PDAbookALL ABOUT EBOOK READERS and EBOOKS

Originally this article covered the subject of eBooks and how to use them in your PDA. However, it has been expanded to include other devices that are not PDA's. Windows, Macs, Unix boxes, and other OS's are included when something is available for them. Several dedicated eBook readers are described as well as many sources for eBooks. Some information on other resources is also included.

Note that this article distinguishes between a book reader and just trying to use a word processor or text editor such as Microsoft word as an eBook reader. An editor makes a pretty poor eBook reader so if you have a book in an editor format you might want to convert it.

Can I use my PDA as an eBook reader?

Yes, you can. This is one of the great uses for a PDA. You can hold a full library of books on an SD card and reading is easy with the unit in the palm of your hand. All you need is a program to read the eBooks and a source of books. One good source of books is Memoware.com, but there are many more as well. Most of the classics are freely available while more recent books can be purchased. One of the complications with eBooks is that they are often formatted and designed for a particular eBook reader so you will need to have an appropriate reader to use with the book. For Pocket PC PDA's there are 5 main readers. These include Microsoft reader, Palm eRreader, Adobe Acrobat, MobiPocket, and Tome Raider. Palm users will find all of the readers mentioned above except the Microsoft Reader. There are many other readers for PDAs but these are the main ones. Each of these are covered below. Links for other readers are also included in a later section.

Note that eBooks have two basic flavors in addition to multiple formats. There are free books and books you have to pay for. Some of the time the books you have to pay for are locked and must be unlocked to be read using a key supplied by the company you buy the book from. The readers mentioned above have support for locked books, called DRM (digital rights management) in the trade. In some cases a DRM book is locked to the reader and platform but other DRM solutions ignore the platform or allow a fixed number of platforms such as 4. Most of the DRM books cannot be printed since printing is a way to convert a file to a different format.

Why do I need a special reader to read eBooks?

Actually you can read many eBooks without a special reader. Project Gutenberg releases all of its books in .txt format for simple reading using a text editor. (They also release some books in other formats.) For Pocket PC this means these files can be easily read by Pocket Word. However, an editor is likely not the best tool to read books with. It is typically not oriented toward just reading a page at a time and does not support such features as bookmarking your progress. It is also easy to accidentally modify a book you are trying to read with an editor. You can set the file to read only to prevent saving accidental modification. In addition .txt file books do not lend themselves to elaborate or easy to read formatting options. They often have fix length lines of data that do not wrap well on the PPC screen or require scrolling. In addition there is no DRM protection possible for these kinds of books and no graphics support.

The collection of readers listed below include some readers that can display text files for reading. The advantage of using a dedicated reader is that it won't accidentally modify the file. They also feature easier methods to page through the file and some can even directly read files that have been compressed using zip. However, for a better reading experience you may want to convert text files to one of the other formats available.

What is Microsoft Reader?

Microsoft Reader also known as MS Reader is an eBook reader that is shipped with most installations of Pocket PC and is freely downloadable from Microsoft. Versions are available for Windows PC's, Tablet PC's, and Pocket PC's. The reader is designed to read eBooks identified with the .lit extension only. This link is also a place you can purchase and find free eBooks for this reader, although the sources mentioned earlier also have some .lit books. It seems the Microsoft site has tried to find a huge number of books in this format.

Features of this reader include: table of Contents support, clicking links in the document to traverse the document, dictionary support by clicking on a word in the text (requires free dictionary download from Microsoft), image support, clear type font support, annotation support including bookmarks, highlighting, notes and drawings. You can also copy text to your clipboard. The eBooks are compressed to minimize the disk space requirements. DRM is supported but requires that the reader be activated using a Microsoft passport login. Text to speech is a feature of PC version and the PPC version supports audible books from audible.com.

What is eReader?

The eReader is the latest name of an eBook reader from Palm. Earlier it was called Palm Reader and PeanutPress, but the new name signifies that it is has branched way beyond Palm. This reader is available for Palm, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile including smartphones, PC, Macs, and Symbian smartphones. There is a free version and a Pro version that costs $9.95 but comes with a dictionary for that price. Features of the Pro version include all of the features of the free version plus reference book support, font selection support, auto scrolling, themes and more. Books that can be read on this eReader will have a .pdb or .prc extension but it cannot read all files with these extensions.

This reader can read books custom designed for this format and features embedded pictures, TOC, bookmarks, and DRM support. It can also read book in the original Palm DOC format. Books for this reader are available from the above site and many of the sites mentioned previously. You can make books using their ebook Studio software or if you choose to generate files in the ereader markup language using the free dropbook application. Unlike most other book generation programs dropbook is available for both Windows and Mac OS.

What's a DOC file?

A DOC file is a Palm based database containing eBook data. It is often called PalmDoc. It should not be confused with a Word file containing a .doc extension. A DOC file usually has a .pdb extension (Palm Data Base) but occasionally be found with a .prc extension. Note that some DOC readers will not find documents with a .prc extension, but you can try renaming it to .pdb. Palm stores the type id inside the file itself instead of in the extension. A DOC file has a type id of TEXtREAd. The DOC database manages the text information such that it can be used on a small low powered platform like the original Palm OS but it currently can be used with almost any platform since there are a wide variety of readers available. There are a huge number of files available in DOC format.

The basic format for the data does not support any fancy font control or other features. There is support for bookmarks that are stored in the database itself at the end of the file. This bookmark facility is often used to provide a Table of Contents and some readers will automatically generate a list of bookmarks based on a search criterion such as the word CHAPTER. If the DOC file is edited the links may point to the wrong place. Many Palm readers have customized the basic DOC file with more advanced features, usually unique to their reader. This may cause a basic DOC reader program to show odd characters in the text or perhaps html like statements in the text. These enhanced files often have a .prc extension. You can read and create DOC files from Text files on a pc with a free DocReader which runs on a PC.

DOC was the format of AportisDoc who bought it from the original developer but the company no longer exists.

