They valiantly tried to come up with a hardware-software combo to help users survive the Tower of eBabel among major e-book formats.
In the end Laurent and Michaël failed. But it was a good fight and not their fault that they lost, even if they made some mistakes along the way.
Retracing L&M’s footsteps
Yesterday, tinkering with my used $155 tablet, the DT 375 (photo), also Windows CE-based, I was retracing the Bookeen duo’s footsteps in a sense. I managed to get an unsupported version of Microsoft Reader going with nice, sharp letters on the screen thanks to ClearType, albeit without DRM-related “features.” Unfortunately I lacked time for the Rube Goldbergish activation procedure. See the invaluable DT375.com site for more on the tablet’s use with Reader, while keeping in mind that I haven’t independently confirmed the findings there.
Earlier I was able to read another DRMish format, Mobipocket, again thanks to a link from DT375.com, and I found that Mobi nicely digested Snow Crash and The Diamond Age in a “protection”-tainted format that lawful users must suffer.
But Palm/eReader remained AWOL, because I couldn’t find a CE version that worked, regardless of a promising possibility on the eBookMall site. And PDF? I couldn’t read DRMed files, only the nonencrypted kind, via a bundled Microsoft PDF Viewer and the added Foxit Reader for Win CE 4.2.
The DT-uBook combo
Just like the Cybook, however, the DT 375 gets along beautifully with the uBook reader, which handles ASCII, HTML, TXT, RTF, nonDRMed PDB and nonencrypted PRC. uBook is the software—cost $15—that allowed the DT to display Moby Dick so well in the just-run photo.
Besides serving as an e-reading program, uBook lets me optimize the amount of bolding and control other variables to give me much-better-looking letters than otherwise. (Hint, hint to the dotReader folks and even to the majors: please don’t release at least the deluxe versions of future e-readers without these options for experienced users—-go beyond just the usual subpixel font rendering.)
So, yes, between uBook and Mobi and the rest, the DT 375 gives you some interesting software possibilities. I can even set up a button on the DT for “Page Forward” and “Page Back” (look for the button options within Win CE’s Control Panel). The button is at the bottom of the screen because of the way I’ve set up uBook and Mobipocket. Normally it would be off to the right side. You can also use your mouse wheel to change pages with uBook, Mobi and Microsoft Reader (although not Foxit). Or you can tap the screen. Remember, however: not all software will offer all options. For example—I need to check—I don’t think the old Microsoft Reader allows switches between portrait and landscape modes. Still, uBook and Mobipocket are far more fun for me anyway (even if the latter lacks a ClearType-quality display on the DT 375).
E-book machine in disguise
As far as I’m concerned, with the button in the proper place(s) for me, I’m using a dedicated e-book-reading machine. If you’re a technically sophisticated e-book-lover and miss the Cybook and want a CE device similar to it—although not exactly, since the DT’s screen is about eight inches, while the Cybook’s is 10 and there are other differences galore—then the DT375 would be worth a good look. It works beautifully for downloading books from public domain sites such as Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.neet.
Moreover, it’s closer than the Cybook to being a grown-up computer or at least an early adolescent; you get a full assortment of usable CE software. You can even use a mouse or keyboard with it. I’m don’t know about both at once, although presumably a USB hub would address that issue. So would the optional dock, which didn’t come with the uBid deal.
Far more important: The DT, the Cybook and the Tower of eBabel angle
Along the way last night, another conclusion emerged—of far greater importance to e-bookdom as a whole. I was reminded, in line with my thoughts earlier in this post, that it wasn’t just initially high hardware costs and competition from E Ink machines that killed off the Cybook.
No, it was also the Tower of eBabel and the people at Palm/eReader and Microsoft who didn’t make it practical for Laurent to license their proprietary software on his CE machine. And now Microsoft wants to shun the IDPF’s standard and bully hardware people and others again? This Windowscentric approach is a step backwards. I remember nostalgically when Microsoft’s original e-book guys—now retired—said they favored nonproprietary format standards and didn’t want early adopters to suffer VHS-vs.-Beta-style difficulties. Those were the days, my friend, and they did end.
No more Bookeen-style victims please, Bill
Simply put, Bill Gates needs to return to the original strategy of Dick Brass and Steve Stone and make certain that Microsoft’s next generation of e-reading software supports the IDPF standards.
I don’t want to see little hardware companies—in the Bookeen/Cybook vein—suffer once again at the hands of a software conglomerate. Mr. Andrew Carnegie II surely can do better if he truly believes in technology as a spreader of knowledge. If Microsoft really wants people to trust it over the long term, it might even play catch-up and do a modern version of the Microsoft Reader for all the CE releases. Come on; we’re talking about a company with a market cap approaching 300 billion—yes, nearing a third of a trillion. If Gates really is that much of a penny-pincher, then he should focus on better software rather than destructive e-format competition with the IDPF.
The IDPF isn’t my favorite organization, and the standard isn’t optimal, one reason why OpenReader is useful as a concept format. But as a format for real-world use, the IDPF standard is the way to go at this point—at least if we don’t want gems like the Cybook to be lost in the Tower of eBabel.
Needless to say, the same thoughts would apply to eReader. I’ll welcome any indication that its owners will back the IDPF standard in real life and in a timely way.
As for Adobe, it’s already in the standards fold and in fact helped get the IDPF initiative underway, having been prodded by the existence of the OpenReader Consortium, which I cofounded. I’d rather that OpenReader have won by being the actual standard, but the IDPF approach is far, far better than no standard at all (just so people are vigilant against creeping Flashism and the rest).
