Deciding which Bible software program is right for you can be a daunting task. The previous post was mostly a history lesson, intended to show how we got to the present situation. Now, assuming you're new to the world of Bible software, the question is, "How to get started, and which path should I choose?" I will start with the situation of a complete beginner with no previous Bible software experience, and make some suggestions for this case. For those with moderate experience with Bible software at some level or other, I will group my suggestions into 3 categories: (1) little or no cost; (2) moderate cost; (3) large expenditure. Actually there will be little difference between the complete beginner and the person with moderate experience who wants to make little or no expenditure on Bible software. Both can start in pretty much the same place.
So for those who are completely new to the field of Bible software, or those with moderate experience who don't want to spend a significant amount of money, there are really two good options. (a) One is to begin by downloading one of the better free Bible software programs (free means the program itself is free along with some of the older, public domain content modules; you will still have to pay to unlock more modern translations and resources like the NIV, NRSV, etc.). One of the best programs in this category, with one of the largest lists of free resources and modules, is eSword. This is a very good program which will serve many lay users well for basic Bible study, Bible search, Bible reference, etc. (b) The other approach, if you have a fast Internet connection, is to use Bible software that is strictly online and used over the Internet (no program needs to be downloaded and installed on your computer). One of the best of these is the NeXtBible Learning Environment featuring the NET Bible from bible.org. Both of these options will allow you to explore how basic Bible software works without any significant financial investment on your part. This is good experience, because even if you decide to invest in one of the commercially available Bible software programs mentioned below later, you will get some basic familiarity with how Bible software works and what it can (or cannot) do for you.
For those who already have some experience, or who know they want to invest a moderate amount in a good Bible software program, there are starter packages at the lay level for all of the "big three" Bible software programs (Accordance for Macintosh and Logos Bible Software or BibleWorks for PC). Examples from Logos Bible Software include the Christian Home Library ND ($149.95) or the Bible Study Library ND ($259.95) both of which have plenty of Bibles and tools for lay users, though the latter is a considerably better deal because it includes the NIV and the NET Bible and notes, along with some reverse interlinear Bibles which provide linked access through Strong's numbers to original language tools. Pastors with some training in the biblical languages, along with seminary and Bible college students, would be better served, though, by selecting the Original Languages Library ND ($415.95) or Scholar's Library ND ($629.95), though before deciding you should look at the online Comparison Chart to see precisely what is included and not included in the various packages). If you are part of an academic setting (Bible college, seminary) you should also check to see if your school is part of the Academic Discount Program, which can result in considerably reduced prices from the ones above, which come from the current website.
About the same investment ($349) will get you the full BibleWorks 7 program with 112 Bible translations in some 30 languages, 14 original language texts, 12 Greek and 5 Hebrew lexicons, etc. This is NOT a starter package but the full program, though a few higher-end tools and modules can still be added. This is a package that would serve pastors, seminary and Bible college students very well, with not very much to add on later. Due to the philosophy of BibleWorks, however, not much is going to be available in the way of commentaries; these add-on modules are mostly original language tools and reference materials. In fact, the makers of BibleWorks seem to discourage users from building large electronic libraries, implying that really the only thing electronic users should buy are reference works that are used on a daily basis (read their statement for yourself: http://store.bibleworks.com/modules.html). I do not really agree with their points, because going forward it will be possible to read almost any digital format with the appropriate translators and file converters, which would appear online almost immediately if a major Bible software producer went out of business (when is the last time you worried about being able to read a .doc format document?) And as for the durability of paper libraries, when is the last time you tried to recover a paper library from a flood or fire? Backups to electronic libraries can easily be kept in separated locations in case they are needed; I have done this for years.
If you're a Mac user and do not have Accordance previously installed, you can purchase the Starter Package for $39 which includes the program itself and a number of free modules including KJV, Easton's Bible Dictionary, and the Matthew Henry Commentary (abridged). This starter package is a good way to familiarize yourself with the ease of installation and use of Accordance, the best native Mac Bible program by far. Steps upward (depending on how much you want to spend) are the Library 7 Introductory Level ($79), Standard Level ($179) or Premiere Level ($279). But if you are a pastor with biblical languages training, a Bible college or seminary student, a better option to consider might be the Scholar's Collection 7.4 Core Bundle at $249, since this contains more original language texts and tools.
Finally, on the higher end of the scale, pastors, Bible college and seminary students who want the BEST lexical reference works for Greek and Hebrew are going to have to pay extra for them in all the major packages (due to the licensing arrangements by Brill (HALOT, the Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament) and University of Chicago Press (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). These two works average about $150 each, though BibleWorks sells them bundled for $212 (both) and Logos for $249.95 (both). Pretty expensive, but really worth having if you're working with biblical languages.