When Microsoft closes its Reader e-book service next year, the .lit format e-books will be unreadable.

While paper books may not last forever, they don’t suddenly become unreadable when someone elsewhere in the world clicks a mouse.

When I heard Microsoft Reader was closing I reinstalled the software. I wanted to check my book collection and decide whether to shift the e-books to a new format so I can read them when the service closes.

Microsoft Reader is already dead

Installing Microsoft Reader on my Windows 7 64-bit desktop PC was easy, reading my stored books wasn’t.

According to Microsoft, the application was last updated in May 2005. That rings alarm bells. I’ve gone through two desktops, two laptops and two new versions of Windows since then.

Downloading was instant. You need to ‘activate’ the software before use – which was thankfully as straightforward as a single mouse click.

To test the software I downloaded a free book – it worked fine. However, when I tried to open an e-book from my library I ran into problems.

Digital Rights Management rears its ugly head

Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) protects my e-book from piracy. Microsoft Reader told me: “You must reactivate in order to open this title”.

That process never worked.

The activation process needs Internet Explorer and a Microsoft PassPort account. Jumping through those two hoops – I haven’t used either in years and not at all on my new machine – took five or ten minutes.

When I finally got to the site there was a 500 Internal server error. I tried maybe 20-odd times but could get no further. So the book I paid money for less than 10 years ago is no longer accessible because of a fault on a Microsoft server.

What does this tell us about the e-book market?

Converting to other e-books formats

People helpfully suggested I converted my e-books to other e-book formats. A smart idea, so I gave it a shot. The free books converted straight away, the DRM-protected books wouldn’t convert.

A closer look told me there was only one paid-for e-book that was potentially still of interest – I could happily junk the others and not care about them.

What I did next is probably illegal – albeit in a minor and perfectly justifiable way. I found a pirated .pdf copy of the book online (you’ll notice I’ve been careful not to name it).

A quick download and five minutes of flicking through convinced me I don’t need to jump through any further hoops. I can happily drop Microsoft Reader and the books and be no poorer for the experience.

As the headline says Microsoft Reader is dead. It also showed us what was wrong with ebooks. 

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