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Universal Ebook Format Debated 277

Posted by simoniker
from the ebook-em-danno dept.
Amy Hsieh writes "A well-known ebook industry expert, Jon Noring, recently wrote an interesting article for eBookWeb, formally calling upon the ebook industry to adopt a single universal ebook distribution format. Right now there's a plethora of essentially incompatible ebook formats, and this format 'babel' is hampering the growth of the ebook industry. In the article, Mr. Noring proposes a promising open-standards candidate which appears to meet a list of basic requirements: The Open eBook Forum's OEBPS Specification. Andy Oram, a Linux programming editor for O'Reilly, wrote an interesting reply to the article that should also be read." On the other hand, Noring's proposal has also met with some skepticism elsewhere.
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Universal Ebook Format Debated

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  • by WestieDog (592175) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:43AM (#6122342) Homepage
    What about .txt?
    • by flakac (307921)
      .txt is simply not sufficient to replace a book. A book contains graphics, charts, indexes, etc. and there's no reason these should not be exploited in any eBook format. Also, there's no reason not to extend the paradigm to allow for readers to make annotations in the book, just like you can in real paper-based books.
    • .txt has no markup capabilities. No way to signal chapter headings, etc.

      what about HTML? Compressed HTML at that.
    • I thought SGML solved this problem years ago.. (except for the copyright-driven copy-protection schemes that seem to be in vogue with the profit-hounds) However, I don't think copy-protection is absolutely necessary. Publishers have made billions selling regular old paper books for years with no "copy-protection". Even the advent of easy copying with XeroX machines didn't kill the profit. What makes the same content in a new medium suddenly worthy of copy-protection ?
    • > What about .txt?

      I don't think that you are serious about .txt - it is a good format to
      deliver textual information. But a good book contains more than just
      that. The layout, font and style makes reading easy or difficult,
      whatever publisher intended. Illustrations and other artwork (eg
      formulas) improve accessibility of the delivered information.

      A .txt hardly does this.

      Except for being a proprietary thing, I consider .PDF (not the ebook
      variant) a good format for books. It's not perfect, and its outs
      • But a good book contains more than just
        that. The layout, font and style makes reading easy or difficult,
        whatever publisher intended. Illustrations and other artwork (eg
        formulas) improve accessibility of the delivered information.


        Funny.. the last 3 good books I read had none of this...

        Text books and manuals? yes.. a good book? nope.

        I suggest you go into the fiction and non fiction isles and pick up a few books and learn what is in the bulk of publications... Words... no pretty pictures and charts... b
        • If I were choosing an edition of The Hobbit with or without Tolkien's illustrations, I'd choose the one with them. Likewise the Alice books and Tenniel's illustrations. A format that allows illustrations doesn't require them.

          However, there is certainly an important place for plain text ebooks - they are easy to convert to more complete formats. The efforts of Project Gutenberg aren't wasted.
    • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:40AM (#6122639)
      Have you ever tried to read something from Project Gutenberg in text format? It's horrible! Try downloading something like the King James Bible and go mad as you slog through in 80 character monospaced print. Furthermore, say goodbye to an pictures or diagrams, e.g. illustrations in Alice in Wonderland.


      A standardized rich text format is absolutely required, one which defines document structure so you get all the goodness like chapters, quotations, sidebars, footnotes, images etc., but doesn't impose how it should be laid for the most part, or the layout is specified by an accompanying style sheet.


      Something like docbook might be suitable, but some of its more gross or esoteric things would have to be pruned or moved into different levels of support for the sake of simplicity.

  • Well (Score:5, Funny)

    by The-Bus (138060) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:44AM (#6122351)
    If the software pirating industry can all agree on plain text "NFO" files with ASCII-painted flames, dragons eating your group's logo, and pot leaves surrounding shout-outs to your boys on efnet, I think the slightly more professional and law-abiding ebook industry can agree on a standard format.
    • Re:Well (Score:3, Funny)

      by PerryMason (535019)
      Yeah, and typical Microsoft went and broke the standard associating .nfo with System Info files in Win2k. Those guys just never stick to the standards...
  • My ebook format (Score:4, Informative)

    by RenQuanta (3274) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:44AM (#6122353) Homepage
    Is Project Gutenberg [promo.net] and a Palm Pilot.
    • How about WAP? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by expro (597113)

      Is Project Gutenberg and a Palm Pilot.

      I would like to put up a server to serve up Gutenberg, etc. a page or so at a time for low-end WAP phones, with simple indexing and serching capabilities. The simpler cell-phone is what I really always have in-hand with good connectivity when I would like to read. Palm Pilots never seem to have enough storage to keep whole books or widespread connectivity.

      Ha anyone done this? It should be popular and not too resource-intensive.

  • by Baumi (148744) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:48AM (#6122364) Homepage
    I don't think any format will get Ebooks to catch on until we have reader hardware that makes reading those books at least as pleasant as reading a paper book.