How can I tell the type of file on a Palm?

Palm devices only support two file extensions for files in RAM. These are .prc (palm resource file) and .pdb (palm database file). Most eBooks will have a .pdb extension but then so do many other files on the palm. Palm executables have a .prc extension but some eBooks also have a .prc extension. To tell what program is needed to read a .pdb file (or a .prc resource file) you need to look inside the file itself. You can usually use a standard text editor to view the file even though it is a binary image. The file type will show up as clear text on the first line. The internal title for the book is also visible on the first line. Be careful not to modify the file when viewing it in this fashion. The table on the right shows the file type for common eBook and database formats.

Files may also be stored on an SD card. The SD card format supports standard file extensions so, if the program supports these other extensions, you can use regular file extensions for files on the card.

Reader Type Code
Adobe Reader.pdfADBE
DOC TEXtREAd
DB (Database program) DB99DBOS
eReaderPNPdPPrs
FireViewer (ImageViewer) vIMGView
HanDBase PmDBPmDB
InfoView InfoINDB
iSilo ToGoToGo
iSilo 3 SDocSilX
JFile JbDbJBas
JFile Pro JfDbJFil
LIST DATALSdb
Reader Type Code
MobileDB Mdb1Mdb1
MobiPocketBOOKMOBI
Plucker DataPlkr
QuickSheet DataSprd
TealDoc TEXtTlDc
TealInfo InfoTlIf
TealMeal DataTlMl
TealPaint DataTlPt
ThinkDB dataTDBP
Tides TdatTide
TomeRaider ToRaTRPW
WeaselzTXTGPlm
WordSmith BDOCWrdS

How can I read PDF files?

You should download a reader from the Adobe Site. Adobe Acrobat is the defacto standard for the exchange of electronic documents. They have versions for almost every kind of computer you can think of. Their product is a generalized document reader and now they have added DRM support to make it an eBook reader. They call these eBooks the Digital Edition which are available from the above link and from other sources previously listed. The Reader for Pocket PC is huge. Its takes more than 8 Megs of space on the unit so I suggest you install it on an SD card. If it is installed on an SD card the card can be moved to another device and it will work without installing it.

One of the reasons it is so big is that it tries to read all kinds of documents instead of just eBooks. For this reason it considers the page presentation sacred and preserves this format on whatever unit it runs on. This means you could have to scroll a lot to read a document on the small screen of a PDA. There is a PDF reader for Pocket PC called PocketXPF that is a good alternative to the Adobe product.

The reader that Adobe supplies for the Palm cannot read PDF files directly. They must be converted to Palm format. The download includes a converter to use your PDA reader on the PC to convert the files for Palm use. There is a true PDF reader available for Palm from Metaviewsoft called PalmPDF. It is freeware and can support reflow on the Palm.

To avoid excessive sideways scrolling Adobe has designed a tagged format for small screens. Tagging the data provides the intelligence that allows the small screen version of the program to re-flow the document to eliminate or minimize horizontal scrolling. Their reader can work either way on the PDA and even switch back and forth, but only if the document is tagged.

There is a conduit installed on the PC for ActiveSync to automatically tag a document, if needed. Documents created in Acrobat or Framemaker can be pre-tagged so that they will re-flow even if transferred without using ActiveSync. Tagging at the source file level produces better results than adding the tags with ActiveSync. An untagged PDF can be read directly on the Pocket PC but, of course, it will not re-flow.

There are other readers for Adobe files that can run on a pocket PC device but none of them support re-flow making them unsuitable as eBook readers.

For Unix users there is an alternative to Adobe readers called XPDF. This has been ported to a number of platforms including non-unix systems and is free. There is a port for iPAQ/Zaurus handhelds.

A big advantage of PDF is that there are ways to generate files in this format several OS' including Windows, Unix, and Macs.

What is Mobipocket?

Mobipocket is an eBook reader from http://www.mobipocket.com (or from your PDA use http://www.mobipocket.com/mobile.) Files will have a .prc for Mobipocket files for Palm but can be in .mobi extension for reading on a pc. Like most readers that work on Palms this reader also supports Palm DOC files. It does support DRM for its own format which is an extension of the Open eBook Publications file format using html like constructs. These OEB format books are used in the generator program and are not read natively. The program can not only read eBooks but also has the ability to read RSS feeds and other news sources. The PC version can also import files in other formats for use by the eBook reader. Import formats include HTML, word files (.doc), RTF files, text, Adobe PDF, Excel, Power Point, and Visio. You can use the PC version to push files to your PDA. Books in Mobipocket format are available from the link above or several of the previous sources mentioned. MobiPocket is available for PC, Pocket PC, Smartphone, Windows CE, Palm, Symbian OS, Blackberry, Franklin, Iliad, Pepper-Pad, and BenQ-Siemens.

The Pocket PC (and the PC) versions and some others support annotation, file links, table of contents, images, highlighting, bookmarks, and a dictionary. Files are stored in the eBooks directory on the PDA. This does not have to be in RAM. The books can be moved as needed using the program or even beamed to another unit. There are many sources for eBooks for this format including the Mobipocket web site. Note that MobiPocket is currently owned by Amazon.

What is Tome Raider?

Tome Raider is an eBook reader oriented toward reference books but it has a large collection of other eBooks as well. It can handle files of any size including the entire Wikipedia which is almost a Gig of data after compression. Tome Raider features high compression and rapid access to data in files making it well suited for reference libraries. Many larger eBooks are only available in this format. There is no free reader but the purchased reader can also convert files to Tome Raider (TR) format. Note that files aimed at the Palm platform with have a pdb extension instead of tr.

Tome Raider is available for Palm, PocketPC (Windows Moible), Windows, Symbian OS, EPOC, and Nokia devices.

Can I read CHM eBook files on my PDA?

