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Mobipocket eBook Format Is Gone

Early this month Amazon pulled the plug on Mobipocket. If you go to mobipocket.com now, you’ll find a selection of 12 free ebooks on the home page, but all of the other ebooks have been removed. The Mobipocket company was acquired by Amazon in 2005, and they used the technology of the ebook format in the development of their Kindle software.

Before being bought by Amazon, Mobipocket was an odd company. They were based in France and always had a very relaxed way of doing business, sometimes not responding to questions for months at a time, and even not collecting fees from publishers or retailers for months after they were due. On the other hand, I always felt that their software was ahead of its time. Unlike Adobe and Microsoft, they had a pretty good method in place for DRM. It was based on a PID (personal identification) number that was unique to each copy of Mobipocket Reader. All you would have to do was find that number and then enter it before you downloaded your ebook. Later, they switched to a username/password system, which was still much easier than Adobe and Microsoft’s complicated registration systems. The Reader was also very versatile, supporting most of the mobile devices of the time, like Palm, Pocket PC, Nokia, and Blackberry.

In 2008 there was supposed to be a version of Mobipocket Reader released for iPhone, but that never happened. I’m sure at that point Amazon had decided to stop working on the Mobipocket brand separately and just focus on Kindle. Around the same time, or perhaps a little later, people started complaining that the Mobipocket support forum had become useless because staff never responded to posts. Before that, the Mobipocket staff was quite active and provided most of their customer support through the forums.

So, what does this mean for people who used the Mobipocket format in the past? A few things:

– Amazon is claiming that they will keep past downloads available to customers. I would recommend downloading your Mobipocket ebooks as soon as possible just in case those downloads become unavailable later. They probably won’t last forever.

– Mobipocket ebooks with DRM can only be read in Mobipocket Reader, so if you need a copy of that, you should probably download it soon. Who knows how long Amazon will continue to provide downloads for it. (Mobipocket ebooks without DRM can be read in the Kindle software.)

– If you were reading Mobipocket ebooks on a Blackberry device, you’ll probably have to switch to Kobo. They provide an app for Blackberry. Your old Mobipocket ebooks won’t work in the Kobo app, but you can get Kobo ebooks from now on.

– If you were using another device that Mobipocket supported, like a Windows Mobile phone, you have less options right now. The majority of ebooks being sold now are PDF or ePub, and DRM for those formats is usually handled by Adobe’s Content Server. They do not support Windows Mobile (or other devices Mobipocket supported like Symbian and Palm). You will probably have to stick with non-DRM ebooks until an app becomes available for those devices that supports Adobe’s DRM.

Meanwhile, Lexcycle.com is still unavailable, so it looks like Amazon has definitely killed off that software as well.

With all of these ebook formats changing or falling by the wayside (not to mention devices as well), what should a person do? Amazon is doing so well with Kindle ebooks that I bet that format will be pretty safe to use for a long time. Even as they keep introducing upgraded versions of the hardware and software, you should still be able to keep using your older purchases. Other than that, I know that PDF and ePub have persevered over many years. PDF is such a ubiquitous file format that it’s likely to keep being used for many years to come, and ePub is by far the best format for smaller screens like smartphones and it’s still being developed. So if you’re not using a Kindle, it might be a good idea to read ebooks on a device that you use for other purposes, like a phone or tablet. Buying a device that’s only for ebook reading, or using an ebook format that is specific to one type of hardware, will probably be a poor investment in the long run. Instead, try and get PDF or ePubs and read them on a device that you’ve already bought for something else.

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The End of Stanza?

I don’t know anything official, but it seems to me that the Stanza ebook app is near its end.

Today I was doing some research on ebook apps and wanted to look something up on the Lexcycle website. It’s down. I don’t know if it’s just temporarily down or if it’s gone for good. However, signs point to Stanza going away for good.

A while back I heard some reports from Stanza users saying that Lexcycle had stopped responding to all support questions about the app. Since I couldn’t get to Lexcycle’s website today I Googled “stanza” and found the iTunes Stanza page. Interestingly, they point to getsatisfaction.com/stanza for support, which is a community forum that doesn’t seem to be affiliated with Lexcycle.

And then I remembered that last month I’d read something about how people got all excited about a new Stanza update, followed by a disappointing announcement that Stanza would no longer be getting any updates at all. A blogger reported on that here. Amazon bought Lexcycle in 2009, so apparently, like they did with Mobipocket, they are slurping up ebook apps and spitting them out into the Kindle.

Now, personally, I am not bothered by Stanza going away. I never liked it that much. But it does make me wonder how many small companies Amazon is going to kill in the name of the Kindle. They have so much of the market share already that they really don’t need to snuff everyone else out. I don’t like that kind of Wal-Mart style business operation.

The End of Microsoft Reader

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.