    Here's hoping that all [sciam.com] those [parc.com] e-paper [eink.com] efforts [papyron.com] will produce something usable soon.
    • I think the same thing as you about the dedicated reader devices, but I've started using the reader software that comes with my Pocket PC and now I actually prefer that to reading from a paperback. It's convenient since I usually have the thing with me most places I go, it's smaller than a paperback and you don't have to turn pages or worry about your bookmark falling out. I can navigate through the book pretty quickly with the directional pad, even faster than turning a page physically. And I can carry qui
      • I also like reading on a device; for me it's a Palm. It's not that I don't like paper better, but the Palm has other advantages that outweigh the crappiness of the display (my IIIxe's green display that is). Number one is I always have it. I get a lot more books read now that I have one to read if I'm 5 minutes early for a meeting, or have to wait for the dentist. Number two is I never have to remember a bookmark, the prog always remembers where I left off.
      • I don't like running multiple copies, either. Personally, I prefer MS Reader on my Pocket PC because Adobe eBook Reader takes way too long to open, uses too much memory, and takes up too much space (which really goes along with too much memory). I'd rather remove it.

        Even if the debates prove to be useful and a new format arises, I'm betting that Microsoft and Palm will probably integrate the new format in their eBook readers, but Adobe will probably do their own thing - they think they invented the "elect

    • I have an REB1100 and it's GREAT. Font scaling, bookmarks, dictionary, lots of storage... I have few complaints.

      The same cannot be said for the "Upgrade" model, the GEB1150. When Gemstar took over production from Rocket, then withdrew from manufacturing with RCA, they reworked the thing and made it useless. Gone are the ability to change font sizes beyond the default two loaded into the device, screen rotation, dictionary, the ability to load custom content, and the ability to backup content to a local
    • I couldn't agree more. There is nothing that comes CLOSE to the pleasure of a REAL book. The smell of the pages of a familiar old book, the texture of the paper between your fingertips... these are things that it will be very hard to replace with a digital version. I'm certain that referance works and such will benefit greatly and be wonderful to have in a practical digital format... but even when the digital papers get to a functional point, I think there will still be a place for "real" books, if not I'
    • I wholehartedly agree! The readers are not good enough - they don't read carefully, skip important parts, so quickly forget what they have read. It's time to have better readers.
  • I dont know.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AmoebafromSweden (112178) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:48AM (#6122365) Homepage
    Why should i choose a format that have all possibilities to have DRM included in the future thus allowing only one read. And will require Electricity to read.

    This is especially true for for factbooks who are often used as reference and not to be read just one time.

    So far Ebooks cant beat the paper version in portability, convenience and ease of use.

    Paperbook still seems more favorable to me.
    • Re:I dont know.... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RobotRunAmok (595286) * on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:18AM (#6122485)
      Why should i choose a format that have all possibilities to have DRM included

      Because you might want to read an e-book of something NOT in the public domain, e.g, a current novel, and few authors or publishers are going to render their wares into a format that is going to end up on free P2P. There needs to be some way to ensure that money changes hands.

      You were planning on paying for the books you read, weren't you? Or is this all just an exercise in seeing how we can best Napsterize the publishing indutstry?
      • Re:I dont know.... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You were planning on paying for the books you read, weren't you? Or is this all just an exercise in seeing how we can best Napsterize the publishing indutstry?

        I was.

        Because you might want to read an e-book of something NOT in the public domain, e.g, a current novel, and few authors or publishers are going to render their wares into a format that is going to end up on free P2P.

        .. because the publishing industry wants to sell me a non transferable license, not a book that can be lent, sold on

      • Re:I dont know.... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jeti (105266)
        > There needs to be some way to ensure that money changes hands.

        Yes. However, I want to be sure that I can still read the book
        after my original hardware broke or I replaced it with a newer
        model from another manufacturer. And even if the publisher and
        the producer of the reader have gone ot of business.

        When there is a standard for e-books that ensures I can keep
        reading em, I'm willing to pay.
        • When there is a standard for e-books that ensures I can keep
          reading em, I'm willing to pay.


          I completely agree with you. And until that degree of sophistication -- flexibility for the reader and security for the publisher -- is reached in the e-book software format, e-books of non-public-domain works will be scarce and multi-colored.

          Look, even here on this "geek" board, loud are the arguments made for the current "analog" standard (paper). You can bet that the publishing industry is not racing to embrac
          • I do know (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TFloore (27278)

            Look, even here on this "geek" board, loud are the arguments made for the current "analog" standard (paper).

            That's because a lot of /. geeks are avid sci-fi readers, and they know what a good interface for a book is. Reference books are good candidates for ebooks (in open formats) because you want to search in a reference book. But for pleasure reading, the primary user requirements seem to be:

            • No electricity OR
            • Very long battery life (and very long battery shelf life)
            • easy portability
            • very durable - I ca
  • by sould (301844) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:48AM (#6122367) Homepage
    Right now there's a plethora of essentially incompatible ebook formats, and this format 'babel' is hampering the growth of the ebook industry.


    Yup - just like there's a plethora of essentially incompatible word processing formats - hampering the growth of the office/word processing market.


    But the industry doesn't matter to one player - only their market share does.


    The only way to really win this sort of thing is to persuade all (or at least most) consumers to boycott products that deliberately break compatability with standards.


    But how likely is that to happen?

    • Yup - just like there's a plethora of essentially incompatible word processing formats - hampering the growth of the office/word processing market.

      What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!
      • What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!

        Yes, yes...but WHICH Word *.doc format?

        (By my recollection there've been at least four slightly incompatible ones. (95, 97, 2k/XP, 2k3))
      • Suite of formats (Score:3, Interesting)

        What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!

