ALL 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other Resources on eBooks.
This area includes sites with forums and information on the standardization effort as well as other sites with eBook information.
© Dale DePriest - all rights reserved