CHM eBook files, also called compiled html files, are often used for manuals and help files since they can include linkable contents and indexes. They can be read using the built in help system on Windows PC's. They can also be read on your Pocket PC device if you have a reader. A couple of good readers are: Microolap chmreader and CHMReader from codeproject.com. The second one is free. This is a handy way to keep reference manuals close at hand for easy access.

A Chm reader is also available for Unix based devices including Mac OS X.

A source of Bibles in this format is BibleDatabase.org. Books in Unicode text are particularly well suited to chm use.

Can I create my own eBooks?

Yes. Each of the eBook readers has the tools available to create the books. For the most part these require a PC. There is often a free tool to create the files, usually by converting a file in a different format, and a professional tool that will often let you edit the file directly. The free tools will not allow the generation of DRM protected files. For lit files there is a converter plugin that will work with the newer versions of Word to create lit files. This tool is available from the Microsoft website. It will not work if the file is very complex. Palm's eBook reader has a drop book utility that lets you drag and drop a file created in their format. It will then create an eReader file. The format is a bunch of keywords similar to html to identify the entries and can be created in a text editor. Drop book is available for PC's and Macs. The PC based reader I already mentioned in the earlier section on DOC files can convert standard text files to and from this format. There are many utilities to convert PDF files from various programs and Adobe sells one as well. MobiPocket also has creation tools available on their web site for Windows users. Check for licensing restrictions on these programs if you plan to sell the book.

There are also specialized eBook creation programs available. In some cases these programs create an executable program that displays the book which means you will only be able to read the book on a platform such as a pc which can execute the program. (An example is Edit Pro or Ebooks Writer/). In other cases there can be a free run time program that can be used to read the eBook. (One such example is Desktop Author and its DNL format.) In other cases the creation program is a way to generate a book that can be read in a web browser. Making books in raw html results in rather large difficult to manage books which is why this format is not preferred.

For more information on converting files see the section below on converting to eBooks in a different format.

What other names are there for eBooks?

There is all kinds of electronic material besides just books that are available for reading electronically. In this document eBook is being used in the generic sense of all electronic reading material but some people think there should be a more generic term so that items like newspapers, magazines, and other forms can be covered. Thus the terms "digital media" or "Digital publishing" are also in use. Amazon uses the term e-documents and divides their content into e-docs and e-Books where e-docs do not use DRM although they may still be copyrighted. Gutenberg Press uses the term e-text to distinguish regular ASCII text files from those that contain eBooks. Others use the e-text term has a generic name for any e-document. Note that the hyphen in these terms is often omitted.

Can I just read eBooks online?

Yes, you can and some books are only available for on-line reading. Many PDA's include a browser so you can use it as is to read many of these on-line books. However, some of the on-line books are not designed to work very well on small screen devices. Requiring on-line use can be hard on the battery life of such devices if Wifi is used. Off line is generally the preferred reading environment. While you can sometimes download the entire web content for off line reading you usually end up with several files that can be difficult to manage and have considerably more bulk than a standard eBook. There are programs listed on this page that can be used to convert html documents to a eBook friendly format.

In addition the online book selection is rather limited but often includes books that cannot be obtained in other ways. In a few cases authors may release a chapter at a time online so you can read a book as it is being created.

A list of sites for online reading is:

  • readprint.com. They have many good books and you can even search the text within the books.
  • Bartleby. The have online eBooks and reference data.
  • Black Mask Online is a collection by Project Gutenberg of Web readable books.
  • Safari books specializes in technical books.
  • NetLibrary has free and subscription eBooks for online reading. They also have an offline reader available.
  • eBooks.com has a new feature called eb20 (eBook 2.0) which is a format for eBooks that can be read in a browser. They offer this as an alternative reading device for books you buy. You buy the book in a standard eBook format but are entitled to also read it instantly with your web browser. They claim that the eb20 server improves the on-line reading experience for any browser.
  • ClassicReader provides on line reading of the classics.
  • ISSUU is a unique site that provides a special tool aimed at reading magazines and other color graphic intense media online. A good selection of magazies and other images are available. A lot of thought was placed in the design of the display.
  • Internet Archive contains copies of web sites, moving images, music, audio, and of course Text including many eBooks.
  • Exact Editions features digital magazines. This needs a high resolution color display due to the many images. The magazine is read online with a browser.
  • The Online Library of Liberty has a stated goal "to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals."

What about wiki's for reading eBooks?

Yes, you can even read eBooks on wiki's. Wiki's offer the added benefit of being able to participate in the eBooks. If you find a mistake you can fix it on the spot and you can also add other' eBooks to the mix. Most wiki sites are aimed at shorter articles which can still be interesting reading but some sites focus on full length text books and even novels. Here is a list of interesting sites for eBook fans.

  • WikiPedia The online encyclopedia
  • WikiBooks focus is on Text books, both adult and children. A cook book is also on on this site.
  • WikiSource is a site devoted to the classic novels and stories in all kinds of genre.
  • Wiktionary is a dictionary for looking up the meaning of words.
  • Wikiquote is a site devoted to quotations and where they came from.
  • WikiNews is a site devoted to daily news.

The idea of eBooks is neat but what if I prefer the public library?

Libraries are supporting eBooks as well. Check your local library and see what they have to offer. For example: follow this link to the University of Virginia library.. This library is a bit different from some of the others in that it offers some books to the general public while most do not. Many libraries have a web presence but require a locally obtained library card to use the web facilities to actually check out books. This reason is that the eBooks are purchased using local tax dollars. In some cases you can just download an eBook and keep it but most of the time you have to actually check it out. Many of the libraries use a DRM system with time limited licenses so you do not need to return the book to the library. Instead, it will just time out unless you check it out again. They generally own a limited number of licenses per book and manage them exactly like a real book. Once the number of licenses have been used by customers they won't let you check out a copy until someone else's license expires or is returned. The big advantage is that you can use your PDA to read the book and after you have a library card you can do everything from your computer at home or anywhere that can access the Internet.

