Getting your E-Book Reader to read various Formats

/ Wednesday, 12 May 2010 / Fun

Amazon KindleI’ve got an Amazon Kindle, a second generation E-Book reader, which does a very good job at reading content sent to it from Amazon’s Servers, or loaded manually on the system with downloaded content from  Manybooks.net or Project Gutenberg.

The Amazon Kindle reads a various formats:

  1. It’s own propreitary DRM’d format .AZW
  2. Mobipockets .MOBI format – which actually is very similar to Amazon’s .AZW format (Amazon bought MOBI)
  3. Plain text files with the .TXT extension
  4. and finally, Adobe’s well known .PDF document Format.

There are some limitations with some of these formats,due to the way they are rendered in the file itself. For example, Reading a PDF is a royal pain, because you do not have the ability to change text size which makes reading quite difficult without a magnifying glass. Other features such as text to speech will not function whatsoever. Don’t even think about taking annotations, or hoping for a table of contents either.

While searching on the internet for other E-Books, I noticed there already is a format war going on. What about the Open Standards based .EPUB – presently supported by over 12+ competing E-Book readers by Sony, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple’s IPad. Other formats such as Microsoft’s .LIT well thought out and utilized years ago, .HTML the langugage used to render webpages, .CHM the compressed help format for manuals. None of these can be easily read by the reader.

Amazon offers a Reader application for the PC – which supports the same formats as the device, not doing me any good. I found that some enterprising developers put together a hack for the Kindle allowing it to open the .PDF formats, and automatically convert it to a Kindle readable format within the device named ‘Savory’. Unfortunately after about 2 hours of mucking around, all it resulted in was frustration.

If I am publishing content, I want as many people to read it using whatever format they desire. Locking ourselves into one of these many formats will just create frustration in the future, and eventually causing problems down the road finding devices able to read the data. One can only look at old Word processing formats from programs such as ClarisWorks, Word Perfect, Corel, and try to wade through the mess of importing treasured memoirs into today’s latest and greatest word processing application.

There had to be a better solution – so while I was digging, I noticed the Savory application making reference to Calibre.

Developed in 2006 by a graduate student initially to support synchronizing documents with  the linux operating system, this program has since evolved into a full fledged E-Book Management System. By System, I mean that it has the capabilities of storing catalogs of the books available on your computer and your device, converting from the various proprietary formats so that they may be read on your device. They’ve got it working with dozens of devices, allowing full bidirectional synchronization – and the coolest feature is to login to various news websites (It has a couple hundred built in already) and download the daily news and deliver it to your device like a newspaper.

If your document doesn’t have proper information such as Author, Title, Cover – it has functionality to look this all up via catalog servers available on the internet based on the individual books ISBN number, making this dare I say it like the “ITunes” for books.

I imported about 300 books into the system with ease, and set my computer to convert them all to a readable .MOBI format used by my Kindle. The whole process took about 2 hours, some of the books being thousands of pages. Moving the content to the device was as simple as selecting ‘Send to Device’, and it was very to be read. There are conversion options for those who wish to tweak and hack the output of converted files, but 99% of the users will not need to touch this section.

Best of all, It’s Free! It’s Open Source! And you can download it now for Macs, Linux, and Windows. Don’t let companies and their pissing match of competing formats limit your ability to do what you originally intended to do with your device. READ.


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