I thought it only appropriate to highlight the Xiphos, formerly known as GnomeSword, in my second Project Spotlight. This is the Gnome-based frontend to the Sword Bible library.

Xiphos (formerly known as GnomeSword) is a Bible study tool written for Linux, UNIX, and Windows under the GNOME toolkit, offering a rich and featureful environment for reading, study, and research using modules from The SWORD Project and elsewhere. It is open-source software, and available free-of-charge to all.

Once again, to gain a bit of perspective on the developers and the development of Xiphos, I joined the #xiphos IRC channel.

Development Status

With the latest version of Xiphos, version 3, it is now cross-platform, able to run on Windows, Linux and other Unixes. Xiphos has a strong set of developers behind it, who are active in both development and in the community. There are about 6 folks working on the actual code, and about another 10 or 11 who are actively involved in translation of the application.

As mentioned before, Xiphos used to be called GnomeSword. The developers decided to rename GnomeSword to Xiphos at version 3 for two reasons:

  • Firstly, they were planning on releasing this new cross-platform verison, and with a few applications with similar names on Windows, they felt they needed to make their application stand out better by changing the name.
  • Secondly, they realised that with the high adoption rate of Linux distributions like Ubuntu, some folks were not aware that their desktop environment was called Gnome. Not only that, there were even some reports of folks thinking that GnomeSword was related to Dungeons and Dragons!

Using Xiphos

Firstly, here's the customary screenshot:

Xiphos 3.0

Xiphos' features and interface, since it's a frontend for the Sword Project, is similar to BibleTime. On the left you have the Modules, Bookmarks, Search and Verse List views, each accessible via the buttons above the list. The main part of the application is a tabbed interface with each tab holding a translation of the Bible.

Xiphos has a very nice advanced search, which you can use to do a very customised search. It also has a parallel view where you can see two or more translations of the Bible at the same time.

You can install more modules using the module manager, which will connect to multiple sites, or even a CD, and allow you to browse and download the modules, which will then appear in Xiphos for you to use.

Interview with Karl Kleinpaste


How long have you been involved with Xiphos?


Sometime in early '06, by accident I discovered Sword Project software in Fedora repositories. At the time, I had no idea there was any Bible study software for Linux at all. The first one I noticed was BibleTime, and upon installing that, of course Sword itself was pulled in as the necessary supporting library dependency. That led me to looking for what else used the Sword library, and I found what was then called GnomeSword.

Unfortunately, my early experiences with it weren't very good. I had v2.1.5, I think, and my initial effort at putting it to use was a real problem, to the point that I wrote... well, not exactly a bug report, but more a transcript of user experience. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I wanted to make clear how a first-time user who is no dummy in Linux could far too easily get the application to misbehave.

Even so, I fiddled quite a bit with both BibleTime and then-GnomeSword and decided that GnomeSword just plain fit my brain better. That's no criticism of any kind of BibleTime; it was simply my personal choice for which program I felt served my personal needs best.

Open source software is all about scratching personal itches, and that's how I made my choice to use and then get involved with this development.


How did you get involved with the project?


It was a couple months after first use that I decided to take an interest in the code, because a couple bugs were really bothering me. So I made some low-grade, rather tepid changes on minor display things before tackling bigger problems. Once I got adequately comfortable with the code environment as a whole, I began hunting down the bad bugs that were really in my way. Notably, at the time just spinning a mouse wheel on the verse navbar could induce a crash, and eventually I found a conflict between the GTK multi-thread model and the destruction of an internal verse key. Shortly after that, I started fixing a lot of other bugs, and trying to get other people to help me find them.

At a certain point, I had a neat thought about using text-to-speech, and one evening I cooked up a basic feature enhancement to provide for the current Bible's text to be funneled through "festival," the common TTS system found in Linux systems, as one selected one verse after another. It was at about that time that Terry Biggs, GnomeSword's founder and project lead, made me a project admin at SourceForge and basically told me to do whatever I felt was necessary -- I guess it was pretty clear by then that I just wasn't going away.


How often do you get a chance to work on the project?


Constantly. We've had reason to use the word "obsession" more than once with regard to it. The Xiphos project has gained a well-deserved reputation for having a thoroughly frenetic development pace; we make a new release every couple of months. The longest we've ever gone without a release since I've been involved is ~5 months.

Side issues not directly related to Xiphos code development are important, too. For example, Terry and I once did a half hour of talk radio on the Christian talk station in my area, chatting about Bible software generally and why it's valuable, during which we naturally plugged The Sword Project and (then-)GnomeSword heavily.

Another side issue is that I produce a lot of Sword modules which users now find in "the Xiphos repository." That is, for a long time, I maintained a module repository on a machine of mine at home, using my ordinary residential-class Internet connection. As we headed toward the Windows port, and knowing that a far larger population could well come upon our software and want those modules, we set ourselves up with a proper hosting plan so that bandwidth for access to these modules is not a problem. Today, new users of Xiphos get a set of 4 well-known module repositories, 2 at CrossWire itself (main + beta), bible.org because that's where the official NET modules are found, and Xiphos' repository, which contains modules produced mostly by Xiphos-involved people. There are more than 3 dozen modules there, including several non-English Bibles, some map and atlas modules, updated Strong's dictionaries, and several general books, such as Hodge's and Finney's systematic theologies, The Training of the Twelve, and the massive Early Church Fathers module.


