More than two decades before the first personal computer, Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" postulated that mixing computers and religion might bring about the end of computing—and everything else. But now, more than two decades after the first PC, the real effect of this combination appears much more benign.
Religious software has found a market all its own, a market nearly invisible behind headlines touting the godlike powers of Microsoft and the sins of the game industry. For example, research firm PC Data reports biblical CD-ROM titles from the Learning Company and GT Interactive each sold more than 100,000 units at software retailers in 1997—not just an impressive number but a hefty 60 percent-plus increase from 1996.
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By comparison, 1997's top general educational reference titles were a budget-priced version of Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia (at nearly 200,000 copies), Microsoft Encarta Deluxe, and Collier's Encyclopedia. The two best-selling Bibles would come next, ahead of retail sales of IBM's World Book Encyclopedia and Microsoft Bookshelf.
Some e-Bibles on the market are mostly text. Others, such as the new QuickVerse Multimedia Life Application Bible from Parsons Technology, offer a popular translation plus maps, cool 360-degree panoramas of holy sites, pronunciation of biblical names (quick: say Maher-shalal-hash-baz, three times fast), and dramatic readings, with cheesy music, that teeter on the brink of melodrama (but then, I don't much care for televangelist interpretations, either). There appear to be versions and approaches to suit every sect.
Retail popularity may not even scratch the sales surface. Parsons, which has more than 200 products in its biblical QuickVerse line, estimates that 90 percent of its religious product sales come from outside traditional software channels. Foremost are sales direct to the consumer, followed by sales through Christian bookstores. Both Parsons and the annual Christian Booksellers Association member survey indicate Christian bookstores are selling more software.
Even more specialized products do well, albeit to specialized audiences: Parsons has its HebrewTutor and GreekTutor aimed at serious Bible students and pastors, and Seattle-based Biblesoft has several high-end reference libraries. This doesn't factor in religious clip art (Broderbund launched ClickArt Christian Graphics last month to what it calls enthusiastic response), children's multimedia Bible storybooks, angel screen savers, or other non-biblical religious software.
It's tempting to try to tie surging sales of religious software to increased influence of religious extremists, festering end-of-the-millennium hysteria, or the undeniable fact that most people pray whenever they turn on their computer. But the real reason may simply be that electronic Bibles are finally emulating the sales behavior of their paper (and best-selling-book-of-all-time) counterpart.
Not only does God reveal Himself in mysterious ways, He does it bit by bit.
No assembler required
The rise of easy-to-use computer programming tools may spell the end of a rite of passage for many software engineers: learning how to code in assembly language, a task that effectively "teaches" engineers about computer architecture and how computer hardware works. So fears the new, and mostly nonexistent, Assembly Language Preservation Society. Notes the site, "Microsoft recently announced that they would no longer support MASM; Microsoft's Assembler. This is very sad news for the people who are involved with computers for the mere love of it.... The industry is dumbing down." As if proof beyond Microsoft Bob were needed.
For those curious to know if, after four years, I had an attention span long enough to write anything lengthier than a column, the proof has arrived: This month marks the publication of Marketing Online for Dummies from IDG Books Worldwide, co-authored by me and long-time fellow technology marketer Bud Smith. Aimed at both technology and non-tech businesses, MOFD (as we affectionately came to call it, as in "I've been MOFD by this unrealistic deadline") walks marketers through online strategy and tactics appropriate for the Web, e-mail, and newsgroups. Sure, it's brought to you by the same publisher who released Sex for Dummies, but at least you don't have to wonder if buyers of this book should even be allowed to procreate.
A couple of correspondents took issue with my comparing the number of eyes and PCs to explain why software wasn't everywhere books were ("Submerging Channels," 2/26). They'd rather consider the number of people who can read or who buy books. But the issue isn't literacy or longing, it's how many have the basic tools to do the task—and by that measure, software still has more nays than eyes.
Frank Catalano, a Seattle-area analyst for interactive multimedia and software companies, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complete Byte Me archives are available at www.catalanoconsulting.com
Assembly Language Preservation Society