Wednesday, October 21, 2009

iPhone: Reading Adobe/EPUB eBooks

Note: This post has been heavily edited several times, the last time being Feb. 22, 2010. Readers who find errors, inconsistencies, or points of confusion are encouraged to post a comment below so that I can revise the instructions to make them as correct and usable as possible. Thanks!

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eBooks come in many forms; see this article in Wikipedia for a list. Most of the common formats can be read on an iPhone, by one app or another — see iPhone as eReader for more.

An eBook format that the iPhone can't deal with, however, is the supposedly "open" EPUB format if, paradoxically, it is copy-protected using the Digital Rights Management methodology created by Adobe Systems. This Adobe/EPUB format, a DRM-protected variety of the open EPUB format, is used by the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) eBook reader. ADE is intended for personal computers, but not for most mobile devices like an iPhone. The full name of Adobe's DRM methodology is Adobe Digital Editions Protection Technology, or ADEPT. The Adobe/EPUB format can accordingly be called ADEPT/EPUB.

To repeat: Adobe Digital Editions, a.k.a. ADE, is software that runs on Windows and Mac platforms, but there is no ADE for the iPhone. Why not? Maybe because ADE incorporates Adobe Flash as a way of presenting complex graphics, and Flash is not supported on the iPhone. The iPhone, lacking Flash support, cannot read ADEPT/EPUB eBooks. This is so even though there is no Flash content in ADEPT/EPUB eBooks!

If it were possible to bypass or strip off the ADEPT DRM encryption, however, these ADEPT/EPUB eBooks would become plain old EPUB eBooks — downloadable to, and working just fine in, Stanza for the iPhone.

Bypassing ADEPT encryption so that you can read ADEPT/EPUB books on an iPhone is in fact possible. Here is a step-by-step explanation of how.

Step 1:

Before you get started, you'll probably need to download and install the free Adobe Digital Editions software itself.

I know of only one exception to that rule. If you have a Sony Reader, you probably have installed its companion Reader Library (formerly eBook Library) software for the Sony Reader on your Windows PC or Mac. As of version 3.0, this software (current version is 3.1) can stand in lieu of Adobe Digital Editions software, in that it lets you authorize your Sony Reader device (and your computer as well) for Adobe DRM-protected content. If you have already done that, you don't need to install and authorize ADE, and you can skip ahead to Step 2 in these instructions.

What if you are not sure whether your computer is Adobe-authorized?

If you are using Windows XP — I  don't know enough about Windows Vista or Windows 7 to say how to do this on those operating systems — you can check to see whether your computer is already Adobe-authorized by clicking on the start button, selecting Run..., typing regedit.exe in the Open... box and clicking OK, and in the Registry Editor window that appears, selecting Edit:Find.... Then type privateLicenseKey in the Find what: box and click the Find Next button. If your computer is Adobe-authorized, then (after a few seconds of searching) the Registry Editor will show a two-item list in the right side of its window that contains privateLicenseKey as the first data item. (The second item is the actual — albeit encrypted — value of the key.) Voila! You can now close the Registry Editor window and skip ahead to Step 2 of these instructions.

If you are using a Mac, one way you can check to see whether your computer is Adobe-authorized is to look for an activation.dat file in your Home folder hierarchy on your Mac — specifically, in the ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Digital Editions/ folder. (~ is shorthand for your Home folder.) If activation.dat is there, you have already authorized your Mac for Adobe-DRM'ed eBooks. You can skip ahead to Step 2 of these instructions. (Note: the ~/Library/Application Support/ folder hierarchy will not show up in a Finder search unless you specifically tell the search to include system files.)

If you didn't skip ahead to Step 2, you need to authorize your computer to read Adobe-DRM'ed eBooks. Click here to install (or simply launch) ADE on either a Mac or a Windows computer. About halfway down the page which comes up you will see a large button saying one of two things:

  1. If you see the word "Launch," then you already have the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions installed on your computer. You should click on the "Launch" button to open ADE. When you do — since you have just checked to see whether ADE is activated and found that it isn't — you should see an ADE Setup Assistant window superimposed over the main Adobe Digital Editions window.
  2. If you instead see the word "Install," click on it to obtain the latest ADE version. A warning appears: "This application can read and write files to your system. Would you like to continue installing?" Click "Install" again. Another warning appears: "Press yes to download and continue the installation of Adobe Digital Editions." Click "yes." After the download has finished, the Adobe Digital Editions app immediately opens on your Windows or Mac computer, displaying an "Adobe Digital Editions Install" window. That window contains a license agreement to which you must click "I Agree." You'll now see the ADE Setup Assistant window superimposed over the main Adobe Digital Editions window.

Whether you just installed or simply launched ADE, you should now see the ADE Setup Assistant, since presumably your computer is not yet ADE-activated. You need to click the Setup Assistant's "Continue" button to see a panel asking you to "Authorize Computer" by filling in your Adobe ID (which is typically your e-mail address) and associated password.

If you do not already have an account with an Adobe ID, you should now click on "get an Adobe ID online," in order to be taken via your Web browser to an online page that will allow you to set up an Adobe account. Once you set up your Adobe account, return to the patiently waiting Adobe Digital Editions Setup Assistant and enter your new Adobe ID and password. Click the "Activate" button.

You have the option instead to choose "Don't Authorize Computer" at this point, instead of "get an Adobe ID online." This is what is referred to as an "anonymous" activation, in that your computer will be "activated" but not "authorized" to use any particular Adobe ID.

As long as the computer you are using is not available to the public, my strong suggestion is that you not choose this option. If you choose it, you will not have the ability to download Adobe-DRM'ed eBooks to, and read them on, any computer but the one you are presently activating. If you authorize your computer using an Adobe ID, you can use the same Adobe ID to authorize up to six computers, total — plus, you will be able to transfer Adobe eBooks to a device such as a Sony Reader or a Barnes & Noble Nook that has been activated with the same Adobe ID.

