Now Available in PaperHack
A Quick Intro to eBooks, Part I
As someone who literally treasures books, I found
my book-snobbish friends were appalled at my early fascination with
the concept of eBooks. Anyone with the tiniest bit of common sense
knows that there's no replacement for an actual book: the feel of
the pages, the smell of paper itself, a nice binding, or the ability
to crack the cheap paperback edge to assure your place while you
read; but if you ponder the possibilities for eBooks, especially
when it comes to education, periodicals, or the conservation of
forests, well, frankly I'm a little disappointed (though not
surprised) at the turns eBook development has taken. As is often
the case with potentially exciting new technologies, small innovative
companies were quickly acquired
by the big players, functionality took a back seat to copy
protection, and real innovation became stifled by a couple of
large companies molding a platform to suit their marketing and hardware
needs. We think there's still hope though, and we'll be sharing
some thoughts in future pieces, but we thought we'd begin with the
currently pervasive formats and their associated software. In part
two, we'll review some hardware, and in part three, we'll touch
on more recent developments and projected applications for the various
The field of eBook options has narrowed considerably
since the initial round of competing ebook formats and readers.
As is often the case, the biggies won, and the main viable platforms
are Adobe's Acrobat
eBook Reader and Microsoft
Reader. We downloaded both. As is typical of Adobe, you had
to fill out a lengthy registration
form before downloading. We had a little trouble getting
the download to commence (using IE5.5 on Windows 98), but once we
did, the 9MB (egad, that's almost as big as Real Player!), only
took a couple minutes over DSL. Next we went to the Microsoft Reader
download page. Strangely, no registration was required, and it was
only a 3.7MB download. Microsoft, how can you retain your bloatware
crown with tiny downloads like this? Perhaps you could add some
annoying but hack-able encryption...
Thank God (SBC?) For DSL....
After downloading the readers, we installed the Adobe
software first. Minor gripes: irrationally long EULA,
required reboot, and an unsolicited desktop icon. All easily dispensed
with. We decided to install both applications before launching either.
The MS Reader install was a lot less simple. The installer crashed
ZoneAlarm twice in a row, so we disabled the application. On the
third try, although we were politely asked if we wanted a desktop
icon, we got one of those "Activate Now?" RECOMMENDED!
screens, so we played along. Then we were asked once again if we
Microsoft, and even though we didn't hesitate, we experienced
the MOAF (Mother of all Freezes). That's it! Sign us up for one
of those "Switch" commercials! We "three-finger-saluted"
(even Norton CrashGuard was crashed) until our pinkies were distended,
and once re-booted, we re-launched the software, just to see what
would happen. Well, not much. A simple interface, as you can see.
But is it GOOD simple, or BAD simple? A little of both, in our opinion.
See the side-by-side below. At least it didn't crash. The Adobe
launched without much trouble (it should, it's essentially reading
pdf's, from what we understand), and, in our opinion, offers a more
intuitive and useful interface than Microsoft's reader. (Thank you,
The Adobe eBook Reader
has a slightly more purposeful (and attractive?) "front
The Microsoft Reader is simple, but maybe
too simple. We wouldn't mind more "view"
So what about content? You have to go buy some, or
risk incarceration by finding a working copy of some not-necessarily
legal decryption tools. There are also a lot of educational resources
available for FREE books. We downloaded "Jungle Book"
in MS Reader format from the University
of Virginia Library, and "Call of the Wild" from PDFProject.com,
just to see how the two applications feel. Not surprisingly, the
Adobe software was a little easier to use, and had some useful basics
like page orientation (two-page display, for instance) and dictionary
tools, and although slow-launching it seemed a bit more stable on
our system. We say "not surprisingly" not because we like
Adobe, but because their product is essentially the original GlassBook
Reader, which was well conceived for the purpose at hand. We think
it would be nice if the MS Reader had more "View" options.
Both applications seem to (we'll be verifying this) create new directories
in "My Documents" by default, and allow drag-and-drop
of files into their respective "Libraries". Neither application
does a particularly good job of documenting where they're actually
putting your eBook files- more on that in part two.
The Adobe software in "Two-Page" mode
So why would I read a book on my computer?
That's a question very much on our minds as we sat
looking at a 273-page document on our 19" Trinitron. The answer
is, it would be a little awkward (though nice and warm) snuggling
up with a big Dell-branded Sony monitor to read yourself to sleep.
Even a laptop, in many instances, may be a little cumbersome for
simply reading a book. In our next piece, we'll be covering available
hardware for reading your eBooks, and grumbling a little bit about
how the interests of very large companies may once again be impeding
the development of a potentially awesome new idea.
Happy downloads (if you dare).
August 22, 2002
Index of ElcomSoft,
Dmitry Sklyarov, Adobe, US Government and
DMCA-related articles from around the Web
Topics such as digital
formats, content standards, online protection
systems, reading software and content management
Advanced eBook Processor
- Truth and Myths (and Download)