If your local lirary doesn't support eBooks you might want to check the New York Public Library They will sell you a non-resident library card. Fictionwise also has a Lending Library for its Buywise Club members.

Specialized eBook tools exist to aid libraries in the eBook market. Services are provided by:

  • LibWise (a fictionwise company). They have tools to permit Libraries to do eBook checkouts.
  • Overdrive is another supplier of eBook tools to Libraries. They have tools for School libraries, publishers and retailers as well. They also have a digital media search engine that anyone can use to locate eBooks.
  • Ebook Library (an ebooks.com company) has similar features but they have a different licensing model using both online and offline lending. They focus on PDF files currently. They are also known as EBL.
  • Tumblebooks provides readable books, some with audio read along for childern. These are only available to schools and libraries although if your library or school supports this it can be used from home.
  • Netlibrary provides eBook content for libraries in PDF format.
  • EBrary provides library support for eBooks that use their plugin for web browsers. Currently only Windows and Macs are supported. It can import PDF content.

Reading Bibles and Bible references

Many of the eBook sources on this page also include Bibles and Bible reference books. However there is also a whole class of programs that are specifically designed to work with Bibles. This is because Bibles have specific referencing needs to book, chapter, and verse that goes beyond the ability of standard book readers. In addition some programs are capable of comparing multiple versions or permitting simultaneous links to keep Bibles and commentaries in sync. I have a full article specifically on Bible Study software. Of course, an eBook reader is perfect just to read through the Bible.

Reading Comic Books

Comic books and other books with a high graphic content can be problematic to read on traditional eBook reader. Generally the best method of displaying these kinds of books is to scan them in or photograph them and then display the resultant graphic image. What is needed is a way to collect the graphic images into a book and then be able to leaf through them like you would a traditional book. Generally you might want to see a whole page yet be able to zoom in to read the text or study details. Of the formats that we have talked about so far only the PDF format has the capability to handle such a large number of images easily but PDF readers are not really designed to maximize the enjoyment in reading such a book.

To address this need there are two new formats that have been defined, cbz and cbr. Comic Book Z is a zip compressed file containing the collection of images while Comic Book R is a rar compressed file. Most readers in this group can handle either format but there are exceptions. The internal files are in a standard graphic format, usually Jpeg, PNG, GIF, or TIFF. Not all readers support all graphic formats. Here is a list of a few readers that can deal with this new format. Cbr or cbz files are easily created from images which are displayed in alphabetical order.

  • Pocket PC Comic Book Reader - This reader can read only CBZ files. Compact Framework 2.0 is required.
  • ComiX Reader - This reader is for Palm OS Version 5 and can read cbz and cbr files.
  • Comical is a comic book reader for Linux, MacOSX and Windows. Source code is available.
  • CDisplay calls itself a sequential image viewing utility for Windows. It can read Jpeg, PNG, and GIF images in zip, rar, ace, or tar archives.
  • 6Reader features TCL/TK, Perl and reads CBR and CBZ formats. It will run where TCL/TK and Perl is supported.
  • GonVisor Viewer can read cbr and cbz files and can be used to create them. It is a free windows application and supports both English and Spanish versions. Passwords are supported for locked files.

What about newspapers and magazines?

Some magazines and newspapers are available in eBook formats and some eBook providers listed on this page even offer a subscription service to periodicals. However, in these days of the Internet most news and articles are available on the web. A relative new service is called RSS which is a special format for often changing data that can be checked when the data changes. There are RSS feeds available for many sites. Generally special RSS Readers are used to access the Internet and download new data for reading. However some regular ebook readers such a MobiPocket can also read these kinds of files.

It is beyond the scope of this article to try and identify all of the RSS readers but my favorite one for Pocket PC use is pRSSreader. There is also another way to use regular web pages as if they had feed capability. Sitescooper is a program that can go out and inspect web sites for changing content. It can then download this content and convert it for regular eBook readers. The latest version of Sitescooper is always available on SourceForge.

Hardware solutions for eBooks

The dominant eBook solutions these days use standard PDA or computer hardware to read the books. The majority of all books available are usable in formats compatible with the PDA, cell phone, handheld, or laptop you already own. However there are some hardware solutions that offer dedicated eBook readers. When considering a hardware solution pay attention the type of expansion slots it has for additional memory. Many use older technologies. Readers include:

  • Franklin offers specialized hardware solutions for eBooks. These are primarily Bibles, Dictionaries, and Translators. Many of these can be expanded with bookman cards. They have an ebookman reader that can use their expansion cards or multimedia card book content. Franklin also makes some cards that will work on Palm devices.
  • A larger 5.6" book reader is available from ebook Technologies and can be purchased at eBookwise or Filament books. Book content is available from these sites as well as from some other sites mentioned on this page. The reader is called the ETI-2 or the eBookwise-1150 (EB-1150) and includes 8 Meg of content memory which can be expanded by up to 128 Meg using SmartMedia cards. It has a built-in modem and USB connection. You can buy books or access your personal online bookshelf just by hooking it to an analog phone line. Adding personal notes to documents is supported as is highlighting.

    In addition to the commercial books (.imp) available for the device, a free program is available to convert your own personal content in the following file formats: plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), Microsoft Word documents (.doc), HTML (.htm or .html), and Rocket eBook Editions (.rb). There is also conversion available from the Internet sites mentioned above. You can also read .imp files on a PC or mac using a free downloadable program. Note that ETI (Ebook Technologies) also makes an 8.2" ebook reader called the ETI-1. For more information on the ETI-2 see my page on the EB-1150.