I have been assured that the following steps in these instructions will work with an anonymous activation that does not specify an Adobe ID. However, if you activate Adobe Digital Editions anonymously and then later do it again with an Adobe ID, at that time all of your earlier ADE e-book purchases will become unusable. So I strongly recommend that you activate Adobe Digital Editions with an Adobe ID right from the outset.

Once you click "Activate," you will see (briefly) a panel saying "Connecting to authorization server," and then, once the authorization is complete, you will see the Setup Assistant's final panel, from which you can, if you like, point your browser at the Adobe Digital Editions Online Library. This, as the title says, is the repository on the Internet where many, but not necessarily all, of the Adobe Digital Editions eBooks you buy will be kept. From the web page which appears in your browser, you can now obtain your first ADE eBooks.

I'll leave it to you to visit this library later on in this set of instructions and explore how this is done.  At this point, you need to click "Finished" to dismiss the Setup Assistant.

Now, if you are on Windows you will have on your C:\ drive a folder, C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Digital Editions, that contains digitaleditions.exe, the ADE application. On a Mac, the Mac version of the Adobe Digital Editions software resides in your Applications folder.

Step 2:

Next, if you are using Windows, you need to obtain Python, a programming/scripting language originally developed for Unix-based computers, and also available for Windows.

If you use Windows you can currently get Python version 2.6, which you can download and install in Windows by going to the Python download page and then clicking on (as of this writing) the hotlink to Python 2.6.4 Windows installer. (There is also a version 3.1, but I can't guarantee it will work with this procedure.) You'll download a file called python-2.6.4.msi which you'll proceed to double-click, and then you'll follow the installer's on-screen prompts that allow you to install the Python 2.6 package in a directory the installer creates, C:\Python26. The actual app within that folder is called python.

For the Mac platform, you do not need to download and install Python at all, as Python 2.5 (which works fine for purposes of these instructions) is automatically installed as part of Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard." (I believe this is also true of OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard.") Even though Python 2.5 is part of the Mac OS X software package, you do need to make sure the optionally installed Apple Developer package is installed on your Mac.

If you already, at the outermost root level of your Mac's folder hierarchy, have a folder called Developer, you're fine. If not, you must create it by inserting your OS X 10.5 Install DVD and navigating to and then double-clicking Mac OS X Install DVD:Optional Installs:Xcode Tools:Xcode Tools.mpkg. You will be led by the installer program which opens through the necessary steps to install the Developer Tools package. These tools are necessary in the next stage of this procedure, that of installing and setting up the PyCrypto extensions to Python.

Step 3:

PyCrypto, the Python Cryptography Toolkit, is a package containing various cryptographic tools for the Python programming language. Its modules are going to be required later on in this set of instructions.

Windows users can obtain PyCrypto here (on that page, click on the link to pycrypto-2.0.1.win32-py2.6.exe). After downloading the .exe file, double-click on it to run the Setup Wizard. As long as you have already downloaded and installed Python as detailed above, the Wizard (after you click "Next >" on the introductory panel) will indicate Python 2.6 has been duly found in the Windows Registry, in C:\Python26\. The Wizard will accordingly use the subfolder C:\Python26\Lib\site-packages\ as its installation directory. After you click on "Next >" once more, you will see a "Ready to install" panel. Click "Next >" yet again to actually perform the installation. Then click "Finish" to exit the Wizard. You should now be able to locate a Crypto folder and also a pycrypto-2.0.1-py2.6.egg-info file in C:\Python26\Lib\site-packages\.

Mac users should go here and click on the "Download" button for PyCrypto 2.0.1. The pycrypto-2.0.1.tar.gz file you'll receive will most likely land right on your Desktop (depending on how you have your browser configured for downloads; if it doesn't download right to the Desktop, you can just move it there). Upon being double-clicked, the pycrypto-2.0.1.tar.gz file expands into a pycrypto-2.0.1 folder, also on the Desktop. You may move this folder wherever you like, or leave it right on the Desktop.

Next, Mac users need to click here to download, which, when unzipped, expands into an AppleScript app called PyCrypto_2.0.1_Installer. Double click PyCrypto_2.0.1_Installer to run the installer itself. It will ask you to navigate to and choose your pycrypto-2.0.1 folder, the one you created in the preceding paragraph of these instructions. Once you have clicked "Choose," PyCrypto_2.0.1_Installer will open a window in the Mac's Terminal application and execute some Unix commands in it. The first time you use the PyCrypto_2.0.1_Installer, the Unix commands will produce a large amount of output in the Terminal window, due to the fact that the PyCrypto software is, for the first time on your computer, undergoing a "build." Any subsequent times you use PyCrypto_2.0.1_Installer, an "install" without a preliminary "build" will be done, and you will see less output in the Terminal window. In either case, the final line of the Terminal-window output should say "Writing /Library/Python/2.5/site-packages/pycrypto-2.0.1-py2.5.egg-info".

At this point you can quit Terminal. If you look in Finder — starting at the root-level directory, not at the Home folder for your user account — and navigate to /Library/Python/2.5, you should find a site-packages folder. In it there should now be a Crypto folder and a pycrypto-2.0.1-py2.5.egg-info file.

Step 4:

At this point, you have obtained the Adobe Digital Editions application (or else the Sony Reader Library app) and authorized your computer by activating your Adobe ID and password (or you have activated ADE anonymously); installed Python (on a Windows platform only); made sure you have the Developer Tools installed (on a Mac only); and installed the PyCrypto cryptography tools within Python (on either a Windows PC or a Mac).

You are going to run two Python scripts in order to decrypt Adobe Digital Editions eBooks. I'll discuss the second of these two scripts in Step 6 below. The first Python script is designed to extract cryptographic key information from the Adobe Digital Editions desktop software that you now have installed and authorized on your computer.

For Windows, the script comes in a file called, downloadable here.

