In my previous article I talked about the iPhone Stanza and the ePub format that it supports. There are numerous ebook formats, many developed to be used on specific hardware. For example, the .lit format is a proprietary format readable by devices that run some version of Microsoft Reader. Palm devices can read the “plucker” format and the newer Amazon Kindle devices have yet another format. The underlying business model is obvious. Buy a vendor’s device then continue to buy ebooks that the device can read.
Actually there is much commonality between the formats and they often can be converted from one format to another. Let’s begin with two basic formats, pdf and html. Either of these can be used to construct a very readable ebook organized into chapters and etc. with links to allow navigation. They differ in that pdf is an image format and html is text. Nevertheless, converters are available that will convert either to the other. Most mobile devices will read one or the other, at worst an html file will open in a web browser.
The epub format is an attempt to provide a cross platform solution to reading ebooks on numerous devices. It is based on a version of html called xhtml. If you take a .epub file, unzip it then change the file extension of the output to .html (or .xhtml) you have a file readable with a browser. The reverse process is also true. You can now go on to convert an html to pdf. So if an ePub file is nothing more than a form of html why bother with it? The answer is that with ePub, your document behaves like a real book. You can set bookmarks, have a table of contents and browse.For a short document pdf might be a better choice but your device must support it. Can you open a pdf in your Kindle?
Stanza has a desktop edition available for both Windows and Mac. This app will allow you to sync your ebooks that reside on your desktop computer to your mobile device with the Stanza app installed. This can be extremely useful if you satisfy the hardware/software requirements. Does that leave us Linux folk out in the cold? Not at all.
Calibre is a cross platform app available for Mac, Linux and Windows. Calibre will convert between a number of formats AND sync to your mobile device. In just a few minutes I installed calibre on my Ubuntu box. I had a ebook in pdf format that I wanted to add to my Stanza bookshelf on my iPod Touch. It took calibre about 15 seconds to convert the 8MB file. The program offered two options to sync the file to the Touch. I could ether email it via gmail or run a built-in server. I opted for the server. Returning to the Touch I added the desktop computers URL to Stanza’s remote libraries. In a few seconds the ebook was in the Touch. Very impressive.
Generally, file converters will not work for files that have been encrypted to protect copyright infringement(DRM). In time, hackers usually crack the code reducing the encryption to a nuisance. On a Linux machine “convert lit” abbreviated to “clit” will convert a .lit file to .html. With the library “libtomath” installed the encryption is defeated. There is undoubtedly a Windows equivalent but you’ll have to Google or Bing for it yourself.