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Old 10-24-2006, 01:58 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Smile Adobe has new hope for e-books with Adobe Digital Editions

Today Adobe is launching a new application that is called Adobe Digital Editions. Looking to build the e-book market and reach the millions of people who are still waiting for a proper e-book solution, Digital Editions is a lightweight, consumer-optimized software for reading and organizing e-books and other digital publications.

You can download the public beta of Adobe Digital Editions from the Adobe Labs Web site.

Why isn't Adobe PDF and the Adobe Reader sufficient?

In 1993, Adobe introduced its Acrobat system utilizing the PDF format, which was a spinoff of the older PostScript format. Because of its ability to translate a document's original fonts, colors and images into a file that can be opened and read on most computer systems, Adobe PDF has become a staple of modern business. Nevertheless, while PDF is still the preferred format for paginated presentation today, it has failed to become a mobile solution and the universal standard for e-books.

The Adobe Reader software was originally developed for enterprises and knowledge workers. Many of its features are not needed by the regular e-book user; in fact, most of us agree that Adobe Reader feels clumsy, bloated, slow and unnecessarily resource-intensive. And it seems to get less suitable for e-books with each version upgrade.

Adobe Digital Editions: reading e-books with open standards

Adobe realized that while PDF is great for some things (for instance textbooks with complicated illustrations and sidebars), at certain times, there is the need to support reflowable content. While PDF can support reflow to some limited extent, it's not its strong suit. This is especially true for mobile devices, which are getting increasingly popular for reading e-books (like in the Far East) and for which reflowable content is a precondition. So until now, the average non-technical consumer was faced with a myriad of alternative choices, including MobiPocket PDB, Microsoft LIT, Sony BBeB, eReader PalmDoc, and other more obscure formats, making it almost impossible to figure out what e-book format makes sense for him. Also publishers have not been vastly amused by the higher cost involved to distribute in all these formats, especially when they had to pay e-book conversion houses on a per-title basis.

To address the problem of format confusion and DRM hassles rapidly and effectively, Adobe has joined the IDPF and worked together with publishers, authors, hardware and software providers, service providers, retailers and organizations on a new document format, OEB, and a new ZIP-based container format, OEBPS OCF, which are both based on open standards. You can read more about IDPF and its rival OpenReader in Bob Russell's excellent essay The fight for a reflowable e-document standard. These proposed e-book standards are intended to enable consumers to buy any title from any source and view it on any e-book reader. In short: interoperability of e-book devices and formats - hopefully along with broader availability of content.

Which brings us to Adobe Digital Editions. It looks and feels a bit like the New York Times reader Microsoft has been working on. The main difference: it's built on open standards. And unlike Adobe Reader, it feels more lightweight, consumer-optimized and is simpler to use.

There are two key views of the application: reading view and library view. The reading view presents itself with a very simple user interface, where you can perform easy searches (nothing complex like regular expressions), switch to various reading modes, and view the table of contents (if available). If you don't move your mouse for a few seconds, you'll get a full-screen experience with the user interface temporarily disappearing. Like in Acrobat Reader, you can pan and zoom to your liking. In the library view you have the ability to organize and adjust your content. For instance, you can sort by author, title and so forth. You can also roll over content to get information (through metadata associated with the books). It's again kept very simple to streamline the user experience and make reading more pleasureable.

While you can read normal PDF documents with Digital Editions, what's really new and interesting to us is its ability to work with "liquid" reflowable textual content. This type of content will make a lot more sense on a small screen, where text size and presentation (including vector-based graphics) is automatically adjusted to the limited screen size. In addition, Adobe uses Extensible Style Language-Formatting Objects (XSL-FO) as a tool to adapt the major page layout depending on a combination of font size and screen size. For instance, if you have enough screen and smaller font size, you get three columns; but if you increase the font size, you'll get only two columns; and if you make the screen size smaller; the reader will automatically reduce to one column.

Many people still think e-books = PDF. Adobe is going beyond it and I am sure it'll take a while to sink in.

Facts you should know:
  • lightweight, 2.5MB free download (it's 10 times smaller than Adobe Reader)
  • seamless download and installation (no need to manually install the reader
  • just click on read and it will seemingly install)
  • download consists of a single executable (digitaleditions2x0.exe) which is when unpacked about 6.5MB in size
  • automatic updates
  • v1.0 release expected in early 2007
  • cross-platform: Windows (available 10/24), Mac OS X and Linux in the works
  • supports Adobe PDF, flowable XHTML-based content (OEB), Flash SWF for rich media (at some later stage)
  • works online and offline
  • remembers the last reading location and viewing mode for each e-book
  • simple search / go to page x / chapters (if supported by the document)
  • rendering technology is written in fast native C (and is the same rending code that is used for the Sony Reader)
  • user-interface/skin is based on Flash/Flex
  • works with existing Adobe Content Server eBook DRM and forthcoming hosted Digital Editions Protection Service
  • no longer requires a separate DRM activation step as previously required with eBook DRM for Adobe Reader 7

Limitations (found in a private beta, build code r226d27):
  • no audio output (tested with "Shrek Sound FX Edition" e-book)
  • no right mouse button context menu
  • no annotations
  • failed upon password-protected PDF (no error, just wouldn't open)
  • no option to manually adjust the size or appearance of fonts for PDF documents
  • lacks printing capabilities
  • no manual control over column formatting at a given screen and font size