For the Mac, the file is downloadable here.

Whichever ZIP file you download, you need to expand it (unless your browser does that automatically for you). The Windows script expands as ineptkey_v43.pyw when you double-click it; the Mac's as (On a Mac, if you can't get the ZIP file to expand by double-clicking it, then you can expand it manually using either Archive Utility or Stuffit Expander.)

To run the ineptkey_v43.pyw script on a Windows platform, you will open and run the script in the python app created in Step 2. To do that, right-click on ineptkey_v43.pyw and select Open With: python to designate the python.exe app. Or, if you instead select Open With: Choose Program ... , you can check "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file," and then select python and click "OK." From then on, you will be able to double-click any Python script file whose filename extension is .pyw, and it will automatically open in python.exe.

On a Mac, you will initially open in Build Applet. To do that, right-click on and select Open With: Build Applet. An application called ineptkeymac_v1 will appear in the same folder as Double-click the ineptkeymac_v1 app to actually run the script.

I'll refer to these scripts generically as ineptkey. Having to be run only once, ineptkey derives a decryption key (sometimes called a "security certificate") which can then be used by the second script (see Step 6 below) to decrypt any Adobe Digital Reader eBook that you obtain and download. The decryption key/security certificate is saved by ineptkey in a new file called adeptkey.der. On Windows, adeptkey.der is placed in the folder that contains the ineptkey script itself; after the file has been generated, you can manually rename it if you like and/or move it wherever you like.

On a Mac, a File Save dialog allows you to specify in what folder (and by what name) to save adeptkey.der. You can move the adeptkey.der file (by whatever name) which contains the decryption key/security certificate into any folder you like.

Once you have used ineptkey once to obtain adeptkey.der, you never have to use it again (unless you someday re-authorize ADE on your computer with a different Adobe ID and password).

Notes: The AppleScript-based app ADEPTKey_Generator was formerly used on Macs to do what does, but it no longer works with the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions.

If you have any adeptkey.der files from either ADEPTKey_Generator on a Mac or versions of ineptkey prior to version 4.3 on Windows, you should trash them. They will no longer work in Step 6 below.

Step 5:

At this point, you are done with all the admittedly complex preliminary steps. You are ready to actually obtain and download some eBooks that are protected with Adobe ADEPT DRM-encryption. You can start to do so by visiting the Adobe Digital Editions Online Library. Obtain and download at least one Adobe-DRM'ed eBook that is in the "EPUB eBook" format specifically. (There is a Python script called ineptpdf that can decrypt Adobe-DRM'ed "PDF eBook" editions, but it is beyond the scope of this discussion.)

Note that when you buy an EPUB eBook from the Adobe Digital Editions Online Library, the Adobe Digital Editions software on your computer will open, if it's not already active, and the eBook will be downloaded automatically. The eBook will appear in "Reading View" in the ADE window, ready to read. (This is true if you are using the ADE software. If you are using Sony Reader software, I don't know exactly how all this works.)

With the newly downloaded eBook visible in Reading View, you can click on the READING menu and then on Item Info... . A window will open that shows, among other things, the File path: to where the downloaded eBook is stored on your computer.

On Windows XP, the eBook will normally be in the user's My Documents\My Digital Editions folder, the full path to which is C:\Documents and Settings\\My Documents\My Digital Editions.

On a Mac, the eBook file will normally be in the /Users//Documents/Digital Editions, a.k.a. ~/Documents/Digital Editions, folder.

On both operating systems, the name of the file will typically be (roughly) the same as the book title, usually with each space replaced by an underscore ('_') character. Some eBooks download with more cryptic file names. The filename extension will be .epub.

You should leave the downloaded file exactly where Adobe Digital Editions puts it, under its original name and filename extension. However, there's no law against making a copy of that file, putting it where you wish, and naming it what you wish. (However, it's definitely a good idea to retain the .epub extension.)

Once you have downloaded, located, and optionally duplicated one or more EPUB eBooks that use Adobe DRM encryption, you can move on to the next step.

Step 6:

The adeptkey.der file containing the ADEPT decryption key/security certificate — you generated it earlier in Step 4 in this set of instructions, remember? — can now be used, on either a Windows machine or a Mac, by the ineptepub Python script to decrypt downloaded ADE books.

For either a Windows platform or a Mac — the same script works on both — you can download the file here. After you download it, just unzip the ZIP file to get the file ineptepub_v2.pyw.

Your browser may unzip the ZIP file automatically, so you won't have to. If it doesn't unzip the file automatically, then:

  • On Windows XP (I'm not sure about other Windows versions), you can unzip the .zip file manually by double-clicking it and then clicking "Extract all files" under "Folder Tasks" in the window that opens. Otherwise, you can use the WinZip utility.
  • On a Mac, you can unzip the .zip file manually using either Archive Utility or Stuffit Expander.

On Windows, you will next open and run the ineptepub_v2.pyw script in the python app created in Step 2. To do that, right-click on the ineptepub_v2.pyw script file and select Open With: python to use the python.exe app. If you instead select Open With: Choose Program ... , you can check "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file," and then select python and click "OK." From then on, you will be able to double-click any Python script file whose filename extension is .pyw, and it will automatically open in python.exe.

On a Mac, you should next change the .pyw filename extension to .py in a Get Info window in Finder. Finder will ask you to confirm your intention to change the extension; just click "Use .py." You should then double-click the script file to (try to) make the ineptepub_v2 app in the same folder. If the double-click method doesn't produce the ineptepub_v2 app file, then probably what has happened is that the script has (briefly) opened in Python Launcher instead. Python Launcher cannot deal with this particular script, so it quits right away. This time, just right-click the script file and choose Open With: Build Applet.