        That needs to be modded Funny.

        By my reckoning, MS-Word has had more than 15 different formats in 9 years. I gave up MS-products for Lent a few years ago, but back in the day when my new laptop arrived with MS-Word95 (or whatever it was called), I had to go find MS-Word 6 and resave manually every last word document + metadata in RTF format in order to be able to read them in the new program.

        Too bad the data format is tied i

    • There are a few factors that make the difference. Word processing is ubiquitous in business and very common for personal use as well whereas ebook users are virtually non-existant by comparison.

      Most word procesor packages have a variety of formats they can read or write, some of them more or less standards. While they tend to screw up formatting somewhat when they do convert formats, it's better than nothing.

      A major point of ebooks is that you can have a convieniant handheld reader with all of your book

  • by adzoox (615327) * on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:49AM (#6122371) Journal
    Why do we have to propose a different standard? Just because it's a slightly different industry than computers, most eBooks are going to be READ on computers. Wouldn't PDF be perfect? Doesn't Adobe have an eBook PDF format? If I'm not mistaken a PDF can be locked and encrypted. This is also the same as DVD+/- Minus is the better standard, but companies with deeper pockets and greedier "proprietary minded" philosophy back Plus. Standards make sales PERIOD!

    I think this was the mistake of the iTunes Music Store. While not terrible (actually slightly better quality) AAC is not as universal a standard as Mp3 or even Ogg. There are WAYS to encrypt and secure those formats. Napster, just before its demise, had figured out how to secure MP3's that were downloaded from it's system.

    • AAC is not as universal a standard as [...] Ogg.

      Oh rubbish. AAC is used way more than Vorbis (which is what I assume you meant) is. Apple's target market was big enough to overtake Vorbis usage in a single day, I'd bet.

    • You obviously didn't read the article.

      PDF (while a great standard) doesn't do reflow very well. So on a handheld - page size becomes a total pain in the arse.
      • PDF (while a great standard) doesn't do reflow very well. So on a handheld - page size becomes a total pain in the arse.


        Like hell it doesn't. Like many things to do with PDF, it all depends on what you use to create your PDF. You'll find that a PDF created from a page layout program (PageMaker, InDesign, FrameMaker) through Acrobat Distiller reflows a lot better than a PDF made from MS Works using some archaic version of Acrobat.

        Nathan
    • PDF preserves layout. This is useless when an ebook has to be read on devices ranging from handhelds to 21" monitors.

      You are right though, leveraging existing work is always good. What's wrong with DocBook?

    • by Tsu-na-mi (88576) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @09:26AM (#6123006) Homepage

      PDF only meets half the goals IMHO.

      You really have 2 types of documents, and the chosen format needs to support them both well. PDF is well-suited to Magazines or other content with lots of graphics where the layout of the page is important. Such content could be standardized one or more standards of 'page size' for this kind of thing is chosen.

      The other type of content is more like a novel, where it's just a very plain free-flow of text. Here, it would be nice to have the device render layout, allow the user to up the font size, etc. Something along the lines of plain vanilla HTML 1.0 would fit well. PDF explicitly positions everything, so it would be bulkier and less flexible.

      As I see it, 2 formats are needed, one with set layout and positioning, and one for free-flowing text. PDF and a stripped-down HTML would seem to fit the bill nicely.

    • I think the Adobe .PDF format is probably the best way to go for eBooks.

      I mean think about it: even the relatively low-powered CPU's used on PDA's have enough computing oomph to process and display .PDF files. And we're talking reading .PDF files, not creating one, which takes a lot more CPU processing power.
    • both PDF and HTML (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @11:59AM (#6124479) Homepage
      The article proposes two incompatible criteria: typographic richness (nice formatting) and adaptability (letting the end-user change font sizes, reflowing the text to display it on small and large screens, etc.). PDF is a perfectly good format for typographic richness, and HTML is a perfectly good format for adaptability. There is never going to be a single format that's good for both, because they're mutually exclusive.

      What I mean by that is that for many books with complicated layouts (including my own [lightandmatter.com] free books), it's simply not possible to reflow the text automatically. Consider an illustrated science textbook, which is the kind of work I do. There's a lot of hand-tweaking involved in getting everything laid out on the pages in the best possible way. And my books' layouts aren't even that complex compared to a lot of the big commercial textbooks out there. Some slashdotters may have used LaTeX to write academic papers, so they'll know how LaTeX tries hard to flow the text correctly, but ultimately it doesn't always do what you want, and either you or the publisher ends up doing more tweaking.

      The solution isn't that complicated: if a publisher wants a book to make an electronic book available in both a a typographically rich version and an adaptable version, they can create both a PDF version and an HTML version. Of course, this is really an answer to a question that the publishers never asked. Most publishers don't want open formats, because open formats won't allow them to continue to steal away the rights of end-users, such as the right of first sale.

  • by heretic108 (454817) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:50AM (#6122374)
    I had a taste of incompatible e-Book formats when I got my first colour Palm.

    Sadly, there were better (open) formats using better compression and rendering, losing out to closed formats with big marketing push.

    The format that ultimately prevails will not necessarily be the best. It'll be the format pushed by those with the greatest marketing skills/budget, and the one which gives them the greatest control over how their works are used.

    It wouldn't surprise me if authors are already signing e-book distribution deals which forbid them from releasing in rival formats.

