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Bill Bennett

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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.

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