On Windows, when you open the script in python, in front of an empty python.exe window you'll see:

As you can see, you'll need to specify three files. The easiest way: click on the "..." button to the right of each file-entry field, then navigate to and select the requisite file for each:

  1. For Key file, you'll select the decryption key/security certificate file created earlier, the one that by default has the name adeptkey.der.
  2. For Input file, you'll select a file containing any previously downloaded Adobe Digital Editions eBook you want to decrypt. In Windows, the downloaded eBook will typically be stored in My Documents\My Digital Editions. It will have the filename extension .epub. (On a Mac, it will be in ~/Documents/Digital Editions, where '~' signifies the Home Directory for your user account. Again, the file will have the filename extension .epub.)
  3. For Output file, you'll select a folder for and give a name to the file that is to contain the decrypted version of the eBook; you can put the decrypted output file anywhere you like in your folder hierarchy. You should make sure to specify the .epub extension for the output filename.

Then click on Decrypt. Within a second or so, the INEPT EPUB Decrypter window should say "File successfully decrypted." The decrypted output file should be right where you said to put it, using the file name and .epub extension you specified. If you double-click its icon, it will open in Adobe Digital Editions (even though it is no longer encrypted!). You can alternatively open it in any other eBook reading application, such as Stanza, that handles EPUBs.

You can now either perform one or more additional INEPT EPUB Decrypter decryptions or click Quit.

On a Mac, using ineptepub is about the same, though visually the user interface looks different. When you double-click on the ineptepub_v2, app, you will see:

It's like the Windows version, but without color. This time, behind the INEPT EPUB Decrypter window there's an empty Console window that you can just ignore, whereas in the Windows version, the window behind the INEPT EPUB Decrypter window is an empty python.exe window. You will (as for the Windows version above) use the "..." buttons to select Key file, Input file, and (the folder location and name of) Output file (don't forget to specify the .epub extension for the output file) then click Decrypt.

Remember, on a Mac, the Input file will normally be in ~/Documents/Digital Editions, where '~' signifies the Home Directory for your user account. This is the folder into which Adobe Digital Editions downloads eBooks. Again, the downloaded file will have the filename extension .epub.

Within seconds after you click Decrypt in the INEPT EPUB Decrypter window, you should see the message File successfully decrypted at the top of the window. You can now do further eBook decryptions, if you like.

After you finish doing eBook decryptions, just click Quit.

Step 7:

Once you have decrypted an eBook, you can open the decrypted eBook file in the free Stanza desktop application. The Mac version of Stanza can be obtained here, the Windows version here, and the iPhone/iPod Touch version here.

Once you have installed one of the desktop versions of Stanza, just open a decrypted eBook file in it. You will be able to read it right on your desktop.

Or, if you want to read it in Stanza for the iPhone/iPod Touch, follow the instructions here to transfer the book to your mobile device. (I find the "Sharing using Stanza Desktop" method works just fine.)

... And You're Done!

If you aren't done, then perhaps you ran into a problem? If so, check out Breaking Adobe DRM — Tips, Tricks, Workarounds for possible help. If you can't find the solution you need there, please post any questions you have as comments, either to this post or to that one.

You can get more details about the ineptkey and ineptepub Python scripts at Circumventing Adobe ADEPT DRM for EPUB.

eReaders To Come: Nook by Barnes & Noble

Nook is the name of the new eBook reader from Barnes & Noble:

Due to arrive on Nov. 30, 2009, its touch screen is the same size as that of Amazon's current Kindle 2: 6 inches, measured diagonally. One the Nook, that dimension pertains to the actual reading screen, exclusive of the color touchscreen control bar below the reading area.

Its price is also the same: $259.

The Kindle 2 looks like this:

It has a keyboard made of physical buttons, where Nook has a color touchscreen control bar. That control bar is positioned under a black & white reading screen that uses the same E Ink technology as the Kindle does. Aside from a pair of physical buttons at either side of the Nook reading screen that obviously are used to flip through electronic pages, the Nook lacks controls besides those on the color touch screen itself.

Nook and Kindle both download eBooks wirelessly, Nook using WiFi and Kindle using a cellphone network. They both have enough storage to hold roughly 1,500 books.

You can take PC World's "tour" of the Nook here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

eReaders To Come: Fujitsu's FLEPia

Fujitsu's FLEPia is said here to be the first eBook reader with color. It looks like this:

It can come with a black frame instead of white. Its 8-inch (measured diagonally) screen uses a new technology called "color e-paper" to produce images. It displays 260,000 colors, not just black, white, and shades of gray ... and it's said to do so "in high-definition." Like its rival technology, colorless E Ink, color e-paper does not require power for continuous display of a static image, consuming power only when it draws a new screen image.

Though FLEPia is of course rigid, the e-paper inside its frame can actually be flexed. Here's a YouTube video about it:

This page about FLEPia indicates, disappointingly, that redrawing the FLEPia screen takes fully 1.8 seconds, and that's when only 64 colors are in use. With all 260,000 colors, you'll ... have ... to ... wait ... an ... interminable ... 8 ... seconds. Apparently there's no way to force it into monochrome mode for faster page turns.

FLEPia's screen responds to pressure from its accompanying stylus. But it's not clear whether it also responds to fingers — assorted physical function buttons suggest that it doesn't. (The capacitive touchscreen on an iPhone is designed for finger manipulation; the FLEPia's touchscreen seems to be resistive instead.)

FLEPia incorporates wireless connectivity via WiFi (802.11b or g, but not the faster 802.11n) or Bluetooth (but what about cellphone networks). It wires to a computer via its mini-USB port. Its 4 GB of storage resides on a swappable SD card. That's enough space for 5,000 eBooks on a card you could (theoretically — don't try this at home) swallow!

Not just for reading eBooks, FLEPia comes with a Japanese version of the Windows CE 5.0 operating system on board. Here, a U.S. version will probably need to be supplied.

The battery life is nominally 40 hours, giving about 2,400 page turns between charges.

The weight of the FLEPia is only 385 grams, or under 14 ounces.