    One of these days, the masses will choose software and data formats according to quality and freedom.

    But something within me suspects that the Pope will convert to Islam, and the Jews will profess the divinity of Christ first.

  • FictionBook XML (Score:4, Informative)

    by ironhide (803) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:50AM (#6122375) Journal
    There also is this e-book xml format:
    http://haali.cs.msu.ru/pocketpc/FictionBo ok_descri ption.html

    I use his excellent HaaliReader as a text reader on my pocketpc (fullscreen, landscape mode). There are also html2xml and word2xml tools on his site.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:51AM (#6122377)
    The Project Gutenberg Etexts should so easily used that no one should ever have to care about how to use, read, quote and search them ...

    This has created a need to present these Project Gutenberg Etexts in "Plain Vanilla ASCII" as we have come to call it over the years.

    The reason for this is simple. . .it is the only text mode that is easy on both the eyes and the computer.

    However, this encourages others to improve our etexts in a variety of ways and to distribute them in a variety of the available media, as follows:

    Once an etext is created in Plain Vanilla ASCII, it is the foundation for as many editions as anyone could hope to do in the future. Anyone desiring an etext edition matching, or not matching, a particular paper edition can readily do the changes they like without having to prepare that whole book again. They can use the Project Gutenberg Etext as a foundation, and then build in any direction they like.

    Thus any complaints about how we do italics, bold, and the underscoring, or whether we should use this or that markup formula are sent back with encouragement to do it any ways any person wants it, and with the basic work already done, with our compliments.

    The same goes for media. We have had a long-standing work ethic of providing our etexts in any medium people wanted: Amiga, Apple, Atari. . .to IBM, to Mac, to TRS-80. . .

    However, now that our etexts are carried in so many BBS's, networks and other locations, it is easier to download the file in a manner that puts them in your format than we can make and mail a disk, so we don't really do that too much.

    The major point of all this is that years from now Project Gutenberg Etexts are still going to be viable, but program after program, and operating system after operating system are going to go the way of the dinosaur, as will all those pieces of hardware running them. Of course, this is valid for all Plain Vanilla ASCII etexts. . .not just those your access has allowed you to get from Project Gutenberg. The point is that a decade from now we probably won't have the same operating systems, or the same programs and therefore all the various kinds of etexts that are not Plain Vanilla ASCII will be obsolete. We need to have etexts in files a Plain Vanilla search/reader program can deal with; this is not to say there should never be any markup. . .just those forms of markup should be easily convertible into regular, Plain Vanilla ASCII files so their utility does not expire when programs to use them are no longer with is. Remember all the trouble with CONVERT programs to get files changed from old word processor programs into Plain Vanilla ASCII?

    Do you want to go through all that again with every book a whole world ever puts into etext?

    The value of Plain Vanilla ASCII is obvious. . .so is very much of the value of most of the various markup systems we have in the world. But until some real standards arrive-- we would be limiting our options a great deal if we do not keep copies of all etexts in Plain Vanilla ASCII as well.

    We don't have anything against markup. Not vice versa.

    Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, Shakespeare, the Koran and many others will be with us as long as civilization. . .an operating system, a program, a markup system. . .will not.

    This includes the many requests we have for compression in particular formats. There are only two formats we know of that are suitable for transfer to a wide general audience: Plain Vanilla ASCII (.txt files) and ZIPped files of them, (.zip files). Requests for other compression formats must be ignored as they are appropriate only for small portions of our target audience. However, (programmers take note: we will need help) we are planning to put some compression links on our files so they can be transmitted in any of an assortment compression formats on the fly. i.e. we should be able to generate any kind of file asked for, but we can keep only one copy of each etext on our servers. . .as the .Z compression format does in a similar manner today.
    • Yeah, it's so great that the Gutenberg Project only uses plain text with no markup of metadata, indexes, chapter headings and so on. I'm sure everyone enjoys having to manually pick these things out when republishing them.
    • Its that damn Mickey Mouse copyright rule, now like 96 years since the authors death. So you wont see much Gutenberg seelctiosn from after the 1920s, unless the author has given permission.
    • by shockbeton (669384) <leadholder,dennis&gmail,com> on Thursday June 05, 2003 @10:50AM (#6123786) Homepage
      I'm happy you brought Project Gutenberg into the discussion. PG is a wonderful resource. When the project was nascent in the 1970s and 80s reading ASCII on your TRS-80 probably seemed pretty neat. But now that the PG dream of preserving and distributing the printed word through digital technology has stagnated into a dogmatic cult with the goal of preserving ASCII it's time to reevaluate the meaning of Project Gutenberg.

      Those of us who are literate and computer savvy and have seen places other than the USA recognize the harm that reducing printed material to chunks of ASCII does. And far from mere loss of formatting or typographical embellishments much of the meaning of a text is destroyed when run through the chunky sieve of ASCII conversion. Most accented Roman characters cannot be rendered in ASCII. Non-Roman characters cannot be rendered in ASCII. Typographical features such as relative type size, style, and formatting are either lost entirely or reduced to the low-res rendering capabilities of monospaced ASCII. ASCII has no provision for rendering traditional methods of communicating typographically such as small caps, ligatures, distinction between hyphen, endash, and emdash, etc. despite the fact that virtually every printed text makes use of these features.

