Sunday, April 26, 2009

The jetBook: A Real eBook Contender?

Look at this:

Click = big

These are two eBook reading programs on my desktop.

I have sized the windows identically.

On the right is the gorgeous LIT in Microsoft Reader.

On the left is ePub in FBReader.

How eerie is that?

If, like me, you're used to seeing fugly fugly fugly ePub in both Adobe Digital Editions and the Sony eLibrary software, the above should be a real eye-opener.

It was for me.

As you'll also notice, the fonts on the left are rather lighter than the MS Reader program. I don't know what I can do about that aside from increasing font size and ruining the look-alike.

But: look! Margins! Fonts that aren't fugly. A book-like presentation!

Why is this important?

FBReader is the display software for ePub files on the ECTACO jetBook.

You'll notice my text extract at top isn't centered -- this is my alpha of The People of the Abyss. This continues throughout the alpha version. I suspect the fault is mine: I'm probably not using the proper tag for it.

But this really makes me wonder if the jetBook does ePub eBook display better than the Sony Reader.

One other glorious thing: FBReader will hyphenate words when the font size is changed. Unlike, say, the Sony Reader, which won't break words and therefore leaves huge gaps between words when the font size is increased.

Alas, the ePub the jetBook can handle is of the no-DRM flavor, meaning no borrowing eBooks from public libraries and no buying of most ePub eBooks. And yet, for those who are philosophically/politically opposed to DRM, this is the first eBook reading device out there to offer something other than the fugliness of Adobe's rendering engine.


Marshall said...

I think blaming Adobe for poor rendering quality is a bit of a stretch, especially comparing with FBReader. I think Adobe dropped the ball in not adding any features for controlling basic formatting options (such as overriding left-align vs. justified, line spacing, etc), but the renderer itself is one of the most fully-featured and conformant EPUB renderers available.

IMHO, problem is that EPUB tilts the balance of formatting control far in the direction of the book producer, and book producers haven't gotten the hang of producing attractive texts yet. It's possible to produce a terrible looking LIT book. MSReader with LIT actually does let you mangle pretty much everything ADE with EPUB does (except for margins). But the LIT-producing software available and what publishers are using sets things sensibly enough to produce generally attractive results.

For an EPUB counter-example, if I may so claim myself, check out the EPUB edition of Jeffrey A. Carver's Neptune Crossing I created. It looks great in ADE, but pretty terrible in FBReader, because FBReader ignores all the CSS.

MoJo said...

Marshall, what tool did you use to create your EPUB file?

Marshall said...

@MoJo. I used emacs and zip :-). The open source tools are getting better, but the EPUB container is simple enough to roll by hand. Calibre is almost to the point of making it easier without sacrificing control, but you have to know which buttons to push (e.g., --base-font-size=0 to disable font-size rescaling).