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Let battle commence

发布时间:2019-03-08 08:02:16来源:未知点击:

By Kurt Kleiner in Washington DC PUBLISHERS are up in arms about a proposal by Microsoft to use an electronic book format developed for the Internet. With many publishers supporting a rival, higher-quality format, an industry-wide agreement is needed to avert a damaging Betamax versus VHS-style standards war. The text of some books has been readable on computers for some years. But manufacturers are beginning to produce hand-held devices, dubbed e-books, into which such text is downloaded, and paid for, via the Internet. E-books have several advantages over old-fashioned paper books: some are backlit and can be read in the dark, you can annotate and search for your favourite passages, and some let you change the type size. Unlike computers, however, e-books will only be able to cope with one file format. Microsoft wants to use a format based on HTML, the language used for Internet documents. But other companies would rather adopt the Portable Document Format (PDF) standard for electronic documents developed by Adobe Systems, which is already widely used in the publishing industry. Last month, NuvoMedia of Palo Alto, California, launched the “Rocket eBook”, a reader based on HTML. The paperback-sized device has enough memory for 4000 pages of text and sells for $499. Other companies are launching rival versions, but without a standard electronic file format from the outset, consumers may be afraid to commit early to a format that could become obsolete. Microsoft wants to use XML—an extended version of HTML (“A new dawn”, New Scientist, 30 May, p 34). This is an open, non-proprietary standard set by the non-profit making World Wide Web Coalition. The advantage of using XML is that e-books would be compatible with Web browsers and they would also allow readers to make changes such as marginal notations. “The goal is to create as many titles as possible, and win as many customers as possible—as fast as possible,” says Dick Brass, the Microsoft vice-president who is leading the company’s efforts to establish an e-book standard. “The idea is to get e-books off the ground.” While NuvoMedia backs Microsoft’s plan, others are pushing for the PDF format. PDF is a proprietary but open format owned by Adobe: anyone can write and sell a program that can read PDF files, but Adobe holds the rights to programs that create PDF format documents. That means Adobe would get a licensing fee from anyone publishing text for an e-book. But Daniel Munyan, chief executive of Everybook of Middletown, Pennsylvania, which plans to launch an e-book, says PDF not only has technical advantages over HTML, but is already the de facto standard in the publishing industry. Many paper publishers already use the PDF format. This means they have a lot of titles that are ready to be sold as electronic books with minimal changes. “It’s important that the publishers set the standard,” Munyan says. PDF is a high-quality format that exactly reproduces a document’s original layout and should look better on an e-book screen. But Joe Sachs, chief executive officer of Softbooks, says PDF files are too big,