      Digital technology has progressed without our friends at Project Gutenberg. There is an alternative to ASCII which is now standard to all major computing platforms: Unicode. From the unicode.org website [unicode.org]:

      Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language. [unicode.org]

      Encoding the PG texts in Unicode would require no extra effort on the part of the PG volunteers (well, those who have moved on from their TRS-80s, anyway).

      Why not use technology that attempts to accomodate the typographical traditions inherent in your source material rather than reducing that material to fit an obsolete technology?

      And even if you still cling to your belief in the infinite beauty, timelessness, and universality of ASCII, please stop using linefeeds every 70 characters within paragraphs. WTF do you Project Gutenbergers imagine we read these texts on TRS-80s?
  • but...but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corian (34925) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:51AM (#6122380)
    Different readers, different platforms, and different applications have different requirements!

    Some uses want a format which is compact as possible. Some focus on readibility (switchable fots, etc.) Others -- facimile-style releases -- emphasize that the copy should as closely mimic the original work as possible. Formats can emphasize the syntactic structure of the text (sentences, paragraphs), or the structural qualities (line breaks, pages).

    Even in their paper forms, books have different formats for different uses. Libraries prefer hardcovers, with durable bindings. Travlers prefer paperbacks, with small and light pages. Collectors pay extra for special editions, with quality supplies. Some readers prefer large-print copies, abridgements, or books on tape (in a choice of cassette tape or compact disc!)

    Any format makes assumptions, and deletions. It's perfectly fine to have a multiplicity of formats. If its useable, and reasonably priced, people will buy it.

    For me, the major hindrance to e-books is the price. Since there is no associated cost of the materials (paper/cardboard), printing, physical transportation, stocking space, and delivery, e-books should be [i]cheaper[/i] than physical books. But many of them are priced the same, or even high (you can check this at Amazon.) what's up with that?
  • SVG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Per Wigren (5315) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:51AM (#6122382) Homepage
    Why not just use SVG?
    • by Surak (18578) *
      Scalable Vector Graphics? *confused*
  • by TallEmu (646970) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:53AM (#6122385) Homepage
    ... is paper. Seriously.

    The nice thing about a book is that it doesn't have a power switch - it's actually relaxing to sit there and read it.

    If it were possible to obtain a high speed printer capable of printing out "e-books" in the same form-factor as a normal book (ie double sided pages, standard size, neatly bound) then I for one would pay for *lots* more books (and paper, and ink.)

    • The nice thing about a book is that it doesn't have a power switch - it's actually relaxing to sit there and read it.

      no the nice thing about a book is that It cant be taken away from you, you can lend it to a friend, you can sell it at a garage sale or trade it in at a used book store.. all of which the Writers Guild DESPERATELY want to stop you from doing.

      a paper book gives you a ton of freedom that publishers and writers are massively pissed off about and want to take away.

      This is the real benefit.
      • The nice thing about a book is that it doesn't have a power switch - it's actually relaxing to sit there and read it.

        no the nice thing about a book is that It cant be taken away from you, you can lend it to a friend, you can sell it at a garage sale or trade it in at a used book store.. all of which the Writers Guild DESPERATELY want to stop you from doing.

        a paper book gives you a ton of freedom that publishers and writers are massively pissed off about and want to take away.

        This is the real benefit. I c

  • one.doc (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pubjames (468013) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:55AM (#6122393)
    I'm still amazed that the whole of the business world is happy to accept MSWord .doc as the standard to store virtually all of their documentation. I don't think the film industry would be happy standardizing on .avi or the music industry on .wav, so why doesn't the business word get it's act together and accept a better format than the crappy .doc?

    Take a look at this - 1dok.org [idok.org] - an open document format
    • It was kind of a 'meme'. Back in the early days when people were switching from DOS to Windows there were only really two decent word processors that ran on Windows -- 'Word for Windows' from Microsoft, and Ami. Ami was cool but was largely incompatible with everything that came before it. Word for Windows was able to read WordPerfect 4.x/5.x for DOS documents (which is what everyone previously standardized on in the DOS world) and would provide help for WordPerfect users, who of course were all lost in
  • eBooks and DRM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FinnishFlash (414045) <heikki.tunkelo@g ... .com minus punct> on Thursday June 05, 2003 @07:59AM (#6122411) Homepage
    DRM is a hot-potato, and rightfully so...
    DRM Capability: Although end-users prefer not to purchase ebooks protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management), publishers are certainly interested in the DRM capability of the universal ebook format. Thus, the universal ebook format must allow inclusion of DRM protection technologies as needed.

    Take 2 minutes and read this article from RMS

    Right to Read [gnu.org]
  • PDFs and html (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:00AM (#6122413)
    You have to be careful. Half of you are saying "I won't use this until e-books are as pleasant as paper books" and half of you are saying "why not use the standards that are already there? Just make the device do everything."

    Don't you see these are at odds?

    To make e-books as pleasant as real books, you're going to want to make them thinner and thinner in profile. You're going to want to make them run on a single lithium cell battery or AAA. You're going to want to drop all of the interface but the forward, back, and bookmarking buttons. You're going to want the computing device to be as close to nothing as possible, so you can put weight into making the device indestructible like a real book. You want to go to the store, buy the title, and have it just work, or go to Amazon and *know* your desired title is published in that format. That's the ideal, in the near term. It isn't a device that will easily accomodate PDFs and HTML and a number of other standards.
    • ... so you can put weight into making the device indestructible like a real book.
      These are the words of a man who has never owned a dog.
    • Well, the funny thing they're complaining about is things like the poor zooming in PDF: it sounds like they want it to be presentation flexible. Which is HTML.

