The eBook is a technology that’s been coming ‘Real Soon Now’ for some years. You’ve been able to read a whole book on your PC, notebook or PDA for a while, but so far comparatively few (484,933 sales in Q2, 2005*) regularly do so. Adobe’s introduction of Digital Editions aims to change that. In the same way that it’s made the PDF file ubiquitous for disseminating documentation and sales materials, the company clearly hopes to do the same for the .epub electronic book.
.epub encompasses two formats, one for the structure of an eBook, known as the Open Publication Structure (OPS) and the other an Open Container Format (OCF), both developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). OPS uses the XML format as its basis, and works with elements of XHTML, too, to provide a format that most eBook publishers should be able to work with.
The idea behind OCF is that you bundle the text of an eBook, any digital signature, ownership rights and encryption into a zip-compressed format, which can then be read over a wide platform of readers. Looking under the surface, the key words in OCF seem to be ‘signature’ and ‘rights’, as it looks as though we’ll see more Digital Rights Management (DRM) in eBooks, as we have in music and video distribution.
Adobe Digital Editions is the first big-name eBook reader to adopt the epub format though as you would expect it can also read PDF files. It’s a small, freeware applet, like Adobe Reader, but considerably simpler. You can download it from here in a couple of minutes.
We’re seeing a good few examples of daft design around at the moment, the prime example being the London Olympics logo, and Adobe isn’t in the clear either. Digital Editions is wonderfully realised in black on black. Slight exaggeration, as the text is in white and orange, but the window furniture is in very dark grey on a black background, making it hard to see and use.
The Digital Editions reader is a single black panel, which can display two views: Library and Reading. Library view shows the eBooks you have installed on your computer, by thumbnailing their front covers, if these are provided in the eBook files. To the left of these is a stylised tree display of books you have ‘borrowed’, purchased or read recently and a thumbnail of the last eBook you loaded. Clicking on any of the book thumbnails opens the corresponding eBook.