The ePub ebook format is so important because of its reflowable nature. “Reflowable” means that the text will rearrange itself to fit your screen size. If you increase or decrease the font size, the text also rearranges itself. This is hugely different from standard page displays like those in PDF files. On those files, if you wish to increase the text size, all you can really do is zoom in on the page. eReaders try to let you increase the font size but it always affects the page size as well, cutting off the edges of the pages. If you zoom too far in, you have to scroll sideways back and forth in order to read the a whole line of text. This is the main reason why I think ePub is the best ebook format, and I hope it stays around for a long time.
And because of that, I wanted to compile a list of the best current ePub reading programs that you can use on your computer. Most eReaders can display ePubs, and you can use them on your Android or iOS device (with programs like Aldiko and Bluefire Reader, for example), but not everyone knows which program to use to open them on your computer.
If you’re going to buy an ePub file that is protected by Adobe’s DRM, you’ll have to use Adobe Digital Editions. Likewise, if you buy an ePub ebook at any specific website that has their own DRM, you’ll probably have to use the software that they recommend, but that depends on the website so I can’t tell you what you need.
For regular ePub files, you have some choices:
Adobe Digital Editions – You can still use Adobe Digital Editions for non-DRM ePubs. I do because I already have it installed on my computer.
calibre – This is a program that lets you create, organize, and read your ebooks.
EPUBReader – A Firefox addon that allows you to read ePubs directly in Firefox.
FBReader – Works on Linux/Unix and Windows.
Mobipocket Reader – Bought by Amazon a while ago, and seems to be slowly shutting down. Still good for now.
There are others available that you can dig up, but these listed above are the ones that I feel are best. Stanza, for example, can read many ebook formats but ignores a lot of formatting so you end up missing out on the intended design of the book. Because of that I suspect that other readers might do the same thing.
I think that we’ll probably see more programs released as more and more people use the ePub ebook format. Even now I am seeing that ePub and PDF are the most popular (Kindle notwithstanding) and since ePub works best on the widest range of devices, it is the clear winner as far as I am concerned.
Recently HP announced that it would be discontinuing the production of devices that use their webOS, including the HP TouchPad tablet and phones like the Pre. I’m following news about tablets because they are also e-readers. In fact, I just recently added the HP TouchPad to my Squidoo lens that shows comparisons between different tablets.
From the press release:
“HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.”
You can see the full press release on this page, about halfway down. The rest of that article points out the fact that HP is not discontinuing webOS itself (the operating system used on their mobile devices), but just the devices. So my question is: where would that OS possibly be used, if not on their own devices? When I first heard this news I figured it was because they’d decided to stop competing with the likes of Apple iOS and Android, but apparently they want to make things even harder on themselves by trying to get webOS to be used on devices they don’t even manufacture? This doesn’t make any sense to me. We’ll see what actually happens in the future.
This article talks about how HP put the tablets on massive sale for $99, down from $399, and they flew off the shelves. Personally, I would not buy a device that I knew was being discontinued because it means that you’ll probably get very little support for it. Plus, the people who create content for these devices like apps aren’t likely to be bothering with webOS when there aren’t any new devices being sold that use it, at least right now. The article does address that with: “But if you want to future-proof the TouchPad in case HP never succeeds in its plans to keep the webOS operating system alive by finding new partners to license the software, it looks like the independent hacker community has you covered. Efforts are already underway to get Google Android and Ubuntu Linux running on the TouchPad hardware.”
For about a year I owned a Palm Pre that ran on webOS. I liked it quite a lot. It did everything that my old iPhone did, and I didn’t have to bother with iTunes to sync it. (I absolutely hate working with iTunes. It is extremely slow.) The big downfall of webOS is that you don’t have access to all of the iPhone apps. There are plenty that provide the same function, but it’s just not the same. I would have liked to see it become more popular and be real competitor for Apple iOS.
Microsoft has announced that it will be discontinuing Microsoft Reader. If you go to the main Microsoft Reader website right now, you’ll see a short message.
It says: “Microsoft is discontinuing Microsoft Reader effective August 30, 2012, which includes download access of the Microsoft Reader application from the Microsoft Reader website. However, customers may continue to use and access the Microsoft Reader application and any .lit materials on their PCs or devices after the discontinuation on August 30, 2012. New content for purchase from retailers in the .lit format will be discontinued on November 8, 2011.”
Why? … My Opinion
This is a result of the ebook industry growing and developing. eBooks have been around for many years, but have grown in popularity over the past few. During that time, e-Ink e-readers have become very popular, and now tablets seem to be taking it to the next step. These devices use PDF and ePub files, except for the Kindle, which uses its own special format.
Before this surge of e-reader and tablet usage, ebooks were generally read on computer screens and PDA-style devices like older Palms and Pocket PCs, along with some older e-readers like the Franklin eBookMan and Gemstar eBook. After smartphones became available, some folks with a pioneering spirit read ebooks on those small screens. During this time there were many ebook formats available, and Microsoft Reader one was one of those. It was mostly used on Windows PCs and Pocket PCs (which later became Windows Mobile).
I always liked Microsoft Reader as an ebook format. It provided a much more “book-like” feeling than PDF files. The design of the reader, the color of the pages, the Clear-Type of the text, all made the reading experience feel like a paper book.
But now we have e-Ink e-readers like the Nook, Kobo, BeBook, Sony Reader, etc, as well as tablets. Microsoft Reader can not be used on any of these devices, and as a result, fewer and fewer people have been using Microsoft Reader. My understanding is that Microsoft only made money on Microsoft Reader ebooks when they were sold with DRM. They were paid a small percentage of each sale for the use of the DRM technology. It is likely that this just became too low that developing new versions of Microsoft Reader and providing support for it no longer made any sense.