  • There used to be ebook hardware called Rocket ebooks from Gemstar. The original was called the REB 1100 or simply Rocket. The books for this format can still be found from Ebookmall.com. The newer Rocket ebook readers from Gemstar or RCA (GEB 1150, GEB 2150, REB 1200) can be migrated to use books from the two sites mentioned in the previous section. Rocket eBooks have an .rb extension. The reader from these companies import the .rb files as user data. There is a free program from Softpile.com that can read .rb books so long as they are not encrypted. It runs on a Windows PC. There are also converters available for unencrypted .rb files to various formats. Books in this format are sometimes available at the other eBook references sites mentioned in this article. A seller on E-Bay called Fun-GI has a 2 CDROM set with 6500 public domain 'classic novel' ebooks on it. These are GEB and REB ebooks with a PC program to read them. For more information on these readers check REB1200 for Dummies.

  • Einfosolutions has information on hiebook readers (.kml) including software updates. This is another eBook reader that may be no longer available. For more information and eBooks in hiebook format see Ebookmall.com

  • A new 5" ebook reader is available from a Chinese company called JCNIP. It is called the M218A. Read about it in English at the Mobileread forum. It is reported to have a new technology screen display.

E-INK

E-Ink is a company that has created electronic paper technology called Electrophoretic for EPD (Electronic Paper Display). It looks like a paper page and can be read indoors or outdoors. It is written with Electronic Ink, hence the name of the company. It uses essentially no power to display the page once it is rendered and thus some readers measure battery life in the number of page changes. Unlike many other technologies this is not suitable for video applications as it does not redraw rapidly. All of the readers listed below use this technology for their display.

  • A Sony Portable Reader, PRS-505, (also known as Reader, Digital Book) is available from Sony. It features a 6" diagonal display with 8 gray levels. It will read eBooks, display pictures, and play audio files. It can read unsecured text in BBeB Book format, Adobe PDF, Text, and RTF. DRM text is supported for BBeB books. Unsecured audio MP3 and AAC7 are supported. Images can be displayed for jpeg, gif, png, and bmp files. It features CONNECT ebooks. BBeB is a proprietary Sony BroadBand eBook format derived from the OEB source files. It can accept SD cards or Memory-stick cards for expansion. Note that this replaces an earlier model PRS-500.
  • Irex Technologies builds a ebook reader (called iLiad e-reader) with a twist. You can also take notes on the screen like you were writing on paper. The pages are stored as images and can be converted to text using word recognition software. The reader can accept PDF or HTML documents and can work with BMP, JPG, or PNG images. A WiFi capability is built-in. It has a large 8.1" display with 16 gray levels.

    A new feature of this product is the ability to read Mobipocket books. They have included a copy of Mobipocket in the firmware to read these books and also RSS feeds. It is expandable using USB, MMC, or CF cards.

  • Jinke Electronics makes a product called the Hanline eReader. It runs a variation of Linux and supports PDF, HTML, and Text. It also has a proprietary WOLF reader that accepts files converted from txt, htm, DOC, PDF, Excel, PPT, CHM, Images, and mp3. Primarily available in Asian markets.

  • STAReBOOK from eRead Technology is primarily available in Asian markets so far. The STAReBOOK also includes MP3 capability. The reader uses a proprietary STK format but a conversion program is available for download.

  • Booken has a new 6" display unit called "Cybook" that is similar to the STAReBOOK but claims later E-Ink technology called Vizplex. It began shipping in November 2007. It also can read multiple ebook formats. It will read PDF, Mobi, PalmDoc, RTF, TXT, and HTML formats. It has an SD card slot for expansion. It has been hailed by the N.A.E.B LLC eBook reader project as meeting their requirements for a reader.

  • Amazon.com has released a new eBook reader called the "Kindle." It has a 6" display and features direct download of purchased books using EDVO cell-phone technology. It can read AZW, TXT, Mobi files. (AZW is a DRM format specifically for the Kindle.) It has a keyboard. It began shipping in November 2007.

What is the difference in dedicated hardware vs. PDA?

A PDA and a dedicated eBook reader both offer a portable solution for reading eBooks but they have a very different approach. A PDA is a general purpose unit with good performance and is generally small enough to fit in your pocket while an eBook reader is simplified for one purpose, has a larger screen (5 inches or larger vs. approximately 3.5 inches diagonal), and longer battery life. To achieve these features an eBook reader generally uses a slower processor and gives up color display, touch screens, low powered or even no backlight, and performance. Both will generally offer the ability to play mp3 files as well although a PDA will generally offer more options and may even support video. A dedicated eBook reader may support images but generally these are displayed gray scale monochrome and may be limited to only 4 levels of gray. Color displays and backlights are big battery hogs.

An eBook reader is optimized for reading enjoyment and will likely offer higher resolution displays with large full page displays from 5 inches up to more than 8 inches mimicking a paper book. The latest technologies even have a paper look and don't need any battery power until you turn the page. However, there are some eBook features that may be available in a PDA that are missing in a dedicated reader. For example the ability add annotation or being able to write on the pages themselves such as drawing a circle for review purposes. Highlighting is also available on many PDA versions but is seldom available on dedicated readers. PDA's can also be used to read more eBook formats and some eBook formats are not available on any dedicated reader. This means that more eBooks are available for PDA's. It is also true that some formats are only available for a particular eBook reader.

Can I convert an eBook from one format to another?

Often you can convert books to different formats to avoid having to have several readers loaded on your machine. Unfortunately this can sometimes lose text formatting, but at least the text will come through. Images may be lost as well. In some cases you may be able to find one or two readers that will read all of the formats you own since some readers can read multiple formats. Some readers provide the ability to convert other files to their format. You may need to do some post conversion clean-up so an editor is nice.

Files that are protected with DRM generally cannot be converted. For a guide to format conversion check the Handebooks conversion page. This site covers some of the same data as this article. Some more information is located in an earlier question about creating eBooks.

The conversion process may end up needing several steps depending on the starting format and the ending format. Be careful with each step to ensure that you don't lose anything important. In some cases converting to text as an intermediate step can lose information if the fonts used had special characters that are not available in ASCII text. For example, smart quotes, apostrophes, dashes, and other specialized font characters should be checked to ensure that they made it across.