Discontinuation of Microsoft Reader

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.

eReader

eReaderThe eReader program has undergone some changes in ownership and names over the years. It used to be heavily associated with Palm, being called “Palm Reader” then “Palm eReader,” and now it simply goes by “eReader”. (In fact, if you install it on Windows, it will go in a folder called Palm Digital Media.) Its website shows that it was bought by Barnes & Noble at some point, and it is now run by the same people that operate Fictionwise.

eReader is another versatile program, like Mobipocket, that can be used on many different types of devices.

devices supported

As of October 2010, this is a list of the device types that are supported by eReader:

  • Android
  • Symbian
  • iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Windows Mobile
  • Blackberry
  • Pocket PC 2002&earlier, 2003&later
  • Windows
  • Macintosh
  • Linux
  • OQO

software wizard

The main eReader download page lets you choose which device you have, then download the software you need. They also have a clever software wizard that helps you decide.

drm

The DRM that eReader employs is quite easy to work with. Instead of making you register for an account and authorize the software, you just enter two “unlock codes” when you open the ebook: your name and your credit card number.

At first, the idea of entering your credit card number sounds strange and even scary for some people, but if you think about it from a DRM standpoint, it makes perfect sense. If a person gave away the ebook to a friend, he would also have to give away his credit card number so that the friend could open the ebook. Following that reasoning, if this person went further and posted the ebook on a torrent site, he’d have to give his credit card number away to everyone on the internet.

A tip about the name: in my experience I have noticed that some people get confused about how exactly they should be entering their name. The name you enter should match up with whatever you registered on the website where you bought the ebook. The confusion that arises is that this is not necessarily the exact name that is shown on your credit card. So, don’t enter the name as shown on your credit card. Enter the name that you gave to the retail website when making your purchase. The ebook doesn’t know what’s printed on your credit card.

free eReader books

eReader has a list of free ebooks that you can download. That gives you a good opportunity to test out the software on your device to see if you like it before you purchase anything. However, you do have to register an account and verify a real credit card number for the free ebooks.

Mobipocket Reader

Mobipocket Reader is a versatile ebook reading program, and it’s usually pretty easy for the average consumer to use. It can be used on a wide variety of devices like phones and dedicated ebook readers, and its DRM is actually easy to deal with.

Mobipocket Reader LogoMobipocket Reader can be used on Windows, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian OS (such as the OS used on Nokia devices) and ebook readers like the Cybook and iRex iLiad. You can get a full list of supported devices on the Mobipocket site linked to above. It is likely that your device is included.

You can’t use Mobipocket Reader on a Mac or on Linux, but if you’re running one of those operating systems, you can still get ebooks onto your mobile device through the manual install option.

how DRM is handled

Mobipocket Reader has two ways of handling DRM. The older method utilizes what Mobipocket refers to as a PID number (Personal Identification number). The newer method utilizes a username and password system. If you buy a Mobipocket ebook today you’ll probably get the newer system, but if you’re re-downloading an old purchase you might have to use the PID system. Either is easy and shouldn’t give you much trouble.

PID System

You’ll be asked to enter your PID before you can download the Mobipocket ebook. All you have to do is look up the PID in your Mobipocket Reader software, and enter the number where you are being prompted.

To find the PID for your computer:

1. Open Mobipocket Reader
2. On the left-side panel of the screen, click “Reading Devices”
3. Find your computer in the list and click “Edit Properties”
4. Your PID will be displayed next to “Device PID (Personal ID)”

To find the PID on your device:

1. Open Mobipocket Reader
2. Open the “Help” menu
3. Go to the “About” section. The PID will be displayed there.

If you entered the PID correctly, you’ll be able to open the ebook after you download it. The website from which you purchased the ebook should allow you to enter a PID for your computer and your device. That way you can open the ebook in both places.

eBookMall.com has a PID section of their Mobipocket FAQ that will probably solve any question you might have about the process.

Username/Password System

The username/password system is simpler. The website from which you purchased the ebook will assign you a username and password (or you will choose your own). When you open the Mobipocket ebook for the first time, it will prompt you to enter the same username and password.

how to transfer ebooks to devices

The transfer of Mobipocket ebooks between your computer and device is handled by Mobipocket Reader (installed on your computer). This is the process:

1. Open Mobipocket Reader on your computer.

2. On the left side of the screen, click “eBooks”.

3. Right-click on the ebook you want to load onto a device.

4. Click “Send” and choose the device.

If prompted to enter your username/password:
– Select the correct retail website.
– Enter your username and password.

5. Sync your device to transfer the ebook.

file formats

Mobipocket Reader’s native file format is .prc. It can also import other files, such as PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, Word, and EPUB.

my opinion

I think Mobipocket Reader is a great ebook reader. It provides the security level that publishers want, but it doesn’t ever feel like it’s encroaching on the users’ rights. In my years of providing tech support for ebook downloads, I’ve definitely seen that Mobipocket Reader has been easy to use for people. It is good to use on the computer and it runs on a lot of different mobile devices. All in all, it’s a good choice.

