Sunday, November 3, 2013

EBook basics: tutorial, sort of: dumbing it down

I recently had need to learn about eBooks.

Simple, I thought. Just buy a Kindle.

Sorry, it's not that easy, but relatively easy once you know how. This post is an attempt to cut through the fog and provide a simple model for understanding eBooks.

First, give credit where credit is due:

is an excellent source for details on the different formats. And (as demonstrated by my links below) there is a huge amount of information out there about ebooks.

But that's the problem: a huge amount.

I just needed a simple wavetop skimming summary, a top down navigation chart:

• What is an eBook?

• What are the machines on which they can run?

• What are the formats and features?

• What is the difference between...

So here goes:

Basically, an eBook is a means of converting intellectual content into a medium that can be read by one or many different electronic devices.

The process is the following, as shown is the graphic below:


The source content is recorded electronically into one or more of a host of different formats that may or may not include WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) features, compression, images, or media presentations.

We won't delve into them here, but provide Wikipedia and other links for you to use:

.txt: Plain text. Duh. ASCII code.

.htm: HTML. Duh. The format for all webpages and much much more.

.chm: Compiled HTML. Not so duh. The content is recorded in HTML format but then compiled into a binary file so that it cannot be easily changed.

.pdf: Portable Document Format. A plain text readable format, similar to HTML.

And any number of others.


• Some or most of the resultant file formats (.txt, .htm, .chm, .pdf, etc.) are then encrypted into a file that can only be read by a chosen software package or hardware device. This is called Digital Rights Management (DRM). 'Nuff said.

The end result is an eBook file that may or may not be encrypted to restrict use to one or more software packages or hardware devices.

At present, these end formats include all the foregoing (.txt, .htm, .chm, .pdf, etc.) in addition to:

.mobi: MobiPocket, a proprietary format that may or may not include DRM. It has been adopted by Amazon for the Kindle reader.

.epub: EPUB, a FOSS format adopted and adapted by Apple for their iBooks devices

PageBurst, a proprietary format owned by Elsevier and ported to two different software packages: KNO and VitalSource Bookshelf.


Now, once you have the eBook file, the question is: what software or hardware can be used to read it?

Easy when you know how, but a bit of work finding out how. Here is where we are today, a work in progress (click on the image to expand it if it is cut off):
This is by no means complete. Consider:

• At least eight different Player Software candidates, shown above

• At least eleven different hardware platforms (PC, Apple, Android) and their subordinate variations, e.g.,
  • at least two different native PC Windows operating systems (32-bit (Windows XP, Vista) and 64-bit (Windows 7, 8)
  • At least five different Linux implementation possibilities (Native, Wine 32/64, Virtual Machine 32/64)
  • At least four different Apple implementation possibilities (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iTouch)
The chart above shows this is eleven possible different implementation methods for eight different players. My combinatorial math says that is 88 possible scenarios. Clearly we have not tested them all.

But the chart above says what we have tested.

At this point the exercise is to experiment with the various products and find out which is best overall for the intended purpose.

My intended purpose at present is to use of Elsevier texts. These are encoded for the KNO reader software, which is compiled for use under Windows, Apple, and Android. They are also encoded for the VitalSource Bookshelf reader software. It is compiled for use under Windows, Apple (including iPhone, iPad, and iTouch), and Android.

But there are few catches:

• KNO requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5, so whatever platform is chosen must support that package. At present this apparently is only supported by Windows 7 on a virtual or real 64-bit machine: As of 11/03/13 Wine (including even CodeWeavers) has not figured how to go beyond .Net Framework 4.0.

VitalSource has shown itself to be very easy in its appointed environments, but there is much more to be learned.


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