      Personally, I'd take an old, easy to render HTML standard (Netscape 2 era) - just the basics. links, tables, frames, text stuff, images, nothing else. No javascript, no ASP, no CSS, no whatever. Support standard image types (jpeg, gif, png) and nothing else. For sanity's sake, do not support animated GIF.

      Change the name - call it BkML - say its
    • I think you are missing some things.

      1. Processing power and memory is cheap (in money,space and power requirements and) and it's getting cheaper

      2. It does not takes too much to understand one more format if that's not overcomplicated.

      however

      3. It takes considerable processing power and memory to _render_ the characters, esp. if you want them to be rendered nicely (non-fixed length, antialiased and a lot of attributes that has silly names that only typographers understand ;) )
  • Exactly (Score:2, Interesting)

    The lack of an ebook standard has thusfar kept me from buying any hardware ebook reader. I would be happy to shell out the cash for one if i knew i could use it with all the books out there.
  • by gidds (56397) <slashdot&gidds,me,uk> on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:12AM (#6122446) Homepage
    • It's universal. Everything supports it, from PDAs to supercomputers.
    • It's versatile. If properly formatted, it's reflowable on different screen sizes, fonts, layouts, &c. And it's perfect for other access methods.
    • It supports most characters you'd find in books. The de facto standard is the Windows Latin-1 encoding, which has all the punctuation as well as accented characters. (Yes, I know, I know. But it's not just on Windows -- both my Mac and my Psion use it, for example.)
    • It's editable. There are tons of tools already available, from spell-checkers in editors to complex analysis. I've written some of my own, for instance; one converts from American to British spelling, which is how I like to read my books.
    • It has conventions for /italics/, *bold*, _underlining_, &c. Yes, at first, these may look clumsy, but I actually prefer them in many ways, as they're more precise; for example, you can differentiate between *word* *by* *word* and *all at once* highlighting (see the Jargon File [catb.org] for the difference).
    • It's compact. Plain text files are smaller than HTML, PDF, RTF &c, sometimes by a lot; and when compressed in formats like PalmDOC (pdb) or TCR, they can be made even smaller and still usable directly.
    • It's future-proof. Plain text has been around for decades, and will be with us for many more, long after DRM keys have been lost and proprietary apps have died.

    Yes, of course some spiffy new format will have other advantages. But it's unlikely to gain quick acceptance. Plain text documents are everywhere, as are readers and other software. There are even online publishers [fictionwise.com] selling text files. In fact, ASCII text is arguably the most successful electronic standard there is!

    • "The de facto standard is the Windows Latin-1 encoding"

      There is no "Windows Latin-1" encoding, there's a Windows encoding - I think it's called codepage 1252 - that closly resembles ISO-8859-1 (or Latin-1). But, for me, it's not an option, since I live in Latin-2 land and there are people that use cyrillic, arabic, far-eastern or other alphabets, so your proposed solution would work only for America and the western parts of Europe.

      Plain text, however, usually means ASCII (as it is in the Gutenberg-project
      • There is no "Windows Latin-1" encoding, there's a Windows encoding - I think it's called codepage 1252 - that closely resembles ISO-8859-1 (or Latin-1)

        There are many Windows character encodings. The one I'm referring to is called 'Windows Latin-1' as well as 'CP1252'. It's effectively a superset of ISO Latin-1 (ISO 8859-1); the two are identical in the plain ASCII range 0-127, and also in the range 160-255 with accented characters &c. The only difference is in 128-159, where ISO La

  • ...Latex and Ghostscript revisited.

    Can we keep inventing more readers for specific uses?

    What's next? A new text reader for Man files that can only be read by one single reader and is hard to port to different text formats?

    Dolemite
    ______________
  • by Alsee (515537) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:27AM (#6122534) Homepage
    I have developed a higly sophisticated format for storing books in a computer file.

    Each character of the book is to be enciphered to a byte. I reserve the first 32 codes (0-31) for various system function characters. The next 32 codes (32-63) encipher the space character, various punctuation marks, and numerals. The next 32 codes encipher the capital alphabet and a few more punctuation characters. With the simple use of 00111111 binary mask 'A' maps to 1, 'B' maps to 2, and 'Z' maps to 26. Quite clever if I say so myself! Naturally the next 32 codes encipher the lowercase letters in the same manner. Using the very same 00111111 bitmask you find 'a' mas to 1, 'b' maps to 2, and 'z' maps to 26! Ingenious, isn't it?

    To ensure compatibility with legacy computer systems values above 127 shall not be used.

    I call this encoding Advanced Storage Cypherment Input Ideal - or A.S.C.I.I. Any file utilizing this encipherment is a Tagged eXchange Template. These files may be identified by the use of a .TXT extention.

    -
  • by SkewlD00d (314017) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @08:29AM (#6122549)
    Everyone in academia uses LaTeX and PostScript, since PDF is silly and HTML doesn't have layout features.
    • pdf{tex,latex} (Score:3, Informative)

      by Grendel Drago (41496)
      While everyone may use LaTeX, PDF has become more and more popular for web distribution of papers. PS works fine when you're just sending it to the printer, but because Adobe didn't include PS support in Acrobat, Windows users don't bother.

