eReaders on the #nook and #n900

Last week, my wife got a Nook eReader as a birthday present. We've talked a bit about eReaders and have put off getting one. I've had a few concerns with eReaders. First, most of them so far seem to be too closed for my liking. You can't go in and make modifications. In many cases you are limited to where you can get your ebooks. Also, as the iPad and other slates or tablets become more popular, eReaders may end up being over taken by tablets before we know it.

Yet there it was, my wife's new piece of technology. I needed to make it as useful as possible, as well as explore the larger issues that it raises. As a Nokia N900 user, one of my thoughts was about how it would compare to the N900 as an eReader.

The Nook is a locked down Android based device. It comes with 2 Gig of diskspace, which they say is enough to hold around 1500 books. You can also put in an additional microSDHC card boosting the device up to 32 Gig. It turns out that the internal 2 Gig appears to be yet another microSDHC card, so it might be possible to swap it out with another 32 Gig microSDHC card, giving you a total of 64 Gig.

The early efforts to jailbreak the nook have been based on changing the files on the internal microSDHC card. It would seem as if a real interesting project would be if could be hacked to be multi-boot, e.g. standard Nook OS, Jailbroken Android, and MeeGo. However, my wife probably doesn't want me hacking around that much with her new eReader.

The Nook primarily reads books in the ePub format. This is the official standard of the International Digital Publishing Forum. It is an open standard which basically zips up the books content along with various descriptive information. It uses XML for a bit of this information.

On the N900, there are a few different eReaders that support epub. I had already installed FBReader, and found that it works nicely not only for epub books, but for many other formats as well. That said, I never really started using FBReader enough to get comfortable with it or to start regularly reading books on the N900 with FBReader.

As I started looking more closely, I also found Dorian. I installed it and started playing with it. Initially, there were a few aspects that I found frustrating. However, as I was testing, a new version came out which cleared up these problems. I've found it responsive and like the interface. I'm now starting to read a book using Dorian.

I also tried installing MeBook. It has run slowly on my machine and doesn't seem to work as nicely as Dorian or FBReader. So, for the time being, I'll be reading ebooks using Dorian, and switch over to FBReader for books in other formats that Dorian doesn't support.

The Nook has an advantage of having a larger screen and using eInk, which makes the text crisp and clear and uses less battery power. However, you need some sort of light for eInk. The N900, while it has a smaller screen works quite nicely as an eBook reader. If you are using it as your cellphone, it has the advantage of almost always being with you.

The next project was to find some good books to read. This is both for my own purposes as well as for my wife's purposes. I've always been a fan of Project Gutenberg and there are reportedly around 20,000 free ebooks there. I've found the Project Gutenberg interface easy to use and the books are well set up.

Google Books reportedly has around half a million books available. Unfortunately, the ones that I've tried have been very large files without a lot of good metadata. As a general rule, I'm unlikely to use books from Google Books unless it is the only place I can find them.'ve also tested a few other ebook sites like Feedbooks and They seem to be nice niche players with decent ebooks that I may search from time to time.

My wife installed Adobe Digital Editions on her laptop. She could then open any of the ebooks that I've downloaded from places like Project Gutenberg, and then copy them to her Nook.

Adobe Digital Editions also supports Digital Rights Management or DRM. Public libraries typically use DRM to make sure that you check out the book for a specific period. Our public library uses Overdrive which handles the DRM for them. We checked out a few books from our public library and loaded them onto my wife's Nook. Unfortunately, our library doesn't have as many books available as my wife would like and many of them were checked out. However, she has now read a couple library books this way. Unfortunately, I have found no way to read books with DRM on the N900.

While I am not a big fan of DRM, I can see how they make sense for some publishers and libraries. Ideally, publishers and libraries will start moving away from DRM. Some publishers have and it has boosted their sales. Until that time, it would be great if there was some way of reading DRMed books on the N900.

One approach might be to get Adobe to support the N900 as an eBook reader similar to how it supports the Nook.

As a final note, it turns out that Overdrive is used by many libraries. They use the library card number, and if libraries have sharing agreements you may be able to check books out of libraries that are not where you live. Some people have said that you can get a New York City Public Library card which can be used to check books out of their libraries for $100/year. For a serious eBook reader, this might be a good deal. However, you can often get library cards for other places.

As an example, when we camped on Cape Cod, we stopped at the Truro public library. For five dollars a year, you can get a card for their library system, providing you have an address and phone number for a place where you are staying. You can then use this to check out ebooks from the Cape Cod Library system. Between the sites like Project Gutenberg, Google Books, specialty sites, and even free books from Barnes and Noble, there are lots of books available for eBook readers. If you include all the books that can be checked out of libraries if you have a reader with DRM capabilities, you can read much much more.

I expect that over the next few months I'll read quite a few books on my Nokia N900. I'm curious, are you reading ebooks? Where are you getting them? What devices are you reading them on?

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