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Free, as in Books

by Retired Blogger on ‎06-15-2009 01:55 PM - last edited on ‎04-27-2012 05:38 PM by Moderator

pluckr.jpgYes, I mangled the free software movement's handy, pocket-sized explanation Free, as in Beer but the title stays with my minor modification.  Free, as in free eBooks are a very interesting medium. They're light on your mobile devices storage, they're very entertaining, and they save trees. What more could you want? A standardized reader? can't have everything, or can you-- well almost. Here's why.

eBook readers are as diverse as the applications they're designed to run on. In this post I'm going to excluding dedicated hardware specific readers like (competitor)'s Kindle or Sony's Digital Reader (I may look at those in a future post), and laptop/netbooks (too big and unwieldy for me).

Instead, I'm going to focus on my experience with a couple of mobile devices and a couple of  software options available to them. As well, I'll touch on a few free eBook sources.

pluckr2.jpgPalm (Pilot/Zire/T|X)
The Palm series was my first platform for reading eBooks. My staple eBook reader for my series of devices was Plucker.

Billed as an 'offline web and eBook reader', Plucker is actually two programs:

  • a 'distiller' program that lives on your PC (Windows, Mac, Linux)
  • a 'reader' program that lives on your Palm device.

To use Plucker, you simply point the distiller at the website or ebook text (either online or stored on your local drive), and it does the heavy lifting of converting the document from the source format (doc, html,pdf, rss, rdf, text, and more) to a common Plucker reader format.

Once the ebook/text/whatever is converted, simply sync your Palm with your computer, fire up the eBook reader and start reading.

iPhone / iPod Touch
My current mobile device is an iPod Touch, which has the native ability to view PDF, doc and other file formats. But for me the eBook reader-of-choice is Stanza - which works somewhat similar to the way Plucker works.

  • Load up the desktop version and point it a the eBook.
  • Run the Stanza client on the iPhone/Touch.
  • Share the book on your desktop version.
  • Read the book on your iPhone/Touch -- Stanza copies the eBook to your device.




Interestingly, the Stanza desktop version also hooks into many online eBook stores. Maybe not so surprising then, that Stanza was recently purchased by (competitor)....competition to Kindle? Regardless, it's one of the best iPhone reader apps, and the best I've found for free :smileyhappy:

An eBook is not a book
One thing to remember, reading on a mobile device is not the same as reading a normal book, you will have to get used to a few things.

One of the first considerations is the screen size. Depending on the screen and the text resolution (and your age -- grumble) , you may have to crank the font size up a bit. Short of the dedicated hardware devices, only anetbook or laptop approach the screen size matched by your average paperback book.

Turning the page - believe it or not, this is one thing that I miss about eBook readers..the actual physical gesture of turning the page, and the feel of the paper.  As I read more and longer books, I'd find my hand cramping up as I pressed the button or touched the screen for more text. The Plucker reader offers a 'scrolling text' option, but I never got used to it. Reminded me too much of a teleprompter.

Battery life - even though you're not doing CPU or graphic intensive processing, if your ebook isn't charged up you may find your reading abruptly interrupted as the unit shuts down. Not fun as you were getting to the good bits.

Technical reading - yes, you can read technical docs with these, but I find them better for reference than for full-up learning in this case. Nice to have the text available, but I'd not try and read The Big Book of Key Performance Indicators on it.

What to read, and where to get it
Here's some great resources I've used in the past. In some cases, you'll be able to find more than one format, so do check around.

So, do you read on a mobile device or have you invested in a dedicated ebook reader? Or is reading on a smaller screen just not your bag? As usual, let me know in the comment below!

Message Edited by MikeLee on 07-26-2009 04:47 PM
Message Edited by ElizabethS on 07-27-2009 11:08 PM
Message Edited by Laura on 08-21-2009 10:20 AM
Message Edited by ElizabethS on 09-10-2009 07:19 PM

by tachyondecay on ‎06-15-2009 07:43 PM

Thanks for a great post on books.


I'm in love with the new Kindle, conceptually, because its screen technology is truly amazing. However, I do have to condemn (competitor) for some of its business decisions, including yielding to pressure to disable the text-to-speech feature on request. :smileysad:  Fortunately (or unfortunately maybe), the Kindle isn't available in Canada. I've toyed with the idea of investing in a Sony eReader but haven't given in yet.


Short of some amazing new e-reading device in the next couple of years, I'm leaning toward getting a smartphone that also makes a good e-reader. One less device to carry around.

by Exalted Expert on ‎06-16-2009 12:15 AM

I used to use my old HP iPaq as my e-reader - it had this great feature where it could reflow PDFs and you could thus read a PDF document in one long continuous page.  It was truely a great feature.  One of these days I'll figure out how to use Beam Reader or Documents To Go on my Blackberry Storm for the same purpose - I can open the PDFs but I haven't looked into the reflow yet.  Of course, this may all be a moot point as there is supposedly a decent e-reader app coming out for the BlackBerry soon.


eBooks are becoming a lot more useful, and you can actually download entire textbooks now, which can actually make things much easier for students (assuming they start doing this more extensively with textbooks students actually use).  How nice would it be to be able to leave the textbook at home and just take along your iPhone, BlackBerry, Kindle, or Sony eReader with you.  You could read entire chapters while riding the bus without any extra weight in your bag.


I think that eBooks still have a long way to go before they become completely mainstream, but they're definitely moving their way up.


But I'll agree, you still can't beat the feel of a good solid book in your hands. :smileyhappy:

by Retired Blogger on ‎06-16-2009 08:05 AM

@tachyondecay: thanks for the kind words! The Kindle indeed looks interesting, and I'd be interested in trying it when it's available in Canada. I'm not sure about the size of it though...compared readers I've used in the past, it's huge! I'm hoping to try the Sony eReader in the future...if it works out, I'll put it through its paces.


@Krypto: good observations...I think it really depends on the type of content you are reading in relation to the size of the device. I can see passive reading on smaller screens, but if I needed to to serious research or learning, I'd tend toward a larger one. And yeah, they certainly need more market penetration before they're commonplace...give 'em a few years.


One thing I didn't mention in my post, the additional value of digital annotations, cut-and-paste, highlighting, media embedding (movies, slide presentations, etc) and external linking. eBooks can offer all these too, which gives them a value-add over traditional tomes. :smileyhappy:


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