Roadmap:
  • social networking (ability to share annotations and reading lists among a group of people)
  • browser-based operations (e.g. allow e-book retailers to offer sneak previews of e-books online)
  • new hosted content protection service (with content for the consumer not glued to one particular device)
  • contextual advertisement as a new business model for publishers
  • "push" delivery of content subscriptions/webcasts
  • mobile device versions of the software
  • multimedia interactivity to create new reading experiences

Screenshots:


Library Thumbnail view


Library List view


Reader Single Page view


Reader Double Pages view


Reader Fit to Width view


Reader Zoom view


Reader Gui disabled


Resized PDF content


Resized PDF content


Illustrated PDF content

Last edited by Alexander Turcic; 10-24-2006 at 10:15 AM. Reason: small correction OCF = container, OEB = e-book format
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Old 10-24-2006, 08:50 AM   #2
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Thank you for the screenshots Alex.

I tried to download the beta but it didn't work (returned some error). Will try again later...
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Old 10-24-2006, 09:19 AM   #3
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You can read Bill McCoy's official announcement here.

Adobe also has a few sample e-books that you can try with Digital Editions.
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Old 10-24-2006, 09:26 AM   #4
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Interesting. But is the only reason this is noteworthy is because it's Adobe? I'm not sure I buy their reasoning in how this is any better from any of the others that promise open standards. To me, it's just another reader application.

I'm jaded. Sorry!!!

m
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Old 10-24-2006, 09:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tcv
I'm jaded. Sorry!!!
No problem!

Well, first, there are currently only two specs being considered as possible future open e-book standards. Check out Bob's article for more.

Second, I think it's a major step, yes partly because it's a big name like Adobe who is behind this, but also because it's Adobe themselves who finally realized that PDF is a no-go for reflowable e-books. And with their strong ties to the publishing industry, it should be easier for an e-book standard to establish.

Of course I am hoping that other companies will follow and work on their own e-book software solutions based on the format that will become the future e-book standard.
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Old 10-24-2006, 09:46 AM   #6
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now, we need this for the Iliad...^^

I'm not going to read books on my desktop...ever!
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Old 10-24-2006, 09:56 AM   #7
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Cute. I like the interface. Pity it only reads PDF. There should be a "search and add batch to the library" function.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:11 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yvanleterrible
Cute. I like the interface. Pity it only reads PDF. There should be a "search and add batch to the library" function.
Plus OEB... which is I think the main news here.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:37 AM   #9
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This needs to be ported as a reader application to all mobile devices. In my opinion the e-book industry needs a single format to put the majority of its weight behind. This could be it if they can satisfy publishers with DRM concerns and consumers with device interoperability concerns then the format could go a long way.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:38 AM   #10
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Alex, I fail to understand your enthusiasm. Reading ebooks on a computer is something no one I know who reads ebooks wants to do. This would be significant if the reader were aimed at a handheld: as it is, the Adobe Reader for handhelds is simply the worst reader there is, and it is that reader that Adobe should be attempting to improve.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:40 AM   #11
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I downloaded this and none of the ebooks I have already purchased, that were sent to me from authors, or from the major publishers that were given as a "free tryout" had resizable text making the books virtually unreadable. The eye strain would kill you.

Am I missing something?

If you like that black background, ubook offers it too.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:41 AM   #12
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getting the PC software in place is a logical first step. Then you get device manufacturers on board.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:43 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ultim8fury
This needs to be ported as a reader application to all mobile devices. In my opinion the e-book industry needs a single format to put the majority of its weight behind. This could be it if they can satisfy publishers with DRM concerns and consumers with device interoperability concerns then the format could go a long way.
They are planning to support mobile devices in the long run. Bill McCoy from Adobe told me that according to their research (and I think they get it directly from the publishers), the majority of people who read e-books today are still using their laptops (think of public libraries where you can check out e-books to your computer). But he also said that if you look to Japan, where most cell phones already feature high-res displays, people tend to use their mobile devices more and more frequently for reading e-books.

It's definitely on Adobe's agenda to support mobile devices soon.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:44 AM   #14
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And don't forget to check out the free sample e-books... it's not just PD, but a mix. Reminds me of a free .lit giveaway that was partly responsible for my initial interest in e-books and MS Reader.

For example, they have these that look interesting enough to install the reader just for the purpose of reading them (well, if I get a UMPC or when it's available on PDAs eventually):

* Don't Know Much About History - Everything You Need to Know About American History But Never Learned, by Kennith Davis
* Death and the Senator by Arthur C. Clarke
* The Playground by Ray Bradbury
* Inside the Publishing Revolution, The Adobe Story by Pamela Pfiffner

Seems like reasonable incentive to give it a try.
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Old 10-24-2006, 10:46 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by da_jane
I downloaded this and none of the ebooks I have already purchased, that were sent to me from authors, or from the major publishers that were given as a "free tryout" had resizable text making the books virtually unreadable.
Only books in OEB format are "resizable" in the way that text and graphics reflow properly (that's the whole idea of abandoning PDF). I am not sure if any of the current freebies are offered in OEB. I'll have a look.
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