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Universal Ebook Format Debated

simoniker posted more than 11 years ago | from the ebook-em-danno dept.

Media 277

Amy Hsieh writes "A well-known ebook industry expert, Jon Noring, recently wrote an interesting article for eBookWeb, formally calling upon the ebook industry to adopt a single universal ebook distribution format. Right now there's a plethora of essentially incompatible ebook formats, and this format 'babel' is hampering the growth of the ebook industry. In the article, Mr. Noring proposes a promising open-standards candidate which appears to meet a list of basic requirements: The Open eBook Forum's OEBPS Specification. Andy Oram, a Linux programming editor for O'Reilly, wrote an interesting reply to the article that should also be read." On the other hand, Noring's proposal has also met with some skepticism elsewhere.

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fp! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122332)

fp for lunix fagz!!!!1111 diediedie

Babel? (1, Funny)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122335)

Does this 'babel' format have any relationship with Babelfish? Please don't tell me it's used to translate books into different languages!

Harry's Potter take ups his sword to slain the evil Mould a Wart

Re:Babel? (5, Informative)

aldousd666 (640240) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122379)

I thought we already had a standard: HTML

Shows what I know.

A couple of side notes: And how can you not know what babel is? Babel: Tower of babel: a story from the bible where King Nebekenezur (there is no correct spelling for that in english, just commonly accepted ones) wanted to build a tower to god, so god being jealous, put a spell on everyone, and they all ended up speaking a different language. It's how the christians believe that there came to be multiple languages.

Now the website babelfish gets its name from 'The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams, where the characters 'stick a babelfish in their ear' to act as a universal translator.

Re:Babel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122427)

I thought we already had a standard: HTML
Which is utterly unsuitable as you get very little control over the presentation of the content. Presentation is incredibly important in publishing, whatever webmonkeys will tell you.

Re:Babel? (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122484)

Its a book. People read it. Hence, the text is whats important. Yes, if its a textbook or a graphic novel, presentation is important. For that, I accept that we need a standard (*cough* *rtf* *cough*) but otherwise, HTML or (god forbid) plain text works fine.

Re:Babel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122513)

Nope, the presentation's important as well, sorry. If you've learnt anything today, you've learnt that.

Re:Babel? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122564)

Slashdot: Home of the lameness filter that stops perfectly good posts. I guess they want to make space for the ASCII art. Slash is a hunk of junk, it truely is.

Re:Babel? (1)

xtermz (234073) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122593)

Do you still use chamber pots for your bathroom, wood burning stoves to cook on, and ride a horse drawn cart to work?

See, true inovation doesnt come from "it works now, why mess with it" mentality.

What about an eBook about graphic layout, where rich text, graphics, and presentation make the book. There just are some things you cant do with HTML.

And how to do you propose you encrypt and protect from distribution a bunch of html files and images? Thats the whole point of eBooks - a rich, open , and protectable standard.

Re:Babel? (2, Informative)

jpmahala (181937) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122450)

BZZZT. Wrong.

Nebuchadnezzar lived during the time of Daniel. The events of the Tower of Babel are chronicled in the book of Genesis.

Re:Babel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122468)

Bur Nebuchadnezzar built the temple which is agreed to be the source of the Tower of Babel story. There's stuff from it in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Re:Babel? (1)

aldousd666 (640240) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122548)

Nimrod the Hunter. My bad.

Ok let's get this straight (1)

Unleashd (664454) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122753)

You need a little correction on your tower of babel story .... The story came about in Genesis when all people spoke the same language. The people had decided to build a temple to heaven (as in a temple that reached al the way to heaven). They were trying to bypass the way that God had set for them to enter heaven. They were trying to "become like/equal to God". God knew that with one language they could accomplish anything so he decided to confuse their languages. At that point God caused people to speak different languages and the construction on the temple was abandoned because people couldn't work together. God did this because he had a better plan for mankind ... not because of jealousy.

As for the babelfish I can't comment as I haven't read "The Hitchikers Guide to the galaxy" but it sounds like a reference back to the confusion of the languages

Re:Ok let's get this straight (1)

aldousd666 (640240) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122814)

Well, God's intentions aside, I think I had the story straight, except, I said 'tower to god' meaning 'tower to reach god.' I was unlcear. I also said Nebekennezur instead of Nimrod the Hunter. In some movie (overdramatized I'm sure) I saw Nimrod even shot an arrow at the clouds. These is, I might add still enourmous historical controversy over whether or not the story happened at all, but if your a Bible fan (as I am even though I don't beleive any of it comes from any kind of god) you beleive what you want.

The Douglas Adams story is undoubtedly poking fun at the bible story.

Re:Babel? (0)

Kris Thalamus (555841) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122444)

No, they are referring to the tower of Babel.

According to the bible, the entire human species once spoke the same language (a bit like how in fantasy novels a character can speak elfish or orc). Anyway, the bible says that some enterprising humans made an attempt to build a tower high enough to reach heaven. They almost made it there until Yahweh got nervous and decided to destroy the tower and give us incompatible languages so that we might never work collectively on a similar engineering project.

Re:Babel? (0)

Kris Thalamus (555841) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122480)

"Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."

So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the earth. - Genesis 11.

Re:Babel? (0)

Kris Thalamus (555841) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122575)

Does this 'babel' format have any relationship with Babelfish?

"Babel" is comes from two words, "baa" meaning "gate" and "el," meaning "god". It follows that it is "the gate of god." A related word in Hebrew, "balal" means "confusion".

Sounds easy to me... (3, Insightful)

WestieDog (592175) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122342)

What about .txt?