      But TeX/LaTeX has the advantage of being pretty much immutable, second only to plain TXT on that count. The standard hasn't changed since, what, 1982? Hopefully we'll be able to process the same documents with the same tools fifty years from now.

      I think the important di
  • How long did it take the music industry to realize this would not work with CDs? not long at all, but they do seem to want to undo this universal compatability. But people get greedy and look for ways to force it to work. It will never work.

    And yes, html is more than enough. This is a book, not a website. Its about reading words, nothing more nothing less. if you start up with the pictures and sound, people will ignore you in favor of a movie or TV...

    I bet someone will propose flash :D
  • This is ever so slightly off-topic, but why is it that whenever eBooks are mentioned, there's a clamor of people shouting "the paper based book is better becase x y z"?

    The arival of almost every other new media since the invention of the printing press, has been heralded as marking the end of the printed word. This hasn't happened in the past and I expect the same will be true of the eBook when it matures.

    Historically new media have complimented rather than replaced existing ones. eBooks and Monograph lit
  • Its pre-chosen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by t_allardyce (48447)
    Face it, the only reason that HTML/XML/LaTeX or whatever simple suitable format hasnt been chosen as standard (even though its so bloody obvious that it should) is because they dont have DRM.

    DRM Capability: Although end-users prefer not to purchase ebooks protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management), publishers are certainly interested in the DRM capability of the universal ebook format. Thus, the universal ebook format must allow inclusion of DRM protection technologies as needed.

    Its obvious that the
  • The last time I remember a big group of people coming together to create a standard for electonic media, it was called DVD.

    Maybe if there is no standard, authors will pick the format that allows them the exact type of access control that they want instead of having a format thrust upon them.
  • The solution? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jabbadabbadoo (599681) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @09:27AM (#6123011)
    A new revision of PDF with small rendering capabilities. How hard can that be?

    Adobe, can you hear me? Business Opportunity Nocking.

  • by borschski (665381) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @09:27AM (#6123016)

    My wife has a small publishing/consulting company that has taken us 16 years -- and a lot of investment and pain -- to build. She works her butt off gathering the content which she then publishes as print products and CD-ROM "ebooks".

    She is devastated when she hears from someone that they've copied one of her color newsletters; made a "backup" of the CD-ROM ebook and someone else "happens to be reading it so I thought I'd call with a question"; and otherwise copies illegally (no...we don't have the funds to pursue them). She had an opportunity to publish a digital product in Asia and another in Latin America but these markets are notorious for buying *one* and suddenly hundreds or thousands appear (I could digress with a personal story when I was at a software company and saw this first-hand...but it's too long).

    PDF is the best standard right now. Platform support for everything out there virtually; security; but there is no meaningful method of DRM that would protect a small businessperson AND make it relatively easy to move ebooks from device-to-device (I know that I would hate to have to remember codes from dozens of publishers; be locked in to one machine for viewing; or other cumbersome methods).

    However, no protection = no incentive. I don't care if you're an recording artist seeing your music ripped off or someone like my wife struggling to grow a business. Why should my bride travel to Europe and domestically gathering content; pay correspondents and photographers; and publish a product in ebook format that is super-simple to copy and distribute?

    This is why I'm struggling so hard with the whole discussion about ebooks; copyright; DRM and fair use. So some how, some way, we've got to come up with a solution that offers some sort of universal ebook format that content producers can agree on and users can live with.

    My $.02....
    • Mass pirating in Asia asside, why not look at this from another direction?

      Instead of being sad when a person who "happens" to get a copy somehow phones with questions, I would be happy, thrilled even, to have a potential new customer who would probably otherwise never have heard of me or even considered buying my stuff!!!

      As an indenpendant publisher, your biggest obstacle is probably obscurity, not piracy. The occasional 'casual' copy exchanged from friend to friend is the best advertising your going

    • Paper doesn't have "protection". Never did, really.
      CD's didn't have "protection" until recently- what they've come up with is useless.
      Cassette didn't have "protection". Neither did vinyl.

      Everybody did FINE without protection. Protection does NOT equate to incentive. Lack of protection does NOT equate to lack of incentive.

      How do you deal with piracy? Not by locking the stuff up. You deal with it by making it such that it is no longer profitable to do so- that is the REAL reason why piracy happens.
  • Why I don't e-book (Score:2, Interesting)

    by whiskeypete (305461)
    It's all about the price.

    Shadow Puppets (hardcover) by Orson Scott Card is priced on Amazon for USD$18.15
    Electronic version USD$25.95 (M$Reader and Adobe)

    With the e-version the pubisher has no printing costs, no binding costs, virtualy no shipping costs, no warehousing fees, no sales clerks.

    Like most everyone, I prefer my books on paper, but there are times where an e-book version would be convenient. But I am not going to pay 4 times the paperback price for the experience.
  • If the competing "companies" would take a look at Europe and how far past the US they are with cellular adoption, it would seem obvious that having one standard in the end benefits everyone. The US market is fragmented and the costs are much higher... .02 deposited
  • by Dagmar d'Surreal (5939) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @09:51AM (#6123215) Journal

    "Right now there's a plethora of essentially incompatible ebook formats, and this format 'babel' is hampering the growth of the ebook industry."