Embedded stereo speakers and a headphone jack allow audio playback of eBooks, suggesting a text-to-speech capability in FLEPia.

This press release about FLEPia's introduction for sale outside Japan says it supports two eBook formats that frankly won't fly in America: “BunkoViewer” (XMDF format; “bunko” refers to “library” in Japanese) and “T-Time” (.book format). So, clearly, FLEPia in the will have to add at least one of the established eBook formats here.

FLEPia is already being sold in Japan for (gasp!) about $1,000.

Learn more about FLEPia in this preview, which includes a video showing the FLEPia (slowly) turning pages.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

eReaders To Come: Plastic Logic

Two photos of the upcoming eBook reader from Plastic Logic:

It has a "broadsheet" 8.5-inch x 11-inch screen, making it bigger than the current size champion, the Kindle DX, while being even slimmer than the more petite regular Kindle.

Coverage of the new Plastic Logic entrant in the eBook reader wars can be found at:

The Plastic Logic has a touchscreen interface to help you access and read more than 700,000 titles at the Barnes & Noble eBook Store and elsewhere. The keyboard is a virtual, onscreen one. The screen is made of E Ink, as is the Kindle's, meaning that any one monochrome image can stay put for any amount of time without drawing down the battery. (But there's no backlight, so reading in the dark is out, and E Ink causes a distinct lag at each page turn.)

The Plastic Logic's touchscreen apparently supports both fingertip gestures and the use of an included stylus tool for scribbling annotations and notes.

Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity will keep users from having to cable their Plastic Logics to their computers to complete their book downloads.

Unlike rival readers, the Plastic Logic's huge screen lets you view things besides eBooks with no eyestrain: PDF files, Word documents, spreadsheets and even PowerPoint presentations can typically be displayed full-size.

It looks as if the B&N/Plastic Logic reader is going to support, as its main eBook format, the one called EPUB. EPUB is widely known as an "open" format that lacks DRM (Digital Rights Management) to prevent the copying and redistributing of eBook content. Plastic Logic users will thus be able to read (and redistribute) the hundreds of thousands of public-domain eBooks available from Google Books. But they'll also have access to hundreds of thousands of non-public-domain EPUB titles at the B&N Store, and they will in fact have so-called "Adobe ADEPT DRM" added to their EPUB content. Current bestsellers in that encrypted format will sell for $9.99.

Up in the air is whether this reader will, right away or in the future, handle the alternative DRM format that B&N subsidiaries FictionWise and support, and that works on the Sony Reader. That format is referred to as "eReader format" and also as the .pdb format.

Adobe's ADEPT — which stands for "Adobe Digital Editions Protection Technology" — is used for DRM-protecting both EPUB and .pdb books. It's different from the DRM that Amazon uses on Kindle editions. My impression is that the B&N/Plastic Logic reader will eventually use both EPUB and .pdb eBooks and will turn into (or so its backers hope) a Kindle Killer par excellence.

Friday, October 2, 2009

eReaders To Come: IREX

Meet the IREX:

It's a soon-to-arrive device for reading eBooks — a rival to Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader — and according to the article Best Buy and Verizon Jump Into E-Reader Fray, you'll be able to buy the $399 touchscreen, Verizon 3G wireless (but not WiFi) IREX DR800SG at a kiosk inside your friendly local Best Buy store. (As one who has an AT&T 3G account for my iPhone, I'm wondering whether I'd need a separate plan for the IREX.)

"Starting this week," says the 9/22/09 article, "Best Buy is training thousands of its employees in how to talk about and demonstrate devices like the Sony Reader and IREX, and adding a new area to its 1,048 stores to showcase the devices. Best Buy previously sold e-book devices only on its Web site and in limited tests in stores." website has more about the IREX and also its predecessor iLiad eReaders (which didn't do very well) from the same company. Among the selling points of the IREX: it's "the first [dedicated] eBook reader other than the Amazon Kindle to offer free wireless service for quick and easy eBook downloads." Its 8.1-inch touchscreen makes it one of the bigger eReaders available. However, "you can't use your fingers for navigation; you have to use the [included] stylus."

Using the stylus — after a promised firmware upgrade — you'll be able to write stuff on the screen by hand, such as book annotations, that can then be converted to text and stored. But, sadly, "It seems the touchscreen doesn't serve much of a purpose at this point."

Here is a whole website dedicated specifically to the IREX.

At the main IREX website there is further information about this reader. PDF documents available there say it is "a sleek, 8.1‐inch, touch‐screen eReader," it "offers multi-mode 3G wireless capabilities," and it "supports multiple formats including industry standard ePub format and multiple DRM solutions, rather than a single, 'closed' proprietary format that locks content to a specific device."

Admittedly, that last item is a bit obscure. What does it mean?

First of all, "industry standard ePub format" refers to a format for eBooks which is being widely used for free-of-charge downloads of classic books that are in the public domain and no longer copyright protected. These digital editions can be distributed and redistributed for free — by anyone, to anyone, for any reason whatever.

So they do not need to be copy-protected, which is what DRM (Digital Rights Management) is all about.

The IREX publicity seems to imply that it will give access to multiple kinds of DRM-encoded, copy-protected eBooks: "supports multiple formats including ... multiple DRM solutions." But this PDF-format fact sheet shows that's a bit overstated. For, among "DRM solutions" in today's eBook world, there are two main biggies, the Amazon Kindle format and the so-called eReader format ... and IREX does not support the former, only the latter.

The IREX fact sheet gives "Adobe PDF, EPUB, Newspaper Direct, Fictionwise, eReader, TXT" as the formats supported natively by IREX. EPUB and TXT are typically not DRM-protected. Newspaper Direct is limited to delivering newspapers electronically, not books. Fictionwise and eReader both use the eReader format — since they are basically the same company! Only the ability to read DRM-protected Adobe PDF eBooks adds any real value, and this is a format that is also supported by the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle DX (though not the less pricey Kindle proper — go figure).