Each of the sections on ebook readers contains some information on creating or converting files but there are also third party conversion tools available. Here are some conversion tools that can help convert your files to a form needed by your reader.

  • Gorod Publish Ebook tool is a set of macros for Microsoft Word that will make books for the Palm eReader. It works in conjunction with the Palm dropbook tool.
  • OverDrive makes an lit creation program called reader works. The standard version is free. It will accept input from many formats including word, html, OeB package files, Text and Jpg, gif and PNG images.(PC only)
  • Reader add-in allows Word 2002 or Word 2003 to create lit eBooks. They have an earlier version for Word 2000. (PC only)
  • There are many tools available to convert files to PDF format. Most of them emulate a printer driver so you just choose the converter as your printer and then print your document. The converter will generate a PDF file. Note that this solution does not provide for reflow or include any intelligence about the document being converted. One tool from Neevia called docuprinter LT includes a word macro that can format word documents to include some intelligence such as generating a toc or making hyperlinks.
  • E-Book Tidy is a useful conversion program to aid in translating to and from Palm docs and to other formats. It is particularly useful in convert Gutenberg text files. It can be used as PC reader for Palm Docs. It will also convert word and rtf files but only fairly simple ones. It can be used as part of an html conversion.
  • Book Designer is a Russian program that can create books from scratch or convert ebooks from one format to another. See the mobileRead Wiki for more information on this tool. Input formats include Word doc, html, lit, pdb (PalmDoc and ereader), pdf, prc (mobipocket), RB, rtf, txt. It can output fb2, html, imp, kml, lit, lrf, pdb, prc, rb, tcr (psion), pdf. (Internally it uses html0.)
  • ABBYY software includes OCR software and specific PDF conversion software. Lots of people need to convert PDF files to another format for editing of reformatting into a flowable format. PDF files can be converted to Word, Excel, RTF, Text, and HTML.
  • Convert Lit is a program to convert LIT files for use with softare or devices that are not compatible with Microsoft's Reader. Available for Windows and MacOS X.

Can I use an Apple iPOD, etc. as an eBook reader?

Yes it is possible but it will take some work to prepare the file. To read an eBook you will need to use the built in notes facility. Please check your iPOD documentation to learn how to access and use the notes facility. (It can be reached from the Extras menu.) If you intend to use this a lot you should add notes to the top level menu.

The notes support makes a pretty primitive eBook reader. Unfortunately there is no support for the size of the fonts used in notes and the ones that are used may require a magnifying glass. In addition you can only use text files and are limited to files that are no larger than about 4K Bytes. This would be totally unreasonable except for a great web site that can be used to convert long books to the 4K sizes. Step 1: You simply upload the file you want and it converts it into multiple files which are collected in a zip file. Step 2: You download and unzip the file on your PC. Step 3: You move the individual files to the notes folder on your iPOD. The files do not have an extension but they they are linked internally so that you can page to the next file to read it just by tapping the select button when you reach the bottom of the file.

For best results you should ensure that the text file contains all of a paragraph on one line and that there is a blank line between paragraphs. The conversion program will remove diacritical marks if present but other extensions to standard ASCII are not supported so the file you use should be standard ASCII text. Any special characters will be shown as ? marks.

The one nice feature is that you can listen to music while reading your book. Tap the menu key or the center select key to focus the iPod keys back on the book if they get switched to the audio by accident.

iphone and ipod touch

These devices can read PDF files using the built in browser application. In addition there is a new program called Books.app that can be installed on these devices to enable local reading of text and html files. This program is also called iphoneebooks. You will also need a copybookdir program to get the books to the device.

Newton

If you still have a Newton MessagePad PDA check Newton's Library for eBooks. They also have a Reader for Mozilla that can read Newton eBooks on your browser.

What is Epub?

Epub is a zip file containing an OPS book. (OPS is the Open ebook publication structure from IDPF.) The extension has been renamed to .epub. It includes a .opf file with metadata about the book and a list of xhtml files containing the book data. It also includes .css files and image files if appropriate. Adobe makes a book reader called Adobe Digital Editions that can read the book while it is still in the zip file container. It can also read PDF files and manage your library of books. It supports Windows and Mac machines. They have downloads and sample books on the Adobe web site.

Feedbooks can now format all their books in epub format. They are the first to make this new format available.

Other ebook readers will also be able to support this format. MobiPocket is working on a reader for .epub books. Note that this format, when unzipped, is often used by book generation programs as the source files for their internal format. DRM is possible in this format. Since the internal format is xhtml a browser with a few modifications can make a good reader for this format. Openberg has one such program called Lector that adds this capabiltiy to Firefox (Songbird). They also have a project called Rector, a program to make .epub files in the first place.

FBReader can also read .epub files although it does not support CSS so the formatting may not appear as the author intended.

What is Evince?

Evince is a document reader for Linux systems using the GNOME desktop. It is designed primarily to read PDF, Postscript, DJVU, multipage tiff and dvi. It can also read some other formats. Since it ships with GNOME it can be considered the primary reader for that desktop. It has also been adopted as the primary reader for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative whose goal is to provide inexpensive laptops for children all over the world. They have designed their own Linux based hardware laptop that is ruggedized for child use and sells for about $200. Since its primary aim is education one of the central pieces is the ebook (document) reader. Their feeling is that most documents will initially be scanned images or OCR documents from paper sources so the thrust is to provide support for this kind of material.

DJVU is an encapsulating tool to create highly compressed documents from individual pages. It is expected to provide a major source of books for OLPC and a natural fit for Evince. But, since OLPC runs Fedora Linux other readers and formats are likely to be present as well such as F2B (see below).

The hardware platform used in OLPC could be a great ebook reader platform as it supports a monochrome display mode of 200 bpi as well as a lower resolution color mode using a 7.5" screen.

What about other Linux/Unix devices?

Beside the discussion of Evince and its relationship to Linux there are many tools for Linux and other Unix devices. If a particular reader has linux support I have mentioned it. Do a page search on Linux or Unix. In addition some of the hardware devices mentioned above are using Linux as their base OS.

