Thursday, July 29, 2004

Enjoying MobiPocket and the Argument for Ebooks

Since getting my Smartphone in May, I have been searching for the right reader application for it. I'm a huge fan of electronic books - they are obviously much more portable than their paper equivalent - to put some real numbers on their portability, I've come up with a portability index, which a weight ratio between the ebook and paper book version, I weighed my Smartphone (130g), the SD card that it takes (2g, which stores 1GB of data), and my Apress book (640g). Assuming 5MB storage for my book, I can hold 200 copies of it on my phone (ignoring internal storage), which comes to 0.66g per ebook. So, based on weight, the electronic form would be 970 times more portable (640/.66). Even if you use a laptop as a reader (say the chunky Dell Inspiron 8600 at 3.1kg) and reserving a modest 5GB for ebooks (so you could store 1000 total books), the portability index still comes out a 206 compared to paper. This portability index obviously ignores cost, but as I'd have a phone capable of installing applications and a laptop anyway, cost isn't a relevant factor for me

Back to the Smartphone - I actually find it a great reading surface. All readers have annotation abilities, so I have a virtual (if somewhat slow) pen with me at all times. The device is a lot lighter than a paper book, and the in-built lighting capabilities is great for reading in dim places. As mobiles are a carry-everywhere device for me most of the time, I have the convenience of having a book with me all the time. I was initially really disappointed (and am still pretty disappointed) to find that Microsoft doesn't provide a version of Reader for the Smartphone. It makes a mockery of the marketting spin that porting apps between Windows CE configurations is easy (if it is, why haven't they done it?), and seems to be an ongoing attempt to kill their own product. I was on the review team for Improving .NET Application Performance and Scalability, and my suggestion that a Reader version be made available (in addition to the PDF and HTML version) was summarily ignored.

The reason that I was so keen to get Reader was the largish library of books available from Amazon in Reader format. The PDF library is larger, but secure PDFs aren't supported on the PocketPC version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Adobe doesn't have a Smartphone version at all. My first thought was to use a third party reader with no library support, and attempt to work around the security features of books that I bought to get them into a Smartphone-compatiable form. I initially used RepliGo, which comes with a print driver that allows you to print documents to the RepliGo Reader. The reader software is excellent, and I used it to read a few books on the Smartphone that I could print from either Word or Acrobat. After exhausting the small number of books I could process in this manner, I starting trying to get secure PDFs to somehow print to RepliGo. There doesn't appear to be anyway to do this, so I then went in search of a new reader - enter MobiPocket.

MobiPocket is similar to RepliGo from a software perspective, but also has a small but adequate library of titles that are available for the reader. I purchased a copy of Benjamin Franklin - An American Life from MobiPocket (I already had purchased it in PDF form from Amazon), and have been really happy with the reading and licensing experience so far. A book is locked to a maximum of two devices, which isn't too bad considering the ebooks are pretty cheap, and the reader itself is reasonably priced. The reader also supports the consumption of most of the AvantGo feeds, so if you are one of those folks waiting for AvantGo to bring out a Smartphone edition, give MobiPocket a go instead.

I'd love to see more publishers making their books available in electronic format. As a purchaser, I favor books that have an electronic version available, and when choosing between two comparable titles on .NET, the MSPress version will always win out if it has a CHM version available on the accompanying CD-ROM. Getting CHM back to the original HTML source is trivial, and then I usually suck the lot into Word using a macro and print to MS Reader, PDF or RepliGo as required. Working on a client's site (as I do about half the time) generally means that the only technical books that are useful to me are those that are directly relevant to the project (meaning I have lugged them on site), and ebooks. The rest sit at home lonely and unused.

At the moment I'm enjoying Shadow Divers on MobiPocket, and look forward to working my way through a few other titles they have on offer.


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At December 4, 2005 at 6:57 AM, Blogger Brett said...

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