EPUB: It's open and it's cool

In the school of the future you will walk through the gates and your slate will sync all of the days notes, bulletins, schedules and worksheets courtesey of EPUB...trees* will be saved the planet will be happier. I think it is pretty obvious to...

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In the school of the future you will walk through the gates and your slate will sync all of the days notes, bulletins, schedules and worksheets courtesey of EPUB...trees* will be saved the planet will be happier.

I think it is pretty obvious to all now that the slate revolution is going to happen very quickly. Apple’s ability to be so cool and Kindle’s ridiculously convenience has forced everyone’s hand and we are to be deluged with the devices.

A lot of the ‘oh I can use it for something useful’ impetus is thanks in no small part to the e-reader. Reading books and papers on electronic devices is not weird-geek anymore. In fact with the latest generation of screens reading is a pleasure. Reading is a core activity for most of us so the better slates are less likely to end up in the drawer next to the discarded palmtops (remember?).

The Times promotes the iPad so hard that James Murdoch’s protest about ‘ the cannibalisation of newspapers’ by e-readers such as the Kindle and iPad sounds a little disingenous as he rubs his hands over all that subscription revenue. It surely follows that all documents, not just books, magazines and papers will find a natural home on the e-readers rather than the laser printer and photocopier.

This will be especially true in schools who have so so many sheets of printed materials....or rather it will be, just as soon as saving one’s works in electronic publishing format (EPUB) becomes as easy as saving as PDF.

Below is the idots guide as to do just that while we wait for Oracle to add the EPUB feature to Open Office (ho ho).

EPUB et al

The knowledgble reader will be thinking at this point, ‘why is he banging on about EPUB?..doesn’t he know just how many other e-reader formats are around?’ Yes I do (ePub, FB2, LIT, LRF,MOBI, OEB, PDB, PDF, TCR.) and before I go on please let me recommend the superb MobileRead wiki for ‘e-chapter and verse’ on all things e-reader.

The truth is I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for the lot. If we the consumer had a penny for every trade that used restrictive practices to maintain its profits we too would be rich beyond words.

Vendor driven proliferation of file formats racing to create de-facto standards have bedevilled the music, movie and book market and turned a generation of kids into pirates.

The truth is the days of de-facto proprietary formats must be nearly over..but if you still believe this kind of stuff then Microsoft has a free SDK for their .LIT format. Then when Windows & embedded slates have 80% of the market that would be a good bet..but until then.

I’m sticking with two open converters and one open format.

I use them to convert all the material I have for students. Some worksheets are mine others have had the photocopy rights purchased at great expense. As an aside so far I have not manged to encourage the Management or any Local Authority types to distribute their blurb in EPUB as well as PDF format (you’d have thought the Suits would kill for a company iPad?).

My choices below are in no way meant to disparage the efforts of the many others out there. There is a lot to choose from and many features for each but for the life of me I cannot think of why I would invest in closed commercial software to produce a proprietary format..who do I back? Betamax or VHS? BlueRay or whatever the other one is called?

For example, chatting to a major school text book publisher it became apparent that they wanted a format that would be able to replicate the ‘comic book ‘style of presentation favoured by modern text books even though this would be technically very expensive and would restrict the range of e-readers.

They were thinking of linking up with hardware manufacturers to binary market their goods...It’s a poor business model as it kills confidence to purchase e-reader enable devices and poor value for consumers who are already the victims of extortion by text book upgrade.

EPUB format.

Wikipedia says:

EPUB (short for electronic publication; alternatively capitalized as ePub, ePUB, EPub, or epub, with "EPUB" preferred by the vendor) is a free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).

It’s great, a free and open standard with reflowable text (ie fits all screens) allows vector and raster images, CSS too and XML extensions..that’ll do for me.

Online Web Service

I have a complete weakness for the free ePub Converter (www.2epub.com). They make it so easy, just dump your doc or pdf into the box press convert and wait a few secs, then download.

Cheers folks much appreciated and as a bonus it’s based on free, open source software. Speaking of which the web site makes a lot of use of the folloing software:

Offline Software: Calibre

Calibre (was called Libprs500) is a full ebook management program. It is free, open source and cross-platform from Kovid Goyal. Calibre is meant to be a complete e-library solution and as such converts all sorts of formats, manages whole libraries and even can convert RSS feeds.
Calibre really is a COMPLETE solution so it may be more than you need but it’s a slick program and really easy to use, try it for yourself.

Calibre by the way only works with non-DRM versions of all the eBook formats.

Summary

EPUB and the electronic slate are set to revolutionise how we consume the printed word. Possibly, just possibly, it soon won’t be embarrssing to mention ‘the paperless office’ once again.

*Given that a tree produces 8,500 sheets of paper and the average student now consumes 3,000 sheets per year and a school has (say) a thousand students and the UK has about 4, 500 secondary schools then that’s about 300 trees per school per year, or if you prefer, over a million trees...or about 3,500 acres of forest (or all the trees in Surrey).