Meanwhile here are a few other DT-related odds and ends:
–Exact version of CE is Microsoft Windows CE .NET 4.2. Full specs are here. I fact, I’ll repo them below, as I may have done earlier.
–One of the biggest weaknesses of the tablet is as a Web browser. The Internet Explorer version supplied will not do justice to big, cluttered pages if you use it on the DT, even one with 128M of DRAM, twice the basic 64M. My DT choked on my personal Yahoo page; the whole machine froze. What’s more, I couldn’t reach the Washington Post‘s password-protected pages. I regard the difficulties as perhaps a Post problem, too, not just a DT problem or maybe a Microsoft flaw. Hello, Melinda Gates? Aren’t you on the board of the Washington Post Company? If it’s one cozy world, possibly you can make the best of fate and help both Microsoft and the Post by encouraging them to check out the glitch. (Whimsy alert.)
–If you do a hard reset, you may lose access to software you installed, so keep backups. While Mobipocket and uBook remained on my machine after a reset, I no longer saw the icons. Perhaps I’m overlooking something in CE. At any rate, try to avoid visiting Web sites that might lock up your machine and force you to do a full boot. DT375.com offers a free program called Soft Reset, which might reduce your chances of needing a hard reset although it comes with risks of its own. Perhaps old CE hands and other techies will weigh in with either (1) more suggestions in the same vein or (2) the news that I’ve overlooked something obvious, which I just might have.
–You can easily use the virtual pop-up keyboard built into the DT 375 for searching through e-books with Mobi, uBook or Microsoft Reader. Just press a button and the keyboard appears. The negative is that, when you’re filling out a Web form, the keyboard sometimes covers up the form, and you can’t move it out of the way.
–I’m happy that Amazon’s Mobipocket unit responded a little earlier than I’d expected to my request for permission to delete a hardware device so I could add my latest version of Mobi on the DT to the list of approved gizmos for the company’s DRM purposes. But I still find Mobi’s four-device limit to be excruciating and hope that the company will rethink its DRM. Mobipocket has the best ergonomics of all the e-reading software I’ve seen—one reason I spend so much time beating up on the accompanying DRM. I believe in redemption, and maybe some friendly reminders will help.
–At around two pounds according to the uBid specs, the DT is heavier than an E Ink machine like the Sony Reader, but it’s lighter than the typical Tablet PC. What’s more, I like not having to worry about the noise and fragility of a hard drive. Not that you can drop the DT on the floor and expect it to survive. If you take it to bed and move around a lot, maybe you can have an old pillow resting on the floor nearby, just in case the DT slides off.
–Don’t expect tech support from the seller of the machine, whatever it is (the uBid page doesn’t identify the vendor).
Note: I regard the Cybook that Laurent sent me to be a long-term loaner (as opposed to a gift). It’s available for OpenReader-related development. In time I’ll consult with him about its fate. One possibility, if he approves, is to make it available to a public library or to an individual librarian or library student keen on participating in a major way in the LibraryCity project. Anyone interested? No promises! I’m just exploring possibilities. I know of one donation candidate even now.
Specs from uBid
Features and Benefits
Part Number- DT375
Processor- Intel PXA250 400MHz XScale
Operating System- Microsoft Windows CE .NET 4.2
Software- Windows Media Player, Java Virtual Machine, Acrobat PDF and Microsoft Office Suite Viewers
Memory (RAM)- 64 MB Flash Memory and 128 MB SDRAM
Display- Brilliant 8.4″ TFT Active Touchscreen Color Matrix LCD at 800 x 600 SVGA resolution
Audio- Full 16-bit audio with stereo; Headphone jack; built-in stereo speakers and microphone
Technical Features-1 CompactFlashTM slot, 1 PC Card slot, USB port, Programmable 4-way navigation button and multiple hard buttons
Video- 800 x 600 SVGA resolution
Wireless Network Support- Professional PC Wireless Network Support – Bluetooth, and wireless WAN options available
Input-I ntegrated touch screen display with “on screen” soft keyboard support; Display rotation
Dimensions- 7.9″ H x 9.6″ W x 0.8 D
Weight- 1.9 lbs.
AC Adapter- Included
Functions that are available (Built In):
-Browse the Internet (Requires a modem or network adapter)
-Send and receive Email (Requires a modem or network adapter)
-Remotely control a PC with Windows XP Professional installed (Remote Desktop Connection)
-Play and record audio files
-Play video files with Media Player 9
-View Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files
-Word processing with WordPad
The elegant combination of the Intel Xscale processor, Microsoft Windows CE .NET operating system, full color screen, wireless networking support, together with Citrix ICA and Microsoft RDP client/server computing protocols – makes the DT375 a superior and compelling solution for mobile network connectivity and information access.
The system offers access to the Internet, Intranet, server and web-based business applications. The DT375 is enhanced by a comprehensive layer of applications and features – e.g., Internet Explorer browser, terminal emulation and protocols, information management and synchronization utilities, device management, inking, handwriting recognition, on- screen keyboard – to result in a compelling wireless and mobile computing tool.
This unit is Refurbished and in 100% functional condition. The unit/lcd may have minor scratches and/or blemishes.
This unit includes a carrying case, AC Adapter, extra battery, CF 56K Modem Card, and 64 MB CF Card. This unit has a 30 day warranty.