Ebooks

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How I got interested

I  became interested in Ebooks some years ago, before the advent of the modern Ebook reader.   I had an electronic organiser, an Ericsson MC218 - a clone of the Psion 5 - and discovered the .tcr format which allowed me to compress text files and read them on the PDA.   The experience was not ideal as the screen size was quite small and the device was not readily suited for use in the hand.  It did, however, give me some idea of the possibilities.

Fast forward a few years - I had retired and technology had moved on somewhat.  E-Ink had made an appearance and was being used in new Ebook readers with much extended battery life.   It was time to take the plunge so I bought a "BeBook", a Hanlin V3 device made by a Chinese company but marketed by a Belgian firm.

The Bebook came with a vast collection of books, however they were all in PDF format and as I have since realised this was just about the worst format for demonstrating the capabilities of the reader as it locked-in the user effectively to a pre-determined typeface and size. All the books had been sourced from the excellent Project Gutenberg archive which transcribes out-of-copyright material and preserves it for posterity.

Formats and Software

At that time the most popular Ebook format appeared to be the Mobipocket (.prc) format and I converted some original books from PDF to PRC using Mobipocket Creator although the results were far from ideal.

With my interest fuelled I started to look at the various formats Ebooks could use and decided that for what I wanted a format known as "Fiction Book 2" or FB2 seemed ideal.  The format owes its origin to the Russian Ebook community and is an XML format so can be easily edited using a simple text editor.   The Russian community had also developed a set of tools for creating the books using OpenOffice.org and using these I can easily convert the simple text files used by Project Gutenberg to Ebook format complete with Tables of Contents, tables, and footnotes that appear at the bottom of the page to which they refer, something no other format seems to offer.

I was very happy to discover that the BeBook is one of the few readers that a project called OpenInkpot had focussed on.   Because the BeBook is essentially a Linux computer it is possible to totally replace its software by an Open Source alternative which is more stable than the manufacturers original.   The OpenInkpot version allows the choice of two different "brands" of reading software each of which has its advantages depending on the book you are reading.  OpenInkpot, having Russian origins, supports my favourite FB2 format.

Format Wars

Like many consumer electronics, Ebooks have suffered from the inevitable war between competing companies for the domination of the market.  This has been fought out mainly between Amazon who make the Kindle that much of the Press believes is the only Ebook reader and the companies that use Adobe Digital Editions for their Ebooks.  Both these use Digital Rights Management to protect the books they sell - of itself a reasonable approach, however there are licencing restrictions associated with the reader software that mean that you cannot have an Ereader which will allow the use of both types of format.   My own reading tastes mean that I don't need to have to make a choice as classic books and most of the reading matter I prefer are out of copyright and can be obtained in non-DRM protected form.

Some Ebook repositories

I have mentioned previously the grandaddy of them all Project Gutenberg but there are a few more sources of legal unencumbered books that will provide a lifetime's reading for most folk.   Check out the Download page for books I have produced.

MobileRead is a forum where people can get help and exchange news relating to Ebooks, Readers, and software.  There is also a section where members have effectively re-published books that are out of copyright.   These are not the automatically generated formats shifts that can be found on many other sites based on raw Project Gutenberg texts, but are typically freshly scanned and individually formatted books which have been proofed and converted by hand into the main formats so that they can be read on most readers.

The Internet Archive is a major source of old books, however they are mainly scanned images, usually with very raw Optical Charachter Recognition performed on them to allow searching and indexing.  The text layers are seldom adequate without further editing to form the basis for Ebooks to read on a small handheld reader.  
Bob Calvert