Conspicuously absent on the IREX is the ability to download, unlock, and read Amazon Kindle eBooks. Also missing is support for Mobipocket, another DRM-protected format that is owned by ... you guessed it, Amazon.

This is not to say that the IREX is a bad deal. After all, it connects directly to the Barnes & Noble eBookstore — a big source for DRM-protected eBooks in the eReader format — just as the Kindle plugs you right into the Kindle Store at

But the IREX is not going to be an eBook reader for all people. In fact, I'd say there is a proverbial eBook format war in progress: Amazon (cum Mobipocket) vs. everyone else (with Barnes & Noble as ringleader).

Until someone tells me different, I am under the impression that just about any eBook you can get for the Kindle, you can also get in eReader format for a Sony Reader or an IREX, albeit at not necessarily as low a price. But if you want to be able to tap into either eBook universe at will, your best bet still remains a multi-function mobile such as an iPhone. (See iPhone as eReader for more on that possibility.)

eReaders To Come: Apple Tablet

Check out this image from Ten New Details on the Apple Tablet at, a website dedicated to all things iPod/Phone:

The image is meant to show how much bigger the screen on the forthcoming "tablet" device from Apple is than the current iPhone's.

Tablet device from Apple? Is it real? And is it an eBook reader?

Maybe, and maybe.

It looks like longstanding rumors — see Apple Tablet In October For $800, Says China Times — that Apple will introduce what I'll characterize as a "smart tablet" in the not-too-distant future are going to come true.

iLounge's article nicknames it an iPad. I wouldn't mind if Apple dubbed it an iSlate. It's already October 2009, so it looks like it will be introduced next year, not this.

Will it be an eBook reader? Yes and no.

Depending on whether or not it has the (perhaps mandatory, perhaps optional, perhaps unavailable) feature of phone connectivity via AT&T's 3G network, you could call it an iPhone or iPod Touch on steroids, with a screen that measures 10.7 inches diagonally to the iPhone's 3.5 inches. At over thrice the linear dimension, it may have over nine times the viewing area (seven times, iLounge says).

It so happens I have an old wooden slide rule (remember those?) hanging around on my desk that is exactly 10.7 inches long, and when I hold it up diagonally to my iPhone's screen I can see how much the iPhone will be dwarfed by the iSlate (as I'll keep calling it).

The iSlate will have a screen too small to display an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper full size ... but large enough to do so for, say, most of the so-called "trade" paperbacks I own. Almost all of my hardcover editions, though, would have to be scaled down just a tad.

So, used as an eBook reader, the iSlate would allow viewing of a full printed page from just about any popular book at no, or very little, reduction in size. (Bigger textbooks would need additional squeezing, zooming-sliding-scrolling, or text reflowing.)

But iSlate would be an all-purpose device, not just a book reader. It looks like it will run the same OS that the iPhone uses — not the Mac OS — and therefore the same iPhone/iTouch apps, including eBook readers (see iPhone as eReader).

iSlate, if it arrives, would have the same color touchscreen technology as the iPhone/iTouch; no physical keyboard, but a virtual one with bigger keys; and the ability to orient it for portrait or landscape viewing. In short, everything the iPhone has, except maybe the ability to use it as a phone. (What about as a camera? Who knows?)

So all current iPhone/iTouch eBook reader apps should work fine on it!

But, no, Apple apparently has no intention of making a big deal of its status as a potential "Kindle killer." It looks like the iTunes Store isn't going to sell eBooks for the iSlate. As Apple Not Building An 'iTunes For e-Books' says, "It's clearer now ... that Apple will help publishers and e-book vendors sell their wares on the new devices — and not that Apple is planning to enter the e-book sales industry itself."

iPhone as eReader

Your iPhone is an eReader! It can read eBooks: ordinary books published in downloadable, digital form. All you need is the right iPhone eReader app for the books you want to read.

I have four eReader apps so far. Before talking about them individually, I'd like to mention that all these apps present eBooks with text that is formatted for easy reading on a handheld device. That means that you are not looking at tiny reproductions of the pages in the printed version of the book. Instead, the text is "re-flowed." You see artificial "pages" with however much text can fit on the iPhone screen, no more, no less.

Most of the apps give you the option to choose what font the text is in, how big the text is, how wide the margins are, how far apart the lines of text are, and so forth. (The Kindle for iPhone app is the sole exception; it gives you some formatting control, but it's locked into a single font.)

Now for the four apps:

Kindle for iPhone, free at the iTunes App Store, is the top name in the iPhone eReader app field. Kindle is the name of a handheld device that sells for $299. If you owned one, you could buy any of the over 350,000 books Amazon sells in eBook form, including virtually all of the current New York Times bestsellers, typically for a price of $9.99 or less.

If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch along with the Kindle for iPhone app, you don't need a standalone Kindle device. You can download and read the same eBooks the Kindle eReader can, right on your iPhone.

Kindle eBooks are in a format that won't work with any device other than a standalone Kindle or a handheld device such as an iPhone/iPod touch that has the Kindle for iPhone app. There are, in addition to the Kindle eBook format, other eBook formats that boast hundreds of thousands of books. For those, I have three other iPhone apps.

Stanza is another free eBook reader app. It reads mainly free books — you don't have to pay for them — from a variety of sources. You can find and download these books by going into the Online Catalog in the Stanza app itself.

Also in the Stanza Online Catalog are links to vendors of books that do cost actual money. Right now one of the most popular eBooks-with-a-price is Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which you can get for $9.95 by pointing the Stanza Online Catalog to BooksOnBoard. Using eReader (see below), I recently bought another version of the same book for $9.99. (I have seen the hardcover edition — list price $29.95 — on sale at a bricks-and-mortar Barnes & Noble for 40% off, at $17.97. You can buy the hardcover edition online at Amazon right this minute for $16.17. An eBook price of under $10 is a pretty good deal.)