A site called Maemo has information on the Nokia Internet Tablet devices that run Linux and generally data on other devices. Evince and FBreader are of paticular use for reading ebooks. They are both covered on this page.

Links for more information with descriptions

This section is growing. It contains a list of all eBook readers that I have found, a list of all sources for eBooks that I have found, and a section containing links to other sites I find helpful for eBook enthusiasts.

Ebook Reader programs

Here are some more links for additional eBook readers and eBook creation programs with a brief description. They are listed in alphabetical order.

  • Cool Reader is a program written by a Russian. I couldn't get the switch to English tag to work but the description indicates that this is a windows based reader that supports FB2, HTML, TXT, DOC, RTF. Unzips ZIP, RAR, HA, ARJ, LZH. (PC)
  • CSpotRun is a free DOC reader for Palm devices. It is available in several languages. (Palm only)
  • FBReader is for Unix and Windows computers and has been ported for several more. It is an opensource reader originally developed for Sharp Zaurus PDA's. It can read files from fb2, html, chm, plucker, Palm Doc, zTxt, TCR, RTF, OEB, OpenReader, non-DRM Mobipocket, and text. It can read from files or archives in tar, zip, gzip, and bzip2 formats. Embedded images, TOC generation are supported. Not all features of all input formats are supported so check the documentation. (PC, Unix, IRex iLiad reader, Mac, more)
  • Fictionwise reader can read lit, tiny reader, HTML, TXT files. (PPC and PC only)
  • Foxit Software makes a small foot print PDF reader. (PC and PPC only)
  • Haali Reader is a Windows CE, Pocket PC reader. It can read FB2 xml files and plain text. It written by a Russian and can support Cyrillic encodings. (PC, PPC)
  • Isilo Reader was originally a Palm program but is now available on a wide variety of platforms. It uses its own format with high compression. It can also work with TXT files and Palm DOC files. It runs on Palm, PocketPC, Windows, Window Mobile Smartphone, Symbian, and Windows CE.
  • Libris eBook Reader is a Java reader aimed at mobile devices such as cell-phones. It can read its own format, PalmDoc format, and non-DRM eReader books. It can be used on screen sizes as small as 176x208 pixels. A MakeLibris utility is included to convert eBooks.
  • Lion Doc is an enhanced version of CSPOTRUN that has hebrew language support, VFS support, and zip compression. Palm only
  • Osoft.com makes a Java based reader called ThoughtReader (or DotReader) that supports the OpenReader format. It should run on any platform that has Java support. It supports or will support epub. It is targeted at Linux, Mac, Windows machines currently.
  • Palm Fiction is a program to read PalmDoc, zTXT, RTF, Word, OpenOffice (.odt), plain text, html (only removing tags), TCR files. Only text portions of the files are supported (no tables or images). Features custom fonts, bookmarks, multiple languages, and more. The site link in Russian. Download Link. Palm Only.
  • Plucker is different in that it intends the eBooks to be created by the user using a distiller program. This program runs on Windows, Unix, and other platforms. It creates a hypertext eBook system from text documents, html pages, or Open book xml pages. The resultant eBook is read on a Palm. (Palm only)
  • Pocket xpdf is a free PDF reader. It is a port of Xpdf which is a free open source PDF reader for Unix and windows machines.
  • ReadManiac is a Java based reader for cell-phones. It can read txt, html, PalmDoc, TealDoc, HandStory, and tcr (psion) files. Files can be zipped. Some of these formats depend on how the jar file is configured.
  • Repligo is a bit like Plucker in that it requires all documents to be converted on a PC. However, it uses a print driver approach so it can convert any document that can be printed. It has special direct conversion for Microsoft Office and IE. It can reflow a PDF file for easy reading. The reader is free. It works on PC, PPC, Palm, Smartphone, Nokia, Symbian, blackberry. Repligo files will have a .rgo extension.
  • Teal Doc is a commercial DOC reader for Palm devices with enhanced features using html like tags. Books in this format are available at the site and some of the earlier eBook sites. (Palm only)
  • Tiny ebook reader is an lit and txt eBook reader and can do its own format, TeBR. It can read txt files in zip format. (PPC and Smartphone only)
  • uBook (and uBookLite) is a reader that will read txt, rtf, html, pml, pdb and prc (non-secure) files. It will extract the text from non-secure PDF files. It supports jpg, gif, png, bmp and wmf (in rtf) images. It can open text inside zip, chm, and rb files. It runs on a PC, PPC, WinCE devices. The lite version runs on Palms with slightly less capability.
  • Vitalsource makes a reader call the VitalSource Bookshelf. It reads vbk books and is designed for digital learning textbooks. They have versions for Windows and MacOS X. Check their web site for sources for books.
  • Weasel Reader is a Palm reader that can read Palm Doc and zTXT formats. zTXT is similar to Palm DOC but has much better compression. It includes sections for text, bookmarks, and annotation. (Palm only)
  • Westtek makes a PDF reader for Pocket PC and smart phones. This is a commercial product.

Here are some more FB2 Readers that read FB2 and other formats similar to those above. If you are interest in FB2 you will want to check these out. (PPC, Win CE, Smartphones, Palm, Windows, Unix)

Here is a repeat of some readers talked about earlier in the text.

E-Book Internet Stores and Sources

Here is a repeat of most of the links provided inside the text descriptions above (except the comic book, iPod, and hardware sections and sections after those.) so that the list of links will be easier to use and complete for book references for those wanting ebooks.

And don't forget Bible Study Readers and Programs - readers with books. This has by far the best selection of Bible study eBooks.

more eBook sources and stores

Here is the main lists EBook stores. Note that many of the reader links and descriptions above also contain extensive links for eBooks that are specifically in their format. The links below may have links in multiple formats or may not. Be sure the format matches your needs. Almost all of the previously mentioned eBook types are listed below. They are listed in alphabetical order. Don't forget about the earlier mentioned eBook Stores.