Re:Sounds easy to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122432)

Completely, utterly unsuitable. The fact that you got an "insightful" shows how little thwe moderators really know.

Answer me this: how do you do a table of contents in .txt? Now how do you make sure everyone does it the same way? Now do you see how we've started inventing a standard e-book format?

Also, how do you do illustrations in .txt?

Re:Sounds easy to me... (2, Insightful)

flakac (307921) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122457)

.txt is simply not sufficient to replace a book. A book contains graphics, charts, indexes, etc. and there's no reason these should not be exploited in any eBook format. Also, there's no reason not to extend the paradigm to allow for readers to make annotations in the book, just like you can in real paper-based books.

Re:Sounds easy to me... (1)

Enry (630) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122469)

.txt has no markup capabilities. No way to signal chapter headings, etc.

what about HTML? Compressed HTML at that.

Umm... SGML (1)

HighOrbit (631451) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122512)

I thought SGML solved this problem years ago.. (except for the copyright-driven copy-protection schemes that seem to be in vogue with the profit-hounds) However, I don't think copy-protection is absolutely necessary. Publishers have made billions selling regular old paper books for years with no "copy-protection". Even the advent of easy copying with XeroX machines didn't kill the profit. What makes the same content in a new medium suddenly worthy of copy-protection ?

Re:Sounds easy to me... (1)

jetmarc (592741) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122632)

> What about .txt?

I don't think that you are serious about .txt - it is a good format to
deliver textual information. But a good book contains more than just
that. The layout, font and style makes reading easy or difficult,
whatever publisher intended. Illustrations and other artwork (eg
formulas) improve accessibility of the delivered information.

A .txt hardly does this.

Except for being a proprietary thing, I consider .PDF (not the ebook
variant) a good format for books. It's not perfect, and its outstanding
advantages over other formats seem to degrade and vanish with every
new version of the format & reader. PDF 1.3 was a good thing (Acrobat 4.0)
and I would really like to see PDF 1.3 or a carefully selected subset
of PDF 1.3 being standardized for ebooks. In my dreams.. :(

Marc

Re:Sounds easy to me... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122844)

But a good book contains more than just
that. The layout, font and style makes reading easy or difficult,
whatever publisher intended. Illustrations and other artwork (eg
formulas) improve accessibility of the delivered information.


Funny.. the last 3 good books I read had none of this...

Text books and manuals? yes.. a good book? nope.

I suggest you go into the fiction and non fiction isles and pick up a few books and learn what is in the bulk of publications... Words... no pretty pictures and charts... but simple expressive words.

and yes .txt is very useable for a E-book format. I can bookmark it and a table of contents is quite easy to impliment..

Re:Sounds easy to me... (3, Insightful)

DrXym (126579) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122639)

Have you ever tried to read something from Project Gutenberg in text format? It's horrible! Try downloading something like the King James Bible and go mad as you slog through in 80 character monospaced print. Furthermore, say goodbye to an pictures or diagrams, e.g. illustrations in Alice in Wonderland.


A standardized rich text format is absolutely required, one which defines document structure so you get all the goodness like chapters, quotations, sidebars, footnotes, images etc., but doesn't impose how it should be laid for the most part, or the layout is specified by an accompanying style sheet.


Something like docbook might be suitable, but some of its more gross or esoteric things would have to be pruned or moved into different levels of support for the sake of simplicity.

Ebook Format Debate boils down to... (-1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122343)

1. Debate ebook format
2. Try to sell ebooks
3. ?????
4. Profit!!

Well (4, Funny)

The-Bus (138060) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122351)

If the software pirating industry can all agree on plain text "NFO" files with ASCII-painted flames, dragons eating your group's logo, and pot leaves surrounding shout-outs to your boys on efnet, I think the slightly more professional and law-abiding ebook industry can agree on a standard format.

Re:Well (2, Funny)

PerryMason (535019) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122392)

Yeah, and typical Microsoft went and broke the standard associating .nfo with System Info files in Win2k. Those guys just never stick to the standards...

My ebook format (3, Informative)

RenQuanta (3274) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122353)

Is Project Gutenberg [promo.net] and a Palm Pilot.

How about WAP? (2, Interesting)

expro (597113) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122407)

Is Project Gutenberg and a Palm Pilot.

I would like to put up a server to serve up Gutenberg, etc. a page or so at a time for low-end WAP phones, with simple indexing and serching capabilities. The simpler cell-phone is what I really always have in-hand with good connectivity when I would like to read. Palm Pilots never seem to have enough storage to keep whole books or widespread connectivity.

Ha anyone done this? It should be popular and not too resource-intensive.

Re:How about WAP? (1)

expro (597113) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122416)

Palm Pilots never seem to have enough storage to keep whole books

I meant to keep lots of whole books.

Re:How about WAP? (1)

FeloniousPunk (591389) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122479)

The Palms are a bit low on storage but other PDAs can store a lot more. I've got two novels on my PPC at the moment, Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King and they are 442kb and 639kb respectively. I could carry about 10 or so in the built-in storage without crowding out other data I need, but if I would need to carry more, I could always put them on an SD media storage chip or CF card. They're cheap these days; a 64 MB SD chip is about $30. So that's about 30 novels right there.