The maker of the Stanza app is LexCycle. LexCycle is owned by ... guess who ... Amazon, makers of Kindle!

Stanza supports a wide range of eBook formats. If you click on this link, you can get a quick look at many of the main eBook formats that are in existence. Stanza supports most of them, but not all. The catch is — and this is a very important catch — Stanza does not support any format (other than the so-called eReader format; see below) when there is DRM protection involved. And it supports eReader DRM protection only on the iPhone/iPod touch, not in its desktop version.

What is DRM protection? DRM stands for "digital rights management," tech talk for copy protection. If you buy a Kindle eBook from Amazon, for instance, it will typically (but not always) be DRM-protected, which means you can't copy it to your spouse's iPhone. DRM-protected eBooks are usually encrypted, such that you have to enter a code such a a username/password combination to make them readable.

So there are two general types of eBooks. Most or all recently published eBooks have legal copyright protection, just as do the print editions. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is one of these. These copyrighted eBooks accordingly cost you money to buy and are DRM-protected and encrypted.

The other type of eBook is free of charge and not DRM-protected. Classic books that are old enough to no longer be copyright protected are the stars of this category. Their eBook versions typically have no DRM protection. Often they are in the ePub format, an open format that Stanza and some other iPhone e-Reader apps (but not Kindle for iPhone as far as I know) can use. (An "open" format is one that is not proprietary and can be used by anyone who wants to. The Kindle format is, on the other hand, proprietary and cannot be used by eBook sources not licensed by Amazon.)

eReader from FictionWise is a free app for iPhone that reads mainly eBooks that FictionWise itself and sell.

This part of the discussion gets confusing, so bear with me: is the name of a website that sells eBooks that are in the eReader format and are usable by the eReader iPhone app. is the name of a website that likewise sells eBooks in eReader format usable by the eReader app.

Often, these two sources sell exactly the same eBooks. Both companies are owned by Barnes & Noble ... the bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain whose online store is in competition with, makers of Kindle. As endorsed in July 2009 by B&N, the eReader format is designed to allow DRM protection, putting it in direct competition with Amazon's Kindle format. The free B&N eReader app for iPhone (see below) uses the same DRM-protected format, but it makes you buy eBooks directly from the B&N website, not from or

The eReader format is discussed in the Wikipedia article Comparison of e-book formats (scroll about halfway down, or else click here). It is also called the Palm Digital Media format, since it was originally for PalmOS, the operating system used on Palm handhelds.

Files in the Palm Digital Media (or eReader) format have the .pdb extension (though when you are using an iPhone app to access them, you can't see the files as such, much less their filenames and extensions). The .pdb extension derives from the initials of "Palm Data Base." These files, when in an open version of the format that is not DRM-protected, are often referred to also as "Palm Doc" files.

To add to the confusion, the term eReader is being used as a generic term for any handheld device that reads eBooks. By extension, any cellphone, smartphone, or other mobile device that can (with the proper app) read eBooks is an eReader.

Furthermore, there is yet another eReader app for iPhone ...

The free B&N eReader app is very much like the eReader app I just discussed, except that it is hot-wired directly to the Barnes & Noble website. When you shop for books in the B&N eReader app, the app automatically opens that website in the iPhone's Safari browser. You then use the browser to buy any eBook you want and add it to the eBook library that is maintained for you at the website. The eBook will automatically sync to your iPhone as soon as you return to the B&N eReader app on the iPhone.

The same B&N eReader app exists for the Blackberry as well as for Windows and Macintosh computers, so you can download and read any e-Book that you have in your Barnes & Noble e-Book library on any of these platforms.

More information on iPhone e-Reader apps can be found here:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hanlin eReaders Galore!

I've covered Kindle eReaders Galore! and Sony Readers Galore!, the eBook readers from industry leaders Amazon and Sony. Now it's time for the Hanlin eReaders from Jinke Electronics.

Jinke doesn't sell these readers under its own brand name. You'll find them under such names as BeBook and EZ Reader.

Here is the BeBook, based on the Hanlin V3:

(The queen of hearts is shown for size comparison. The hotlinks above the images, when present, link to online reviews of the devices.)

Here is the just-introduced BeBook Mini, a.k.a. the Hanlin V5:

As of the date I am posting this, I can as yet find no in-depth reviews of the BeBook Mini/Hanlin V5, which is also sold as the EZ Reader Pocket Pro. The link above is to techie coverage of the device at the MobileRead Wiki.

Here is the Hanlin V9, a large-format eBook reader:

The Hanlin V9 is hard to find on the Web. Here is a comparison between it and the original Amazon Kindle.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sony Readers Galore!

As a way to read eBooks, the Amazon Kindle (see Kindle eReaders Galore!) has stiff competition from Sony and its Sony Readers. Here is the Sony PRS-505, shown with the queen of hearts to give an idea of its size:

(The hotlinks above and below take you to reviews of the respective Sony Readers at CNET.)

The PRS-505 is no longer available new from Sony. Here is a link to eBay listings of the device.

Here is Sony's PRS-300 "Pocket Edition" Reader:

The PRS-300 comes in navy blue (shown), rose, and silver.

The PRS-600 "Touch Edition" Reader from Sony looks like this:

The PRS-600 comes in rose (shown), silver, or black. It has no buttons because it uses a touch screen.

Coming in December 2009, the touch-screen Sony PRS-900 "Daily Edition" Reader will look like this:

(The size comparison with the queen of hearts is just a guess on my part, based on knowing that the diagonal measurement of the screen is going to be 7 inches.)

Because it hasn't hit the market yet, CNET hasn't reviewed the PRS-900 as of the date of this post. The hotlink above is to a page at that previews it, and also discusses other Sony Readers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kindle eReaders Galore!

Kindle eBook readers come in various sizes. Here is the original Amazon Kindle, now discontinued, shown alongside the queen of hearts for size comparison:

(Click on the device names above and below to read a CNET review of each device.)