How will this affect ebook users?
Their official message pretty much tells you everything you need to know. You will be able to download Microsoft Reader until August 20th, 2012. That means you have a year left to download it if you need to.
You will only be able to buy new Microsoft Reader ebooks through November 8, 2011. I suspect that book publishers will immediately stop publishing their books in Microsoft Reader format. I certainly would if I were a publisher. No need to create content in a format that will soon be completely obsolete. Likewise, my guess is that ebook retailers will start phasing out the format very quickly, especially if there will be no new content published.
So what does that mean for you if you currently have ebooks in Microsoft Reader format? My recommendation is to make sure that you download the latest version of Microsoft Reader so that it will last as long as possible for you. If you need to re-download any of your past purchases, do that right away before the option is no longer available. Then, make backups of the files.
Be aware of DRM. If you had to activate Microsoft Reader with a Passport or Windows Live ID, that means that you won’t easily be able to copy the files from one computer to another. Make sure that you’ve got all of your computers and Windows Mobile devices activated with the same Windows Live ID. That will increase your chances of being able to use the ebooks on each of your devices. You could even make a small notepad .txt note with your Windows Live ID (and password, if you want) and store it in the same folder where you store your Microsoft Reader ebooks, just to make sure that you remember. Take care of this long before the end dates arrive.
I view this as a good sign. It means that the ebook industry as a whole has developed far enough that one of the mainstream formats has dropped away. This means we’re closer to a universal ebook format, which will make life much easier for users.
Lately I’ve noticed another trend regarding ebook users and a point of confusion for them. This is a very simple concept but the confusion around it seems to affect both novice and veteran ebook/computer users.
Here’s what happens:
The person does a great job of following instructions for downloading the ebook file, and they even follow the recommended procedure for authorizing their software. They download the ebook file to their computer and all is well.
At this point, the next step is to transfer the file to their device. Whether it’s an e-reader, Palm, Windows Mobile, or something else, it’s the same concept: if you’ve downloaded a file to your computer, and you want to also have that file on your device, the file has to be transferred from your computer to your device.
And something goes wrong here. Perhaps the user has a brain freeze, or perhaps they actually don’t understand, but they look at their device and they don’t see the ebook on it, and they can’t comprehend why it isn’t there.
It might be some kind of mixed-up confusion stemming from the fact that sometimes you can download a file directly to a device. For examples, when you buy an app on your phone, or if you have a Kindle and you buy an ebook from within the Kindle itself.
But that’s not what’s going on in this situation. The user has downloaded a file to their computer, and they know that they’ve done that. They see it on their computer. Then they look at their e-reader, and they don’t see it there, and they don’t understand why.
If this describes you, let me clear it up. When you download any file to your computer (an ebook or any other file), it only gets saved onto your computer’s hard drive. I don’t know of any mechanism that will ever save a file to your computer and another location simultaneously. (That’s not to say that there is no software in existence that can automatically copy a file from one location to another, but if you don’t have something like that installed, don’t expect it to happen on its own, because it won’t.)
The method by which you transfer the ebook to your device will vary a bit with each type of device, but in general, you can probably load the ebook onto it just like you would any other file. If you’ve got a Palm or Windows Mobile you just use the Sync software that it came with. If you’ve got an e-reader you can plug it into your computer via USB and transfer the file over the same way you would with an external drive. If your ebook has DRM you might have to use Adobe Digital Editions or some other software, depending on the format of the ebook. That’s enough for a whole different post, and I’ve explained the use of Adobe Digital Editions before.
So here’s a small summary: When you download a file to your computer, it is only saved to your computer’s hard drive. If you’d like to use that file on another device, go ahead and copy it over to that device.
A while back I wrote a post about the news that Apple was going to start charging vendors 30% on all sales made from within apps on Apple devices. At the time, the big hullabaloo was related to Sony, who were threatening to pull all of their music out of iTunes.
Today I read here that Barnes & Noble has removed the ability to make purchases from directly within their Nook app. They instruct users to open the Safari browser and make purchases from nookbooks.com instead. That removes the 30% fee from Apple, but causes extra steps for shoppers. I then read here that it’s not just Barnes & Noble that has removed this in-app link, but also Amazon, Kobo, and others.
Reaction to this appears to be split. Commenters on the first website mostly seem irritated with Apple, saying things like, “No Flash, No Ebooks, No HTML5, No real multi-tasking, No side loading = No Thank You Apple. Apple is the AOL of today.” But the second article claims that people are all up in arms about it, complaining about how they can no longer make in-app purchases.
I think that whether or not you agree with this development will mostly depend on what kind of technology user you are. If you’re someone who wants the easiest way to buy and download content and you don’t care about the details of where your money goes, then the in-app method of making purchases is obviously much easier method. If you’re someone who’s really into gadgets and also sympathizes with smaller businesses who get 30% of each sale chomped out by a larger company, you might be more in favor of taking the extra few steps to buy your content through Safari instead.
Personally, I feel that 30% is a pretty hefty amount for Apple to take from every sale. I understand their reason for charging a fee. They are, after all, providing the platform for the sale to take place. But this could easily be prohibitive for a small business or app developer, and more than that, it just feels unfair, like a big company that’s trying to take advantage of everyone else just because they can. It will be interesting to see what happens with this in the future.
Don’t forget that you can always buy ebooks directly from websites and then transfer them to your device. That actually gives you a lot more shopping freedom because you can purchase from independent ebook stores as well.