Re:How about WAP? (2, Interesting)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122699)

Sounds like a cool idea. I guess you might be able to use XLST to transform to the different WAP flavors.

www.wapnovel.com (3, Interesting)

evilandi (2800) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122742)

Expro: I would like to put up a server to serve up Gutenberg, etc. a page or so at a time for low-end WAP phones

I got bored last Christmas and did this.

www.wapnovel.com [wapnovel.com] (WAP or desktop)

There's also an as yet unused discussion group at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wapnovel [yahoo.com]

Universal E-Book Format: (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122360)

images? (1)

Extrymas (588771) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122544)

And how about images?.. Do you suggest ascii graphics ? ;)

Better readers needed (5, Insightful)

Baumi (148744) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122364)

I don't think any format will get Ebooks to catch on until we have reader hardware that makes reading those books at least as pleasant as reading a paper book.

Here's hoping that all [sciam.com] those [parc.com] e-paper [eink.com] efforts [papyron.com] will produce something usable soon.

Re:Better readers needed (2, Interesting)

FeloniousPunk (591389) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122447)

I think the same thing as you about the dedicated reader devices, but I've started using the reader software that comes with my Pocket PC and now I actually prefer that to reading from a paperback. It's convenient since I usually have the thing with me most places I go, it's smaller than a paperback and you don't have to turn pages or worry about your bookmark falling out. I can navigate through the book pretty quickly with the directional pad, even faster than turning a page physically. And I can carry quite a few books with me, as most novels clock in at about 500 - 700 kb.
I think it's a big waste to invest in a dedicated reader (that costs significantly more than my Pocket PC btw), but having that functionality in my PPC is just great.
On the original subject, I think a universal format would be a good idea. Between Pocket PC and Palm, there are many PDA users and if publishers could reach a significant fraction of them, they'd probably get a good return on investment with eBooks. Having multiple formats (Palm, MS Reader and Adobe, probably more that I don't know of) complicates this though. I am a little frustrated since I've come across books I'd like to purchase but are for a different formate than what I use (and I don't want to run multiple eBook readers on my PPC, for various reasons). Having a universal format would be great.

Re:Better readers needed (1)

jridley (9305) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122514)

I also like reading on a device; for me it's a Palm. It's not that I don't like paper better, but the Palm has other advantages that outweigh the crappiness of the display (my IIIxe's green display that is). Number one is I always have it. I get a lot more books read now that I have one to read if I'm 5 minutes early for a meeting, or have to wait for the dentist. Number two is I never have to remember a bookmark, the prog always remembers where I left off.

Re:Better readers needed (1)

ClubStew (113954) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122581)

I don't like running multiple copies, either. Personally, I prefer MS Reader on my Pocket PC because Adobe eBook Reader takes way too long to open, uses too much memory, and takes up too much space (which really goes along with too much memory). I'd rather remove it.

Even if the debates prove to be useful and a new format arises, I'm betting that Microsoft and Palm will probably integrate the new format in their eBook readers, but Adobe will probably do their own thing - they think they invented the "electronic document" and how dare anyone tell them how to do it!

Re:Better readers needed (1)

skroz (7870) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122516)

I have an REB1100 and it's GREAT. Font scaling, bookmarks, dictionary, lots of storage... I have few complaints.

The same cannot be said for the "Upgrade" model, the GEB1150. When Gemstar took over production from Rocket, then withdrew from manufacturing with RCA, they reworked the thing and made it useless. Gone are the ability to change font sizes beyond the default two loaded into the device, screen rotation, dictionary, the ability to load custom content, and the ability to backup content to a local PC. This "upgrade" broke everything that was useful about the REB1100. And it costs MORE.

Fortunately, I was able to find a few REB1100s on ebay and keep one as a spare.

I dont know.... (5, Interesting)

AmoebafromSweden (112178) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122365)

Why should i choose a format that have all possibilities to have DRM included in the future thus allowing only one read. And will require Electricity to read.

This is especially true for for factbooks who are often used as reference and not to be read just one time.

So far Ebooks cant beat the paper version in portability, convenience and ease of use.

Paperbook still seems more favorable to me.

Re:I dont know.... (3, Interesting)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122485)

Why should i choose a format that have all possibilities to have DRM included

Because you might want to read an e-book of something NOT in the public domain, e.g, a current novel, and few authors or publishers are going to render their wares into a format that is going to end up on free P2P. There needs to be some way to ensure that money changes hands.

You were planning on paying for the books you read, weren't you? Or is this all just an exercise in seeing how we can best Napsterize the publishing indutstry?

Re:I dont know.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122547)

You were planning on paying for the books you read, weren't you? Or is this all just an exercise in seeing how we can best Napsterize the publishing indutstry?

I was.

Because you might want to read an e-book of something NOT in the public domain, e.g, a current novel, and few authors or publishers are going to render their wares into a format that is going to end up on free P2P.

.. because the publishing industry wants to sell me a non transferable license, not a book that can be lent, sold on etc. There are good reasons for being anti DRM which most people who aren't thick as fuck can see.

-- ac

Re:I dont know.... (0, Flamebait)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122718)

.. because the publishing industry wants to sell me a non transferable license, not a book that can be lent, sold on etc.

You want to lend it out, sell it on e-bay? No prob. Buy the paper version, cuz paperbacks ain't going away anytime soon. You want to be tres cool and read a novel on your PDA/digital camera/linux console/Dick Tracy watch, well sure thing, Sex God, but you'll pay for the privelege. Kind of how people pay 4x the cost for a hardcover version of a book to read it "first." Or you can go support your local used bookseller and buy paperbacks for a fraction of their cover price. You want consumer choices? You got plenty.

And don't get all "public good" and "social revolution" with me here, Bunky. You want to read the latest best-seller for free? Go to your local Public Library. Uncle Sam and the publishing industry worked out this whole "public good" thing way before either one of us were born.

Like the word processing industry (4, Insightful)

sould (301844) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122367)

Right now there's a plethora of essentially incompatible ebook formats, and this format 'babel' is hampering the growth of the ebook industry.


