Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Free e-books and readers

Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, James Joyce..? How about The Kama Sutra? How about a complete library of the classics for free that you can carry around on your laptop, a digital reader, your PDA or your cell phone? Welcome to the 21st century, welcome to the public domain, welcome to open source software.

I was happy as a lark when I downloaded Kindle for PC software from for free recently, then purchased a bestseller for ten bucks. As happy as I was, I kept poking around. I figured there must be some free reading material out there somewhere. Well there is - books in the hundreds of thousands. They may not work on Kindle (I'm still checking on that), but not to worry, the software to read these books is also free. And it works pretty good.

I started my search by Googling "ebooks." There was a wealth of information. But I didn't need to go beyond the first page of results to find out what I suspected, that there are loads of free classics on the Internet.

This all happened late last night, so I am sure I have barely scratched the surface. Here is what I have so far: If you go to the Adobe Digital Editions download site, you will be able to download a nifty reader that works with a number of different formats. They also have a small library of free books to download. Some of these are in the epub format, which allows for all the same features that I have with my Kindle and more, including being able to resize the font. Most of them, however, are in the familiar PDF format, which I find to be more difficult to read and does not allow for many of the features that come with epubs.

But wait, there's more. I soon located the site for Project Gutenberg, an open source provider of books that are in the public domain. Ta da! They have over 30,000 books and links to over 100,000 more in a variety of formats- all for free. I became a crazed download maniac staying up past my bedtime, downloading a library of classics, some old familar favorites, like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Moby Dick, some stuff I was never able to get through and figured I give it another shot, maybe on a plane to Singapore or Hong Kong, like Ulysses, and digital stacks of books that are mainstays of our literature that I never got around to reading that I won't name in order to protect my ignorance.

Each one of these books, Ulysses included, downloaded in just a couple seconds. I chose the epub format for its extra features.

The Gutenberg site is especially interesting. They have books in many languages and formats, including audio versions for some.

The Adobe Digital Editions reader is also an excellent alternative to the Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing PDFs. Most new products do not come with hard copy manuals, but instead refer you to a Website where you can download a PDF version. Digital Editions provides an excellent way of saving, organizing and reading these manuals.

According to the Guttenberg site, I should be able to read their books on my Kindle software, as well. If I figure out how to do that, I will let you know. But I suspect the Kindle for PC software is designed only for use in conjunction with the Website. That may be different for the hand-held Kindles.

Gillette doesn't make money on razors, Kodak didn't make money selling cameras, HP doesn't make money selling printers; the real profit has always been in the stuff you need to buy to make these products work. Fortunately, there's a lot of free stuff on the Internet. You just have to go out there and find it.

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