  • Amazon.com owns Mobipocket but also has a collection of small eBooks available from their site. The also have a full collection of eBooks for their new Kindle eBook Reader
  • Abrosia Publishing is a new store featuring Graphic Novels (Comic Books) in CBZ, PDF, PSP, Nintendo DS, and iPod formats as well as traditional printed versions.
  • Arthur's Classic Novels contains web pages that can be read online or downloaded for free.
  • Baen Free Library - Free eBooks and comments about eBooks. Baen Library contains more books. They also have a web subscription service. The books are in html, lit, mobi, rb, and rtf formats.
  • BLTC Press - Inexpensive eBooks in Sony Reader and Kindle (MobiPockect) format.
  • BookHabit - a eBook store for unpublished on self published books. The price begins at $2.50 and goes up as the book gets more popular. Books are available in PDF format.
  • BooksForABuck.com has books available in HTML, Adobe Acrobat PDF, Mobipocket PRC, Palm DOC PDB, and zipped Microsoft Reader LIT formats. They do have some free books also but these are mainly links to other sources such as Gutenberg. Most books are in the $1 to 3.99 range.
  • BooksInMyPhone has free books for download via your cellphone. The have classics and create commons licensed eBooks. The eBooks are in MIDP format.
  • Bookyards library to the world has eBooks and other items.
  • California Digital Library contains many resources. Check the Scholarship link for online books.
  • Cyber read is a source for eBooks.
  • Diesel ebooks supports ebooks in MS Reader lit, Adobe pdf, and Palm reader formats. Not all books are in all formats.
  • Digital Books index is an index to sources of eBooks.
  • EbookMall.com has books in several formats and technical information on several formats.
  • EBooks About Everything contains books in Acrobat, Microsoft, MobiPocket, and Palm formats. Not every book is in all formats.
  • Ebooks.com is a source for eBooks.
  • eBooksLib.com has a collection of eBooks including many free ones although you have to browse to find them. Most books are inexpensive ($2.50). They have books in many formats including several that are hard to find. These include Acrobat, GEB1150, GEB2150, HieBook, Isilo3, MobiPocket, MS-Reader, RocketEdition.
  • Ereadable supports books in MS Reader lit, Adobe PDF, and Palm reader formats. DRM support is required.
  • EServer has a collection of eBooks and other resources. It is maintained by Iowa State University.
  • FeedBooks.com has free books in PDF and specifically configured for Sony and iliad readers. They can also produce their books in the new epub format. They build eBooks on the fly from their database and can customize the output to some degree.
  • Fictionwise ebooks is a source for eBooks.
  • FreeBookSpot.com has a good collection. Mostly in PDF or CHM.
  • FriedBeef's Tech has an index for free books and eBooks.
  • Golden Age Comics for comic books, easily converted to cbr/cbz format. You will need an account.
  • HarperCollins Ebooks is a source of eBooks.
  • Internet Public Library is an index source of eBooks and online resources.
  • ManyBooks.net has support for many different formats and a good collection of free books. Formats supported include PDF, eReader, MobiPocket, DOC, Rocket RB, Plucker, iSilo, zText, iPod, Sony, TCR, iLiad, html, rtf, newton, iPhone, JAR file, and Project Gutenberg.
  • MobileRead forums has a whole section devoted to user submitted ebooks in various formats, primarily Sony reader BBeB, MobiPocket, EBookwise, and pdf files formated for 600x800 screen sizes. They are all free.
  • Munseys Black Mask has many free ebooks in many formats including: eBookwise EB1150, plucker, html Rocket Ebook, ISilo, Adobe Acrobat, Sony reader, Mobipocket, MS Reader.
  • Packard Technolgies has taken popular Christian study books and made them available in MobiPocket format.
  • Planet ebook has digital PDF books.
  • Ubibooks features MobiPocket books in several languages. It features the Cybook generation 3 reader.
  • Whiskey Creek Press has PDF, LIT, MOBI and HTML files as well as printed books.
  • World Library has 400,000+ eBooks in PDF format. Also audio books.
  • WOWIO has free books in PDF on many different subjects. The PDF's might be DRM'd. Each book has a sponsor that will provide advertising in exchange for the free download.

Other Resources on eBooks.

This area includes sites with forums and information on the standardization effort as well as other sites with eBook information.

  • Also look at online sites for regular book stores. They often have eBooks as well. Check Powells for example or WHSmith.
  • On-line html books often work well using a PDA browser. Of course they can also be downloaded and used with some of the readers mentioned above after conversion.
  • Ebooks World is an information site on eBook publishing. Some of the data is pretty old but the site is generally useful.
  • International Digital Publishing Forum is a source of ongoing data on eBooks including the open eBook format (OEBPS) which is xml based..
  • MobileRead.com is a source of eBook news and information. These forums are quite active. They also have a Wiki with lots of information about all aspects of ebooks.
  • User groups include: YahooPDA ebook group and Google PDA ebook group. There is a usenet news group called Microsoft.public.pocketpc.ebooks.
  • OpenReader.org is a site advocating and defining a free format to standardize the data format for exchange of eBook content. It competes with OEBPS and FB2 and is also xml based.
  • FB2 is an xml based standard primarily from a Russian effort. The link includes readers, converters, editors and the standard. It is supported by Fiction Book.
  • There are some eBook search sites available. These offer a way to find eBooks online. They include:

    The last two are customizations to the google engine. Google itself can be used from books.google.com by adding ebook as part of the search argument.

  • ISBN database provides a way to look up books by the ISBN numbers. Keywords, book titles, author, publisher, and topic are also supported searches. However there is not much support for ebook searching.
  • The Big Read for a national initiative on reading in the US supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Daily Reader is an email service that will divide the eBook you want to read into increments and email it to you each day you request. You pick the days, the time you have to read each day, and the eBook you wish to read from their collection.
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