Microsoft Reader

Microsoft Reader Loading ScreenMicrosoft Reader is a free ebook reader that you can use on Windows computers and Windows Mobile devices. Its main feature is the use of what Microsoft calls “ClearType” technology. Personally, I don’t think it looks any clearer than regular font typing, but it does make the text in Microsoft Reader ebooks look a lot more like type on paper. Microsoft Reader provides a more book-like reading experiences than other ebook software.

In this post I will be going over everything you’ll need to use Microsoft Reader ebooks successfully on both Windows and Windows Mobile. If you’re not sure whether your phone/device runs Windows Mobile, check this list of devices.

first, a couple notes

These instructions assume that you’ll be buying and downloading DRM-protected ebooks. Most book publishers require DRM on their downloads because they are concerned about software piracy (too concerned in my opinion, but that doesn’t change anything.) If you find a Microsoft Reader ebook that is not protected by DRM, then you won’t need to have your copy of Microsoft Reader “activated”. However, I still highly recommend that you follow the activation procedure anyway because it is likely that you’ll want to get a DRM-protected ebook at some point, and it’s much better to be prepared for it ahead of time.

Secondly, these instructions assume that you will be using the ebook on a Windows Mobile device. If you are only planning on using your ebook on your computer, then you can just skip the Windows Mobile instructions.

what you’ll need

Microsoft Reader on your computer

Microsoft Reader on your mobile device (if you plan on using it on your device, not just your computer)

a Windows Live ID (also known as a Microsoft Passport account)

Step 1 – Get a Windows Live ID / Microsoft Passport account

You might already have a Windows Live ID. You have one if you use Hotmail or Windows Messenger. If you’re not sure whether your have one or not, especially if you’ve already bought some Microsoft Reader ebooks, make sure to check for an existing account.

This is quite important. If you have downloaded DRM-protected ebooks in the past, you will have used a Windows Live ID, whether you remember it or not. If you activate Microsoft Reader with a different ID now, you’ll lose access to those ebooks.

If you definitely don’t already have a Windows Live ID, sign up for one now.

Step 2 – Install Microsoft Reader on your computer

– Download Microsoft Reader for your computer

– Just like any other program, begin the installation and follow the on-screen instructions.

Note: You must do this even if you only plan on reading the ebook on your Windows Mobile device. Microsoft Reader will be using your computer’s Microsoft Reader activation information during the transfer of the ebook to your device.

Step 3 – Activate Microsoft Reader on your computer

After you install Microsoft Reader you will probably be automatically prompted to activate it. If you aren’t, or if you’re doing this at any other time other than right after the installation, you can activate here. Click the link that says “Activate Now!” (Microsoft requires that you use Internet Explorer for this.)

If you aren’t already signed into your Windows Live ID, you will be prompted to do so.

Note: You must perform this activation for Microsoft Reader on your computer even if you only plan on reading the ebook on your Windows Mobile device. Microsoft Reader will be using your computer’s activation information during the transfer of the ebook to your device. It will check to make sure that your computer and your Windows Mobile device have been activated using the same Windows Live ID.

Step 4 – Install Microsoft Reader on your Windows Mobile Device

You might already have Microsoft Reader installed on your device. If you do not, or if you have an old version, you can get Microsoft Reader for Windows Mobile here. That page outlines all of the compatible versions of Windows Mobile, and there are installation instructions at the bottom of the page.

Step 5 – Activate Microsoft Reader on your Windows Mobile Device

This page gives detailed instructions on how to activate Microsoft Reader on a Windows Mobile device.

Make sure to activate using the same Windows Live ID that you used when activating Microsoft Reader on your computer. If you do not, you will have a lot of trouble with transferring ebooks between your computer and your device.

DRM notes

Microsoft Reader ebooks come in three levels of DRM, which Microsoft calls “Sealed,” “Inscribed,” and “Owner Exclusive.”

The Sealed ebooks offer the lowest level of security. You can’t copy text from the ebook in more than about once sentence at a time, the file can’t be converted to other file types, and you can’t print the ebook.

Inscribed ebooks show the user’s name on the front cover of the ebook. This is to discourage users from giving the ebook away to others. The security features from the Sealed level also apply.

Owner Exclusive is the highest level of security. These ebooks can only be used when Microsoft Reader is activated with the correct Windows Live ID. The security features from the Sealed level also apply.

summary

Like Adobe Digital Editions, Microsoft Reader can be easy to use as long as you follow instructions and activate the software correctly. Microsoft Reader is a good alternative to Adobe software if you’re using Windows or Windows Mobile. Adobe files are better at displaying images, charts, graphs, and other visual extras, but Microsoft Reader is better at displaying text. I’d make my format choice based on that – will you be mostly reading text or looking at visual displays?

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