Yup - just like there's a plethora of essentially incompatible word processing formats - hampering the growth of the office/word processing market.


But the industry doesn't matter to one player - only their market share does.


The only way to really win this sort of thing is to persuade all (or at least most) consumers to boycott products that deliberately break compatability with standards.


But how likely is that to happen?

Re:Like the word processing industry (2, Funny)

Surak (18578) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122409)

Yup - just like there's a plethora of essentially incompatible word processing formats - hampering the growth of the office/word processing market.

What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!

Re:Like the word processing industry (2, Insightful)

Zeriel (670422) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122637)

What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!

Yes, yes...but WHICH Word *.doc format?

(By my recollection there've been at least four slightly incompatible ones. (95, 97, 2k/XP, 2k3))

Re:Like the word processing industry (1)

Surak (18578) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122846)

For the humour impaired -- that was part of the joke.

Suite of formats (2, Interesting)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122817)

What plethora of formats? Everyone knows there's only the Word *.doc format!

That needs to be modded Funny.

By my reckoning, MS-Word has had more than 15 different formats in 9 years. I gave up MS-products for Lent a few years ago, but back in the day when my new laptop arrived with MS-Word95 (or whatever it was called), I had to go find MS-Word 6 and resave manually every last word document + metadata in RTF format in order to be able to read them in the new program.

Too bad the data format is tied into specific applications. This is an old archival issue that is fortunately being dealt with by establishing open file formats [eweek.com] and cross-platform applications (staroffice, openoffice, wordperfect, abiword).

HTML caused the WWW, it will be interesting to see what happens with file formats for productivity suites.

Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (4, Interesting)

adzoox (615327) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122371)

Why do we have to propose a different standard? Just because it's a slightly different industry than computers, most eBooks are going to be READ on computers. Wouldn't PDF be perfect? Doesn't Adobe have an eBook PDF format? If I'm not mistaken a PDF can be locked and encrypted. This is also the same as DVD+/- Minus is the better standard, but companies with deeper pockets and greedier "proprietary minded" philosophy back Plus. Standards make sales PERIOD!

I think this was the mistake of the iTunes Music Store. While not terrible (actually slightly better quality) AAC is not as universal a standard as Mp3 or even Ogg. There are WAYS to encrypt and secure those formats. Napster, just before its demise, had figured out how to secure MP3's that were downloaded from it's system.

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (2, Insightful)

Mwongozi (176765) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122440)

AAC is not as universal a standard as [...] Ogg.

Oh rubbish. AAC is used way more than Vorbis (which is what I assume you meant) is. Apple's target market was big enough to overtake Vorbis usage in a single day, I'd bet.

Ogg (1)

da5idnetlimit.com (410908) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122503)

Ogg, used as en encapsulating format, allows you to put ANYTHING (Divx,SVCD,MP3,MP4,WhatTheHell) and have it used as an ogg file.

That's how men Fansub groups makes releases including a 4 subtitles choice with a nice XVID compressed video stream.

Now, I don't say AAC don't do that. Just thatOgg is quite a universal standard.

Also, the point is CHOICE. I want to choose the format I want and play it wherever I want, not Wherever I can..

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122454)

Um... hate to say this but The iTunes Music store has been an amazing sucess.

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122582)

I don't think he was debating that - he was debating standards. The iTMS doesn't use a standard encoding format - there are also COMMON standards out there that would have been as eay to use (in my opinion) and I suppose the ogg vorbis format would have made a lot of /.'s happy too! But in the end, I suppose they didn't go with ogg because they knew Linux hacks would QUICKLY and easily break the encoding/encryption scheme.

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (2, Informative)

junklight (183583) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122459)

You obviously didn't read the article.

PDF (while a great standard) doesn't do reflow very well. So on a handheld - page size becomes a total pain in the arse.

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122555)

Then the writer didn't do his research - Adobe has an ebook compatible PDF format

Re:Why propose a different standard? PDF!!! (1)

JimDabell (42870) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122623)

PDF preserves layout. This is useless when an ebook has to be read on devices ranging from handhelds to 21" monitors.

You are right though, leveraging existing work is always good. What's wrong with DocBook?

Survival of the best-marketed, I guess (5, Interesting)

heretic108 (454817) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122374)

I had a taste of incompatible e-Book formats when I got my first colour Palm.

Sadly, there were better (open) formats using better compression and rendering, losing out to closed formats with big marketing push.

The format that ultimately prevails will not necessarily be the best. It'll be the format pushed by those with the greatest marketing skills/budget, and the one which gives them the greatest control over how their works are used.

It wouldn't surprise me if authors are already signing e-book distribution deals which forbid them from releasing in rival formats.

One of these days, the masses will choose software and data formats according to quality and freedom.

But something within me suspects that the Pope will convert to Islam, and the Jews will profess the divinity of Christ first.

FictionBook XML (4, Informative)

ironhide (803) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122375)

There also is this e-book xml format:
http://haali.cs.msu.ru/pocketpc/FictionBo ok_descri ption.html

I use his excellent HaaliReader as a text reader on my pocketpc (fullscreen, landscape mode). There are also html2xml and word2xml tools on his site.

The ONLY Universal EBook Format! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122377)

The Project Gutenberg Etexts should so easily used that no one should ever have to care about how to use, read, quote and search them ...

This has created a need to present these Project Gutenberg Etexts in "Plain Vanilla ASCII" as we have come to call it over the years.

The reason for this is simple. . .it is the only text mode that is easy on both the eyes and the computer.