What is your role within the project?


At this time, I'm project lead/administrator. Terry started the project in 2000 -- he's actually a pastor who is good with software, and so Xiphos truly represents the core of the open source concept of "a personal itch to scratch" -- and it will truly and always be his baby, but he has told me bluntly that he expects me to keep it going at this point. He was away from the project for quite a while in 2008, but he has recently come back and written quite a bit of new code, such as the "paratab" feature (full-chapter parallel window as just another tab in the main window).


How does the project make decisions?


Both autocracy and consensus.

There have been fairly long dry periods during which I was doing the vast majority of new development and bugfixing.  Especially during those times, I made decisions almost entirely as I saw fit, though I often would poll the mailing lists for opinion about plans I was thinking about carrying out, just to be sure I wasn't slipping off the tracks entirely.

More recently, quite a few people have gotten far more involved, which is a truly lovely thing to see happen, a new sense of critical mass. In these more recent months, we've begun to operate in a largely consensus-based manner. There are still occasional tough decisions, such as how to go about getting new graphics developed as we changed names. But the name change itself is a good example of consensus: As we began the port to Windows, the point was made that the name "GnomeSword" was poor in that environment, both because there are other "Something-Sword" Bible programs for Windows, and because the "Gnome" part of the name means little enough to Linux users and nothing at all to Windows users. So we got a core set of the dozen or so people who really cared about the issue to discuss the matter privately, took suggestions, debated their value, and came up with Xiphos, which nearly everybody liked. The word is the transliteration of ξίφος, a Greek word for Sword, maintaining our connection to The Sword Project as a whole.

There is seldom a need for a raw democratic majority vote kind of decision. Truly, we're all on the same page for nearly everything we do, and such differences of opinion as arise are not severe, so it's not hard to re-achieve consensus on things that begin to raise a barrier. Only a couple of times have I had to make a deliberate selection for who should do what, in a raw management role in the project.


How does being a Christian influence your work on Xiphos?


Well...It's Bible software. It's hard to get closer to the core of Christian belief than to provide new and better and ever-improving tools to help other Christians study God's word.  I've had a long (if vaguely unreasonable) goal that Xiphos could be the proper superset of application capability across all the applications in The Sword Project family, and the friendly competition that exists is a motivating force for how to make this particular tool ever better.

The basic work of Christianity is summed up in The Great Commission. Within that, I have always understood that there are those who should Go into the mission field and the rest should Send those who Go. I believe that our work facilitates Sending hugely. This was deeply exemplified to me a year ago: When I attended the BibleTech:2008 conference on Bible software, I was pleased and gratified to learn that Wycliffe/SIL have taken a serious particular interest in Xiphos for their field translators to use.


How does the team resolve conflict?


Within the Xiphos crowd, to be sure, there exists conflict now and again, but it is very rarely of a sort that distracts from the work.

Usually, I find out about conflict arising via private email, a note or two can be exchanged about what's going on, and a decision can be reached regarding a solution. This has never gone on longer than a day or two.

As anyone knows who has read the mailing lists of the greater Sword Project, there is clearly more conflict between completely different application groups than there has ever been within Xiphos itself. Our little crowd is really very much of one mind about the vast majority of questions; it's when what our little crowd wants bumps into what the rest of The Sword Project wants that actual conflict results.

We're not in charge of resolving that kind of conflict, so I can't address the situation much, but I can say that, having been in the middle of such conflict, I do try to step back and re-address difficult matters privately with some of those involved.


Anything else you want to say?


We are always looking for new people to contribute. An especially useful and not-too-difficult contribution is translation of the interface to new languages.  Currently, we have a dozen translations -- the most of any Sword Project application -- but we would love to have more.  Before v3 was released, we looked over the existing translations and actually retired several due to lack of ongoing support.  It would be extraordinarily useful to have new maintainers of Spanish, Russian, Slovak, and Ukrainian translations again.

Other than translation, we of course can always use fresh new ideas, and people who can implement such ideas, for all the things Xiphos should be able to do.

Xiphos is a strong, mature Bible study application, but there are always existing capabilities in need of reconsideration as well as a need for new thoughts on what Xiphos could do.  For Christians, I really do think developing Bible study software represents a personal itch we can all understand and respect. We welcome all those who would like to join the party, so to speak.

In Conclusion

Well, Xiphos is a nice mature frontend to the Sword Project, and with it's new cross-platform capability, it provides Windows users a decent alternate at last. Xiphos has some handy features (like the advanced search) and their translation team is working on getting Xiphos availble in as many languages as possible.


comments powered by Disqus