Death of Microsoft Reader shows ebook flaw

Microsoft’s decision to kill its Reader ebook software is no surprise.

When it launched in 2000, Microsoft Reader wasn’t bad. Reader used Microsoft’s ClearType font technology to make text more readable on the relatively low-resolution screens common at the time.

Over the years Reader was neglected. Other ebook formats – often built around hardware – zoomed past Microsoft in terms of technology and popularity.

My e-book library

I own a small library of ebooks in Microsoft’s .lit format. Or at least I did. Only a handful of titles and only one that I paid money for.

The books in question are stored somewhere in a back-up on one of the half-dozen or so drives sitting in my home office. I haven’t looked at them in years and I haven’t even bothered to install the Microsoft Reader software on my latest Windows 7 desktop and laptop – that decision alone speaks volumes.

I probably won’t need to read those ebooks again. If I wanted to, it would be a struggle.

Flawed e-book technology

And that’s the hidden flaw behind all proprietary ebook technologies. They are not timeless.

The problem isn’t just data formats. I’ve documents stored on floppy disks I’ll never access again. A few years ago I threw out 3 inch floppies (a proprietary format from the early 1980s) and the older 5.25 inch discs. At one point I had 8 inch floppies. If those discs contained documents, they are lost forever.

Print books go on effectively for ever. There are many books in my physical library that are older than me. I once read a 400 year old book. Hell, scholars can read Ancient Greek documents and even older works. Soon, it’ll be a huge mission to read something published for Microsoft Reader.

Enduring formats

While today’s popular ebook formats may last longer than Microsoft Reader, only a fool would assume they will be around for more than a few years.

In the meantime I plan to find a way of converting .lit files to another format for when I need those books again.

6 thoughts on “Death of Microsoft Reader shows ebook flaw

  1. This kind of thing bothers me. Formats come and go. So do media types for that matter.. Not to mention degradation or other failures that may occur over time to render hard drives or DVDs useless.

    Long live dead tree books!

    That said I have a collection of free ones (ePub format) and non free ones (PDFs). I’m guessing PDF will be around for a while yet. In any case the paid for PDFs are typically technical reference type books so they tend to have a limited life anyway.

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  2. .epub is a safe standard, at least while .zip files exist as all they are simply zipped packages of HTML files. ebooks, like any digital content, need to be managed and updated to newer formats should old formats become obsolete. Calibre is a great open source application that manages ebook libraries and – even more importantly – allows ebooks to be converted to different formats for the different readers. It can’t handle ebooks that are protected by DRM, but that’s a different issue. You can grab Calibre at http://calibre-ebook.com/

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  3. There is a program that goes by the dubious name of Clit that will strip out all the .lit formatting and leave you with a text file. It works even on copy-protected .lit files – once more demonstrating how utterly pointless copy protection is.

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  4. Easy format conversion us mo problem with programmed like Calibre. The real bug bear is DRM – the sooner that is done away with the better.

    Actually I find that since I got my eReader obtaining and reading 400 years old books has become much easier. I have been reading some of Galileo’s works and documents of his trial. Many of these are available on line and often free. I can get them quickly and read them in comfort as I would a pBook. In the past such pBooks were not easy to find, often requiring visits to academic libraries. Who would take that effort?

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    • Yes, as my next post points out, that DRM is the killer.

      Interesting observation about free online books. The first out-of-copyright e-book I found on Microsoft’s site was Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. There’s a metaphor there.

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  5. What you describe is the problem with proprietary standards and not the problem of e-books themselves. Those proprietary standards are a necessary part of capitalism and the need for restriction to boost profits.

    e-books are great and can and will last as long as printed books. In fact, they could last longer as it’s actually easier and cheaper to maintain backups.

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