However, this encourages others to improve our etexts in a variety of ways and to distribute them in a variety of the available media, as follows:

Once an etext is created in Plain Vanilla ASCII, it is the foundation for as many editions as anyone could hope to do in the future. Anyone desiring an etext edition matching, or not matching, a particular paper edition can readily do the changes they like without having to prepare that whole book again. They can use the Project Gutenberg Etext as a foundation, and then build in any direction they like.

Thus any complaints about how we do italics, bold, and the underscoring, or whether we should use this or that markup formula are sent back with encouragement to do it any ways any person wants it, and with the basic work already done, with our compliments.

The same goes for media. We have had a long-standing work ethic of providing our etexts in any medium people wanted: Amiga, Apple, Atari. . .to IBM, to Mac, to TRS-80. . .

However, now that our etexts are carried in so many BBS's, networks and other locations, it is easier to download the file in a manner that puts them in your format than we can make and mail a disk, so we don't really do that too much.

The major point of all this is that years from now Project Gutenberg Etexts are still going to be viable, but program after program, and operating system after operating system are going to go the way of the dinosaur, as will all those pieces of hardware running them. Of course, this is valid for all Plain Vanilla ASCII etexts. . .not just those your access has allowed you to get from Project Gutenberg. The point is that a decade from now we probably won't have the same operating systems, or the same programs and therefore all the various kinds of etexts that are not Plain Vanilla ASCII will be obsolete. We need to have etexts in files a Plain Vanilla search/reader program can deal with; this is not to say there should never be any markup. . .just those forms of markup should be easily convertible into regular, Plain Vanilla ASCII files so their utility does not expire when programs to use them are no longer with is. Remember all the trouble with CONVERT programs to get files changed from old word processor programs into Plain Vanilla ASCII?

Do you want to go through all that again with every book a whole world ever puts into etext?

The value of Plain Vanilla ASCII is obvious. . .so is very much of the value of most of the various markup systems we have in the world. But until some real standards arrive-- we would be limiting our options a great deal if we do not keep copies of all etexts in Plain Vanilla ASCII as well.

We don't have anything against markup. Not vice versa.

Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, Shakespeare, the Koran and many others will be with us as long as civilization. . .an operating system, a program, a markup system. . .will not.

This includes the many requests we have for compression in particular formats. There are only two formats we know of that are suitable for transfer to a wide general audience: Plain Vanilla ASCII (.txt files) and ZIPped files of them, (.zip files). Requests for other compression formats must be ignored as they are appropriate only for small portions of our target audience. However, (programmers take note: we will need help) we are planning to put some compression links on our files so they can be transmitted in any of an assortment compression formats on the fly. i.e. we should be able to generate any kind of file asked for, but we can keep only one copy of each etext on our servers. . .as the .Z compression format does in a similar manner today.

Re:The ONLY Universal EBook Format! (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122685)

Unleash the awesome power of plain text, as I always maintain.

Re:The ONLY Universal EBook Format! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122778)

WAP (or rather WML) only provides a limited formatting set, and look how widely successful WAP is today... not.

Re:The ONLY Universal EBook Format! (1)

Ben Hutchings (4651) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122867)

Yeah, it's so great that the Gutenberg Project only uses plain text with no markup of metadata, indexes, chapter headings and so on. I'm sure everyone enjoys having to manually pick these things out when republishing them.

but...but... (4, Insightful)

corian (34925) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122380)

Different readers, different platforms, and different applications have different requirements!

Some uses want a format which is compact as possible. Some focus on readibility (switchable fots, etc.) Others -- facimile-style releases -- emphasize that the copy should as closely mimic the original work as possible. Formats can emphasize the syntactic structure of the text (sentences, paragraphs), or the structural qualities (line breaks, pages).

Even in their paper forms, books have different formats for different uses. Libraries prefer hardcovers, with durable bindings. Travlers prefer paperbacks, with small and light pages. Collectors pay extra for special editions, with quality supplies. Some readers prefer large-print copies, abridgements, or books on tape (in a choice of cassette tape or compact disc!)

Any format makes assumptions, and deletions. It's perfectly fine to have a multiplicity of formats. If its useable, and reasonably priced, people will buy it.

For me, the major hindrance to e-books is the price. Since there is no associated cost of the materials (paper/cardboard), printing, physical transportation, stocking space, and delivery, e-books should be [i]cheaper[/i] than physical books. But many of them are priced the same, or even high (you can check this at Amazon.) what's up with that?

SVG (2, Interesting)

Per Wigren (5315) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122382)

Why not just use SVG?

Re:SVG (1)

Surak (18578) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122425)

Scalable Vector Graphics? *confused*

Re:SVG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122617)

The ultimate in bloat! Imagine; an XML document describing the vector points and bezier curves required to draw each and every character in an entire eBook! If nothing else, it would push the price of multi Tb drives down.

A very simple question (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122384)

Why not just use PDF?

What ebooks really need to take off... (3, Interesting)

TallEmu (646970) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122385)

... is paper. Seriously.

The nice thing about a book is that it doesn't have a power switch - it's actually relaxing to sit there and read it.

If it were possible to obtain a high speed printer capable of printing out "e-books" in the same form-factor as a normal book (ie double sided pages, standard size, neatly bound) then I for one would pay for *lots* more books (and paper, and ink.)

one.doc (2, Insightful)

pubjames (468013) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122393)

I'm still amazed that the whole of the business world is happy to accept MSWord .doc as the standard to store virtually all of their documentation. I don't think the film industry would be happy standardizing on .avi or the music industry on .wav, so why doesn't the business word get it's act together and accept a better format than the crappy .doc?