    Bullshit.

    The problem is that the few people who actually still read books are not likely to be stupid people. On top of that, the people who are reading electronic formats of books are even less likely to be stupid people.

    However, it would take rather dim consumers indeed to not see a problem with paying the exact same cost for an eBook as one would in a brick and mortar bookstore for a paperback... and strangely when I go to these eBook sellers online, I see exactly that. "Oh joy! Instead of paying $7.95 for that paperback over an Barnes & Noble, I can pay just $7.95 to download an electronic copy in a format that I probably won't be able to read again in 10 years because the format and it's reader will have been declared obsolete!"

    The unwillingness of eBook publishers to see eBooks as something other than a way to increase sales profits by cutting out the middlemen of printing and shipping expenses is what is hampering eBook adoption.
  • On Beyond ASCII (Score:4, Informative)

    by Creosote (33182) * on Thursday June 05, 2003 @10:43AM (#6123728) Homepage
    I understand the support in a lot of the comments here for the plain-vanilla ASCII Project Gutenberg approach to ebooks. Paradoxically, however, a simple ASCII conversion from print to digital form provides less assurance of future survivability and usability of your book than rendering it with the structured XML markup specified by the Open eBook standard (where well-formed XHTML is the least common denominator).

    Why? Well, an ASCII text version of a printed book is really more like an analog facsimile than is a version in XML that has been tagged for structural features. Leaving aside issues of non-English characters, illustrations, and unusual typography, ASCII does a relatively poor job of capturing all of the structural conventions that exist in printed books. Books have copyright pages, tables of contents, chapter titles, subtitles, bylines, epigraphs, block quotations, footnotes, running headers and footers, citation lists, etc. ASCII can provide rough format equivalents of some of these, very poor equivalents of others. With an appropriate XML tagset, however, it's a relatively simple matter to tag most of the structural features of a book and then use stylesheets for presentational rendering. That's the whole assumption of the Open eBook specification.

    Suppose you're in a world where all printed copies of Huckleberry Finn have been lost. You have two CD-ROMS that somehow you've managed to decode so that you can read the files and interpret their character sets. One of them contains the Project Gutenberg [ibiblio.org] etext of the novel, an ASCII transcription. The other contains an XML encoding tagged according to a DTD from the Text Encoding Initiative [tei-c.org], the current best standard for encoding literary (and many other) texts. It has all of the textual content of the PG version, as well as some that's missing (like the table of contents and the copyright page from the transcribed edition, which the PG version unaccountably omits). XML tags mark all the line and page breaks of the original. In addition, there are tags to mark quoted speech, unusual typography, words in foreign languages, and other significant features of the original. The CD-ROM contains the DTD used along with documentation on the tagset.

    In this imaginary scenario, even if all of the XML documentation were missing it would be pretty straightforward for 31st-century programmers to strip out the tags and recreate the ASCII transcription. But with the documentation, it's possible to reconstruct something much closer to the original than the plain-vanilla PG version allows. And suppose your 31st-century archaeologist found a trove of TEI-tagged books on CD: with all of the structural tagging and metadata about authorship, publication dates, etc., a 31st-century librarian will be able to plug all of the books into a cataloging system that allows sophisticated searching. If instead you had a trove of plain-ASCII books, the best you could do with the collection would be simple full-text searches.

    Leaving aside the sci-fi scenario, the reality is that our documents, over the next few decades, will move from format to format and be used for purposes that we can only guess at right now. Of course plain ASCII, or even proprietary formats, will be better than no documents at all. But the work involved in converting them will be a lot higher than if they are tagged in a well-documented, structured markup language.

    Incidentally, there's already at least one project underway [hwg.org] to take Project Gutenberg texts and add minimal XHTML or XML markup to capture structure and make them more readable via stylesheets. The Open eBook specification is just a more sophisticated way of doing the same thing.

  • I recently tried reading an eBook on the Palm. It was presented similarly to a PDF - fixed pages with fixed text in fixed positions. This totally ignores the sort of advantages an electronic device has over paper!

    I can't shrink the font size to get more text on the screen, because I'm viewing one page at a time and it's always got the same text on it. Even worse, I loaded the same eBook in the desktop version of the reader, and I was still viewing the same amount of text at once, in a ludicrously large fon
  • by Mac Degger (576336) on Thursday June 05, 2003 @11:01AM (#6123874) Journal
    Though it might help, a universal format isn't what's hampering ebooks. It's price. I refuse to pay full price (and sometimes more!) for an etext of something I can get on paper; especially when I only get the etext.

    Halfprice, maybe even quarter price, compared to deadtree is what ebooksellers should be going for...but if I still have to pay fullprice and I don't even get my dead tree, I'll pay the same for something slightly more tangible.

    Now I would pay a couple of bucks (ie $2) more for a deadtree book which includes the etext.
  • by arafel (15551) * on Thursday June 05, 2003 @11:06AM (#6123929)
    >Although end-users prefer not to purchase ebooks
    >protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management),
    >publishers are certainly interested in the DRM
    >capability of the universal ebook format.

    So although people would prefer not to buy books with this stuff, we're going to put it in there anyway. Whatever happened to listening to your customers?

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