Steve Harris (theno23) wrote,
Steve Harris

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EBooks and Anathem

While on holiday I wanted to read Anathem, having been reassured by elseware that it was good.

To cut a long story short, yes, it's good. Not Snowcrash good, but still well worth reading.

Now comes the rant:

Anyway, I went to buy the book, but it turns out it was only available in hardback, and it's massive. Great if you have stout doors you need kept open, but way bigger than I wanted to take on holiday, and bigger than I wanted to carry on the train to work, or even store for that matter.

However, after a bit of googling, it seems that you can get it as an "ebook" from the publisher. Can't grep dead trees and all that, so out with the credit card.

This turns out to be a mixed blessing. Ebook readers are fairly cheap now, so I got a Sony something-or-other from Waterstones. I've had a go on a couple of other models, and the Sony had nothing particularly wrong with it - Amazon's Kindle is probably better, but it's still useless in the civilised world, and I wanted something to read in a hurry.

Well, the hardware is great - page turns could be quicker, and it could have a touch more resolution and contrast, but it's easily as good to read as the average paperback. The size, convienience and capacity makes it a great device overall. Give the technology time for a couple of revisions and it has the potential to do the the paperback what the iPod is doing to CDs. No question.

However, the PC-side software is appaling. Really, beyond unacceptable. Harper-Collins use Adobe-brand DRM of some sort, and Sony only support Windows (badly). So, while the Adobe software is cross platform, you need access to a Windows box to generate some sort of key and copy it over to the hardware - that took be about 2 hours, but it's a long story and mostly Window's fault. Once you've done that you can use Calibre (GPL ebook mangling software) to do the rest, it's better than the Sony software, but still pretty complicated.

I've now read Anathem, a Sherlock Holmes book and a bit of PG Woodehouse - all on one charge. Getting the books on the thing in a form that you want to read is a right PITA though. PDFs are generally too small to read unless you crop the margins, which you can't do if it has DRM on it... You can convert DRM'd PDFs to text, but if there's anything funny going on with layout, diagrams or tables (hello Mr. Stephenson), it just doesn't work that well. Project Gutenberg books work great though, as a counter example.

Stanza on the iPhone is much better at all this stuff, but the screen is too small and lowres to read on for any length of time.

As is typical, it's more painful to buy and use DRM'd ebooks legimataly than it is to rip dodgy ones off from bittorent. Publishers need to sort that out. Even though I'd bought the ebook of Anathem from the publishers, I ended up reading a dodgy one because it was actually easier to format it a way that was readable. Learn from the iPod/iTunes thing morons; Don't Make It Hard For Me To Give You Money.

Overall, it's much better than lugging dead trees around, but given how good the hardware is, it ought to completly changing the publishing world.
Tags: anathem, books, ebook
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