Take a look at this - 1dok.org [idok.org] - an open document format

Re:one.doc (1)

Surak (18578) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122465)

It was kind of a 'meme'. Back in the early days when people were switching from DOS to Windows there were only really two decent word processors that ran on Windows -- 'Word for Windows' from Microsoft, and Ami. Ami was cool but was largely incompatible with everything that came before it. Word for Windows was able to read WordPerfect 4.x/5.x for DOS documents (which is what everyone previously standardized on in the DOS world) and would provide help for WordPerfect users, who of course were all lost in this new world of GUI.

Microsoft played it smart and catered to the business world. Unfortunately, WordPerfect for Windows came too late (mostly due to the fact that Microsoft used the 'synergy' between their apps group and their OS group that's been mentioned before in court) and Microsoft won.

eBooks and DRM (3, Interesting)

FinnishFlash (414045) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122411)

DRM is a hot-potato, and rightfully so...
DRM Capability: Although end-users prefer not to purchase ebooks protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management), publishers are certainly interested in the DRM capability of the universal ebook format. Thus, the universal ebook format must allow inclusion of DRM protection technologies as needed.

Take 2 minutes and read this article from RMS

Right to Read [gnu.org]

PDFs and html (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122413)

You have to be careful. Half of you are saying "I won't use this until e-books are as pleasant as paper books" and half of you are saying "why not use the standards that are already there? Just make the device do everything."

Don't you see these are at odds?

To make e-books as pleasant as real books, you're going to want to make them thinner and thinner in profile. You're going to want to make them run on a single lithium cell battery or AAA. You're going to want to drop all of the interface but the forward, back, and bookmarking buttons. You're going to want the computing device to be as close to nothing as possible, so you can put weight into making the device indestructible like a real book. You want to go to the store, buy the title, and have it just work, or go to Amazon and *know* your desired title is published in that format. That's the ideal, in the near term. It isn't a device that will easily accomodate PDFs and HTML and a number of other standards.

Re:PDFs and html (1)

tuxedo-steve (33545) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122592)

... so you can put weight into making the device indestructible like a real book.
These are the words of a man who has never owned a dog.

Re:PDFs and html (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122657)

Well, the funny thing they're complaining about is things like the poor zooming in PDF: it sounds like they want it to be presentation flexible. Which is HTML.

Personally, I'd take an old, easy to render HTML standard (Netscape 2 era) - just the basics. links, tables, frames, text stuff, images, nothing else. No javascript, no ASP, no CSS, no whatever. Support standard image types (jpeg, gif, png) and nothing else. For sanity's sake, do not support animated GIF.

Change the name - call it BkML - say its a fork from HTML, even if its just an old version. This will prevent people from loading in higher-level HTML into the thing. HTML files are named by page number, and the system is hardcoded for next/prev through page numbers. Multiple "books" are stored in a directory structure.

Thus, you have something that's easy to hand code (but you'd better use a TeX compiler or something similar anyways, as consistent syntax sans CSS will be tricky). Its low on processor stress, and it can be renderd natively by a web browser.

Sure, different ebook readers will render it differently. As they should. EBooks should not be presentation-dependant. You can use tables to control most of the formatting. The rest is up to the user - after all, a large panel-sized e-book is not the same as a watch-book reader. The user should not have to read by panning around, or by squinting for tiny type. If the user wants teh screen to be 20 characters wide and scroll down a lot, that should be there right. HTML is designed for scalable width. Deal with it.

Re:PDFs and html (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122822)

To make e-books as pleasant as real books, you're going to want to make them thinner and thinner in profile. You're going to want to make them run on a single lithium cell battery or AAA. You're going to want to drop all of the interface but the forward, back, and bookmarking buttons. You're going to want the computing device to be as close to nothing as possible, so you can put weight into making the device indestructible like a real book. You want to go to the store, buy the title, and have it just work, or go to Amazon and *know* your desired title is published in that format. That's the ideal, in the near term. It isn't a device that will easily accomodate PDFs and HTML and a number of other standards.



You've hit many of my points on the ideal ebook device right there. I can also add that maybe I'd prefer to store the e-books I own on the computer (HDD, CD's, whatever) and load them up in the reader whenever I want to actually read them. Going on vacation? Load up 5 novels to have with me. Give me a reader like the above, plus an USB wire and a diskette-size software to transfer to/from the ebook, and I'm sold.

Re:PDFs and html (1)

dabadab (126782) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122826)

I think you are missing some things.

1. Processing power and memory is cheap (in money,space and power requirements and) and it's getting cheaper

2. It does not takes too much to understand one more format if that's not overcomplicated.

however

3. It takes considerable processing power and memory to _render_ the characters, esp. if you want them to be rendered nicely (non-fixed length, antialiased and a lot of attributes that has silly names that only typographers understand ;) )

Exactly (2, Interesting)

YokuYakuYoukai (570645) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122422)

The lack of an ebook standard has thusfar kept me from buying any hardware ebook reader. I would be happy to shell out the cash for one if i knew i could use it with all the books out there.

Honest question... (1)

mtrupe (156137) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122424)

Why not HTML?

Re:Honest question... (1)

zakezuke (229119) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122538)

Because that would be too practial, and would resolve issues about bold, italics, or underlining. Not to speak of the fact that illistrations can be imbeaded if nessicary, or ignored if the hardware doesn't support it.

But I'm with you, provided that html tags are standardized for e-books. Keep them at a bear minium so lamer display devices and less of a chance of a really garish e-book comming out. Basic HTML makes alot of sence.

