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As a avid reader, the rise of ebooks in recent years has been interesting. I've read books on my little eeepc with Fedora, my openmoko phone and most recently my Motorola Droid android phone. Read on for my ramblings on ebooks, platforms and formats.

Of course the first question is: why ebooks? I have a large collection of paper books and re-read them pretty often. I don't think they will ever be made obsolete by electronic format books, but it is handy to have some things in electronic format. For one thing it's easy to carry around a good collection of books in a phone or netbook, to read as you like while you are wandering. It's nice to be able to use an electronic device with it's own light in some places. Some print books have anoying font type or size choices, which you can change in an electronic version.

It's pretty easy to pick up public domain ebooks and try things out and see if they are for you. There are several really easy places to get them in a variety of formats. A short list includes:

For Linux distributions, the best ebook reader out there (IMHO) is FBReader. You can install this via yum if you are using Fedora (and it should be available in most other Linux distros). FBreader handles lots of formats and works quite well. You can adjust fonts and colors, how much to scroll on mouse click or spacebar or arrows and tons of other features.

As I mentioned above, I have been playing around with a new Android phone, and there in my opinion, the best ebook reader is Aldiko. It's got a ton of features and works nicely. There is a fbreader port for android, but it lacks many of the features of the full Linux version yet. Aldiko will also let you import your own content in epub format, you just need to stick it in /sdcard/eBooks/import/ and tell it to import. Aldiko has a handy day mode/night mode toggle, allows you to change fonts and sizes, has indexes, downloads of free books directly from the net, brightness adjustment easily as you read, and remembers exactly where you were in each Book.

So, what do you do if you have your own content you want to read, but it's in a format that one of these readers doesn't understand. (Aldiko and FBReaderj only understand epub format, but FBReader understands quite a lot more). Luckily there is a handy solution for Linux users at least: Calibre. This package (available in Fedora at least) allows you to manipulate and import/export ebooks in all the various formats out there. For example, you could pull a pdf you want to read and export it as a .epub file for reading on a mobile device. You can also pull metadata and cover art for books or other items you have scanned in yourself. From some limited testing here it did ok with pdf, but occasionally got the chapters and indexes wrong. A very handy tool in any case.

So, if that was the end of the story all would be well, sadly DRM (Digital Rights Management) comes into play for many of the newer books you might want to read. Unfortunately, this also means there are no free players that read these DRMed formats. There are a few places that do offer Books for purchase in non DRMed formats, (Although you need to be careful that you are not buying a epub format book that has DRM added on to it instead of a regular epub book). here's a short list:

There are a variety of other new devices up and coming: The nook, the kindle, etc. So am sure we are going to see lots of advancement in the book reading arena over the next few years. I do hope more publishers and authors are willing to make their books available in formats that can be read by free software. I know I would buy their content if I could read it on my free reader.

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