approach to Logos 4. They didn't announce the new version before putting it on sale. They didn't release a public beta. They didn't explain new features or list the ways Logos 4 differs from past versions. They simply advertised a revolutionary new Logos edition and immediately began selling it.

Among the many things Logos left unannounced was the inordinately lengthy process upgrading to Logos 4 entails. There's the initial download--a many-gigabyte exercise in patience for most. Then, there's the indexing that follows the downloading--an even-more interminable process which mired my computer in digital quicksand for hours without the slightest warning or explanation. I suspected the new software was doing something but I had no idea what. Was it still downloading? stuck? activating? This went on for hours, a black box of uncertainty that frustrated initial users immensely. After complaints came raining down, Logos included a pop-up warning users that indexing follows the initial download and that indexing can take hours or even days. Further revisions to Logos 4 now permit indexing to be delayed to a more convenient time.

Nor are downloading and indexing the only places where Logo was tight-lipped about the new software. Logos 4 requires web access from the outset and apparently constantly communicates with Logos servers about users' books, open windows, workspaces, etc. when the software is running. (An option subsequently added to the software permits internet access to be turned off, but refusing Logos 4 access to the internet would be ill-advised since the software is constantly downloading new versions and updated resources, leading me to my next point....)

It turns out Logos 4 was shipped and put on sale without being finished. Many things we take for granted in older versions of Logos are impossible to accomplish in Logos 4. So, for instance, would you like to print from Logos 4? That's among Logos 4's "Features Coming Soon." Want to copy and paste lists of verses from Logos 4 into MS Word? That's a feature expected in "First Quarter 2010."  Individual verses can be copied and pasted but there's no mass export capability, nor can entire lists be copied and pasted. This is true throughout Logos 4: no export, no import, no mass copy and paste.

You might be tempted to turn off Logos 4's internet access for privacy reasons, but do so and your  software remains un-updated. Nor does Logos explain either the chronic software updates sent downstream from their servers or the extent of information sent from user's computers to Logos servers. The exchange of information is sufficiently complete, Logos proudly notes, that users can reinstall Logos and have absolutely everything--books, personal notes, settings, etc.--transferred to the new installation from Logos servers (not as benign a thing as Logos may assume in the eyes of some of its customers).

As part of its new, internet-centric vision, Logos 4 includes a new home page filled largely with promotional text and ads which cannot be turned off. The page is essentially useless, except that if you wish to research a passage you must enter its reference in a search box found only on that page--the sole non-promotional component of the page.

Little written help is available in the program. Time-consuming explanatory videos which must be downloaded from Youtube are Logos's primary help mechanism. In fact, I only learned that copying and pasting lists is a "future feature" by exploring the Logos forums. The combined dearth of program help and software explanation on the Logos site makes the online forums essential reading for any but the most casual users of the software.

I could and probably should say more about the frustrations of the software. Logos is charging for software so incomplete and buggy that Microsoft wouldn't send it out the door as an Alpha, let alone a Beta. They've not used any of the Windows conventions for the product. Nothing works the way you expect it to.

And yet, let me add that it's possible this version will finally begin the process of making Logos a truly usable product. Each previous version of Logos suffered from slow searches, a multitude of useless resources that clogged searches with thousands of useless hits and an almost impossibly confusing interface. Logos 4 may just help with each of these problems.

The new interface is an improvement. Hovering over words and passages often causes useful lexical and grammatical information to appear in nearby boxes. Multiple versions of passages can appear in one window--you click on a link at the top of the window to view the desired version. Indexing all resources vastly speeds searches. Finally, assembling collections of truly useful resources so that searches aren't filled with garbage responses is much easier in Logos 4 than in Logos 3.

Overall, however, it's hard to avoid the feeling that Logos is trading on the good manners of its largely-Christian customer base by shipping such an incomplete, ill-prepared and self-serving piece of software. The only thing in Logos 4 that worked perfectly out of the box is the home page, and that's all marketing.