Problem being is I think people want who want to sell e-books don't want their content to be pirated. Fair enough concern, and any universal standard in e-books would make it easier to pirate an e-book.

There's a lot to be said for plain text (4, Insightful)

gidds (56397) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122446)

  • It's universal. Everything supports it, from PDAs to supercomputers.
  • It's versatile. If properly formatted, it's reflowable on different screen sizes, fonts, layouts, &c. And it's perfect for other access methods.
  • It supports most characters you'd find in books. The de facto standard is the Windows Latin-1 encoding, which has all the punctuation as well as accented characters. (Yes, I know, I know. But it's not just on Windows -- both my Mac and my Psion use it, for example.)
  • It's editable. There are tons of tools already available, from spell-checkers in editors to complex analysis. I've written some of my own, for instance; one converts from American to British spelling, which is how I like to read my books.
  • It has conventions for /italics/, *bold*, _underlining_, &c. Yes, at first, these may look clumsy, but I actually prefer them in many ways, as they're more precise; for example, you can differentiate between *word* *by* *word* and *all at once* highlighting (see the Jargon File [catb.org] for the difference).
  • It's compact. Plain text files are smaller than HTML, PDF, RTF &c, sometimes by a lot; and when compressed in formats like PalmDOC (pdb) or TCR, they can be made even smaller and still usable directly.
  • It's future-proof. Plain text has been around for decades, and will be with us for many more, long after DRM keys have been lost and proprietary apps have died.

Yes, of course some spiffy new format will have other advantages. But it's unlikely to gain quick acceptance. Plain text documents are everywhere, as are readers and other software. There are even online publishers [fictionwise.com] selling text files. In fact, ASCII text is arguably the most successful electronic standard there is!

MOD PARENT UP (1)

ContemporaryInsanity (583611) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122492)

There's a hell of a lot to be said for simplicity.

Re:There's a lot to be said for plain text (1)

MrNemesis (587188) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122590)

For the most part I'd agree with you, but there's an awful lot of book that use (amongst other non-ASCII things) images.

It's for things like this why I think the format should either be based on a PDF-ish format, or a halfway house with an XML based layout. But IMO plain old plain text is not a complete solution.

Re:There's a lot to be said for plain text (1)

gidds (56397) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122785)

You'd be surprised how few mainstream books have images. (And even fewer rely on them; most can get by with a note such as '[runes]'.) I've many tens of MB of books and short stories, and only a handful needed images - mostly maps.

And even in those cases where you'd want embedded images, a PDF-like format is not the way to go. It may look great on the right size of screen, and work wonderfully for printing (which was its aim), but as a general book format it's hamstrung by the fixed layout. Yes, there are PDF viewers even for handhelds (I've one on my Psion), but trying to read a book with one is an exercise in pain and eyestrain. Far better to use a format with soft layout, one which can reflow the text to fit the screen. An XML-like format is probably much better for this.

As you say, plain text clearly isn't a complete format. However, IME it's complete enough for the vast majority of cases, and it has so many other benefits.

While I'm on the subject, a mini-rant about HTML/XML: while it's great that newlines &c aren't significant, I find it extremely annoying that spaces aren't either (apart from separating words). Good typography has sentences separated by two spaces; in HTML this needs either a   after every sentence, or a non-space blank character (which is what I do here, as Slashdot seems to strip out most & entitites...). Another problem that plain text doesn't have :)

Re:There's a lot to be said for plain text (1)

dekashizl (663505) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122755)

Of all the "just use text" posts, this is probably one of the best so far.

*BUT* (you like my boldface?) this "just use text" concept is overly-simplistic and misses the point that books are more than text.

It's kind of like the people in the mid 1990s who preached how great GOPHER was and that we don't need HTML/HTTP because gopher a) client runs on a terminal, b) it doesn't require a lot of memory, c) it is text-based so it compresses well, d) there are already great open source servers for it, etc...

You can make all kinds of great arguments for why we should use a limiting technology, but the fact remains that it doesn't meet the needs of the problem it's trying to solve. So if it *is* a good solution, it's a good solution for someone else's problem, not for the format of eBooks.

Re:There's a lot to be said for plain text (1)

dabadab (126782) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122771)

"The de facto standard is the Windows Latin-1 encoding"

There is no "Windows Latin-1" encoding, there's a Windows encoding - I think it's called codepage 1252 - that closly resembles ISO-8859-1 (or Latin-1). But, for me, it's not an option, since I live in Latin-2 land and there are people that use cyrillic, arabic, far-eastern or other alphabets, so your proposed solution would work only for America and the western parts of Europe.

Plain text, however, usually means ASCII (as it is in the Gutenberg-project), in which case the only properly supported language is English.

"It's compact. Plain text files are smaller than HTML, PDF, RTF &c, sometimes by a lot"

A properly made HTML isn't any bigger than a plain text file (basic HTML tags are 3-5 chars long and you don't have to use them that often) but it has structure, has support for non-ASCII characters and even for pictures.

sadfase4f (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122471)

foo!

"On the other hand" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122472)

Who gives a shit?

Inertia (1)

Accidental Hack (656587) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122475)

It's all about the killer app -- that's not out there -- to break the inertia of the market. Many of the responses so far have indicated little willingness to give up the print ... and why should they? Why should I? I work for a company on ebook related projects and even I just don't read ebooks. I prefer print and I have no reason to change.

Maybe it's the target market that's the problem. Maybe mass-market consumers are the wrong people to convert first. Maybe it has to be the school/library market or the business market first. Wish I had some answers!

ebook expert? (1, Funny)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122500)

Which correspondence college offers that and how much does it cost?