Here for visual comparison is the Apple iPhone, likewise placed next to the queen of hearts:

The queen of hearts is the same size. The iPhone, which can run the Kindle for iPhone app that reads most of the same content as the Kindle, is a lot smaller than the original Kindle.

Here is the current replacement for the original Kindle, the Kindle 2:

The Kindle 2 is bigger than the original Kindle, so the queen of hearts looks smaller. (The Kindle 2 is being sold by Amazon under the name of just "Kindle," without the number, even though the original Kindle had the very same name. Amazon now calls the original Kindle the "Kindle (1st generation)." "Kindle 2" is used here and elsewhere as a term of convenience to distinguish the new model from the original.)

Here is the fuller-featured Kindle DX:

The Kindle DX is much bigger than the Kindle 2, so the queen of hearts is shown even smaller by comparison.

A selling point for the new Kindle and Kindle DX is their ability to purchase and download books wirelessly, via the Sprint cellphone network. Kindle calls it Whispernet; it's really the Sprint network, but you don't have to know that. Nor do you need a Sprint account, since Amazon arranges for your Kindle to get access to the Sprint wireless network for free, for this one particular purpose.

Most dedicated eBook readers can't yet access content wirelessly — you have to use a computer to buy the eBooks online and download them, then hook up a USB cable to transfer them to the reader.

It gets even better. If you have sprung for more thane one Kindle — say, one at work and another at home — you can synchronize them via Whispernet, using Whispersync. Any Kindle content can be wirelessly copied to up to six Kindle devices (including iPhones using the Kindle for iPhone application). Whispersync makes sure that current information such as the last page read for each eBook in your library propagates across all devices.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Kindle content can only be read on Kindle devices (including iPhones). Kindle eBooks use Digital Rights Management software technology — DRM — to keep you from being able to read them on, say, Sony Readers. If someday Amazon pulls the plug on the Kindle readers, or your Kindle device breaks and you decide to switch to a non-Kindle eBook reader, your Kindle content becomes unusable. (True, Amazon has stated that it plans to do for other iPhone-like mobile devices what it has already done for the iPhone; as long as you have an Amazon-blessed multi-function mobile device like the iPhone, this should never become a big problem.)

The Kindle family is the first eBook reader to get a lot of attention. Though Amazon has declined to announce its sales figures, it has been dubbed by its ardent supporters the "iPod of eReaders" because it has caught on so nicely. The brand name Kindle even threatens to become synonymous with the whole dedicated eBook reader category, which is expected to take off between now and 2013. If you want an eReader that, when friends ask about it, you can say "It's a ______" and hope for their instant comprehension, you'll probably fill in the blank with "Kindle."

* * *

As of October 7, 2009, Amazon has cut the price of the Kindle 2 to $259, from $299. In the near future, for an additional $20, customers will be able to get a Kindle version with international wireless access; the $259 version has only U.S. access.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Welcome to Viva eBooks!

This blog celebrates eBooks!

eBooks are like regular books ... but they're electronic books. You read them using a computer or a handheld device like an iPhone or a Kindle. That's because electronic books are digital. They're computer files. You buy eBooks online — or find them for free, or borrow them from a public library — then you download them to your digital reading device and ... read them!

Here's a picture of a Sony eBook Reader:

Here's another model:

Here's the Kindle 2 reader from

Here's a side-by-side view of the Kindle 2 and an Apple iPhone using the Kindle for iPhone app:

Note that the Kindle 2 image has been much reduced in size to match the iPhone image's height. The Kindle 2 is actually much bigger than the iPhone — see Kindle eReaders Galore! for more.

But you get the idea. Whether you use a dedicated reader like the Sony Reader or the Kindle 2, or a multipurpose handheld that doubles as an eBook reader as the iPhone does, you can carry not just a single book but a whole library in your pocket or purse. You can read any of your eBooks wherever you are. When you're done reading an eBook, you can remove it from the reader to save storage space, but still have access to it on your desktop computer or online, in case you want to read it again.

And eBooks are widely available today. Virtually every recent New York Times bestseller, for example, is available as an eBook ... for a price way lower than the hardcover edition. Most of the great classics, and many other books as well, are available as free eBooks.


Before I go any further, I'd better admit some of my biases. One is that I simply think eBooks are neat! The whole idea of being able to buy a book — or obtain one for free — and read it on a digital handheld device or on a desktop or laptop computer impresses me as way cool!

Another bias is that I think its even cooler when the handheld device has many other functions, besides reading books. For my money, the iPhone is a better eBook reader, for that reason and for others as well, than the Kindle or the Sony. Other smartphones such as a BlackBerry or a Palm Pre can also serve as eBook readers, so they're part of the same multipurpose-device scene.

Yet I realize that not everyone will agree. Some will prefer a dedicated reader, if only because it has a larger screen. Others, because the dedicated readers use for their screen technology not an LCD but E ink, which is easier on the eyes and also on battery life. So I'll do my best to cover both types of reader, multipurpose and dedicated — as well as the possibility of using laptop and desktop computers as eBook readers — in the posts I'll make to this blog, even though the reader I use is an iPhone.

Also, I'd better fess up to being almost completely Apple-centric. I have, as I say, an iPhone (and also an older iPod Touch which has been pretty much retired). Plus, an iMac 20" desktop computer and a MacBook Pro laptop, all on a wireless (i.e., WiFi) home network using a couple of Apple's AirPort devices as access points (i.e., routers).

So my knowledge of Windows machines and non-Apple WiFi devices is limited. Now, just about anything I can do on my Macs that use the Mac OS, as far as reading and storing eBooks, can likewise be done in Windows. Computer applications for reading eBooks are typically available for both OS's, as well as (often) for other OS's as well. But my hands-on knowledge is in the Apple Macintosh world only.

So, having admitted some of my biases, I'll close by saying: Happy eReading!