Robby Russell writes "Paper books have a tendency to accumulate dust, take up large amounts of shelf space and be a painful reminder that you need to get rid of stuff when moving time comes and you find yourself packing up the same Pascal book for an eighth time. Granted, the book provides a level of self-accomplishment and it's always great to have your best books out in direct sight of anyone who may come over to your home or office. You know the type; the ones who are observant and notice the books that you want the world to know that you've read, as if you were to say, 'Been there, done that.' You can't tell me that you don't put some of them up intentionally. ;-)" Russell is taken with O'Reilly's floating-rental system called Safari; read on for his review of the system.
O'Reilly has come up with an interesting solution to your lack of physical shelf space: a virtual bookshelf. Safari Bookshelf is a great resource for all things technical. They recently went over 1,000 titles available online, 24/7. Several publishers have joined forces with O'Reilly to provide so many titles. Que, Alpha, Sams, Microsoft Press (and O'Reilly itself) are a few of the big-name publishers that are part of Safari. Currently, 75% of all O'Reilly books are available through Safari. (With plans for adding 10+ books per month, the selection is growing rapidly, too.)
Safari subscriptions can be had in 10-, 20- or 30-slot varieties, depending on how much you care to read (and spend). Prices end up close to $1.50 per slot each month, with slight discounts if you buy annually rather than by the month. (A $9.99/month 5-slot shelf is available too, if you just want to test the waters.)
Recently, I had the privilege of giving Safari a test-run thanks to the generous offer made to user groups.
The website's navigation was fairly easy to grasp, and I was able to start searching for books as soon as I logged into the system. O'Reilly's made browsing pleasant, by listing the main categories and allowing you to branch down into subcategories to find the book you may or may not be looking for.
I was given a 10-book shelf to start my trial of Safari. This account would typically go at $14.99/month (or $159.99/year). The bookshelf is great. You can add a book to your bookshelf and you keep it there for 30 days, after which you can remove the book and replace it with a different one. So, you can have 10 books in your "shelf" at any given time, and switch no more than 10 books a month under this account level. That is 120 books a year for roughly $1.33/book. That's impressive.
It just so happened that I was currently working on migrating from Sendmail to Postfix recently and wanted to read up more on Postfix to see if there was more I could do to keep my server running happily. I typed in "postfix" in the search, and voila! 109 books were found with that word in the title or description. The search results allowed me to View by Book and/or View by Section (which I found really helpful by showing me a section of the book that contained the word "postfix"). I scanned a few more books in greater depth, looking at the Table of Contents of various books and even looking at the books' chapter previews. A lot of text to look at before I even decide on checking out a book. Being in a bookstore wouldn't have been this good: you can't search through a bookstore for a specific keyword in all texts and get back these kinds of results.
After reviewing a small handful of books, I felt comfortable with my decision and checked out the appropriately-titled book by Sams, "Postfix" by Richard Blum and added it to my bookshelf. The book will be on my bookshelf for the next 30 days. Immediately, I went over to My Bookshelf and found myself looking through the same text you would find in the paper version of this book (but in the font face and size that I set in my browser preferences). It lets me print a page, send the page as an email to someone, etc. I was reading about open relays, and added a bookmark to the page which shows up on the "My Safari" personal page listing all the books I have currently checked out. That page also shows recent searches, newly available books, public notes, etc. With a few clicks, I can go from my computer desktop to page 152 of The Perl Cookbook which is quicker than me looking through my library of paper books and finding my place.
I have since added six more books and visit My Safari page roughly 5+ times throughout my day to read more on various topics. All this content available anytime I need it, and I still have spaces left in my bookshelf. They do offer 5-slot Safari Bookshelf for those who don't need 10 books a month, which is probably where I would fall. The great thing is that this is very affordable. (After calculating the costs of all the books I had bought in the past year, I could have paid for and viewed roughly 232 books plus the 8 technical books I bought last year.)
On the downside, colleagues who come by my home or office won't see my new copy of MySQL Cookbook because it is online rather than on my shelf showing another O'Reilly animal. I might have to print out the covers and tape them to my old school books to deal with that for the time being, but I am sure that Safari Bookshelf is how I plan to spend money on technical documentation from now on.
If it were a Tom Robbins book however, I couldn't see myself sitting in a cozy chair reading it on a laptop; this idea only makes sense to me for technical information because I am sitting at my computer anyways -- and where else would I need technical documentation?
If this idea intrigues you, visit O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf page. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.