Ebook expert....

Yo /. I'm a Desktop Folder Manangement Professional!

I'm also a MSc in Network Ping Techniques. I can ping with one hand tied behind my back. My Masters thesis was whether gnip would work equally as well as a ping program. Turns out not. Stupid Command not found.

Blah. Karma Killaz!

I can see it now. This will be... (1)

Dolemite_the_Wiz (618862) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122526)

...Latex and Ghostscript revisited.

Can we keep inventing more readers for specific uses?

What's next? A new text reader for Man files that can only be read by one single reader and is hard to port to different text formats?

Dolemite
______________

My proposed format (5, Funny)

Alsee (515537) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122534)

I have developed a higly sophisticated format for storing books in a computer file.

Each character of the book is to be enciphered to a byte. I reserve the first 32 codes (0-31) for various system function characters. The next 32 codes (32-63) encipher the space character, various punctuation marks, and numerals. The next 32 codes encipher the capital alphabet and a few more punctuation characters. With the simple use of 00111111 binary mask 'A' maps to 1, 'B' maps to 2, and 'Z' maps to 26. Quite clever if I say so myself! Naturally the next 32 codes encipher the lowercase letters in the same manner. Using the very same 00111111 bitmask you find 'a' mas to 1, 'b' maps to 2, and 'z' maps to 26! Ingenious, isn't it?

To ensure compatibility with legacy computer systems values above 127 shall not be used.

I call this encoding Advanced Storage Cypherment Input Ideal - or A.S.C.I.I. Any file utilizing this encipherment is a Tagged eXchange Template. These files may be identified by the use of a .TXT extention.

-

Can you say TeX & PS? (2, Informative)

SkewlD00d (314017) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122549)

Everyone in academia uses LaTeX and PostScript, since PDF is silly and HTML doesn't have layout features.

Just as long as it's encrypted to prevent piracy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6122554)

I nominate ROT-13!

Stating the obvious (1)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122664)

How long did it take the music industry to realize this would not work with CDs? not long at all, but they do seem to want to undo this universal compatability. But people get greedy and look for ways to force it to work. It will never work.

And yes, html is more than enough. This is a book, not a website. Its about reading words, nothing more nothing less. if you start up with the pictures and sound, people will ignore you in favor of a movie or TV...

I bet someone will propose flash :D

Obvious (1)

noselasd (594905) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122678)

Docbook PLEASE.
How the heck it's rendered I dont care. But docbook must be the obvious choice ?

eBook != replacement of conventional books (1)

splateagle (557203) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122681)

This is ever so slightly off-topic, but why is it that whenever eBooks are mentioned, there's a clamor of people shouting "the paper based book is better becase x y z"?

The arival of almost every other new media since the invention of the printing press, has been heralded as marking the end of the printed word. This hasn't happened in the past and I expect the same will be true of the eBook when it matures.

Historically new media have complimented rather than replaced existing ones. eBooks and Monograph literature both have strengths and weaknesses, and there's plenty of room for both to co-exist.

Just to bring myself back on topic a little, professionally speaking (as a librarian) it would be helpful if the eBook industry were standardised to a single open format. I expect it's more likely that we'll see progressive waves of competing formats develop as the technology improves. Perhaps the Open eBook initiative could better expend its energies ensuring that all eBook formats allow for data to be exported and reformatted in some way? so that materials aren't lost as formats become obsolete...

why even have eBooks? (1)

thomasmd (677167) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122714)

Can somebody tell me why eBooks are better than audio content? What can possibly be done with electronic text, that cannot be accomplished through audio content? I can understand that audio books are much more expensive to produce, but surely we are nearing the point where synthetic computer voices can "read" the original text, instead of having to employ human voice actors. That being the case, what's the use?

Re:why even have eBooks? (1)

clonebarkins (470547) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122848)

Can somebody tell me why eBooks are better than audio content? What can possibly be done with electronic text, that cannot be accomplished through audio content? I can understand that audio books are much more expensive to produce, but surely we are nearing the point where synthetic computer voices can "read" the original text, instead of having to employ human voice actors. That being the case, what's the use?

Well, for one thing, so that a person can read the book for themselves (but that's too obvious so I won't fault you for not thinking of it).

I listen to audio books all the time and I enjoy them. But in every case, where I have both read the book and listened to the audio book, I have been disappointed with how the reader has interpreted certain portions of it (through voice inflection, pauses, etc.). This is even the case when the author is the one reading. I'm guessing it's not any better, and possibly (probably) worse, with synthesized readers.

It's the same thing as saying "If there's a movie, why read the book?" It's because some (actually, many) people actually enjoy reading.

Furthermore, how do you think text-to-speech programs work? YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE TEXT IN AN ELECTRONIC FORMAT FIRST! If you have a standard, open format for reading ebooks, then it's much easier for people to make all sorts of other derivitive formats, such as for reading on a desktop, reading on a palmtop, or even converting to audio. An open format creates possibilities, not restricts them.

As for how synthetic voices sound, there are some decent programs out there, but none of them are cheap. It's still a cost-benefit analysis -- yes, hiring someone to read (especially somebody good) is probably more expensive than getting the software, but you get better quality.

Audio is the SLOW alternative (1)

ArsSineArtificio (150115) | more than 11 years ago | (#6122865)

Can somebody tell me why eBooks are better than audio content? What can possibly be done with electronic text, that cannot be accomplished through audio content?

I can read a page of a standard paperback book in about 30 seconds for fiction, or between 45 sec. and a minute for non-fiction.

Having a voice read that to me instead would be slow and tiresome.

ASA
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