Because eBooks are still a new phenomenon, the field is fragmented both in terms of hardware, and software. Despite this, the main competitors are already becoming obvious. Adobe has long been associated with distribution of platform independent texts in portable document format ( .pdf ) and  Adobe Acrobat Reader has been the standard tool for viewing these texts. In order to extend their dominance in the electronic publishing business to eBooks, Adobe acquired Glassbook. In doing so they gained their reader software renamed the Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader. This in turn Adobe has now bundled with its later versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader.

        Microsoft have a tradition of producing software that whilst initially weak and feature-lacking, is aggressively marketed to the extent where brand overcomes quality. Subsequent application versions tend to improve progressively as market share increases and in some cases are now the best available. Office 2000 is a good example of this. Microsoft have a reputation for using such tactics to overcome initially superior competitors and have already struck deals with Amazon and Franklin to support Microsoft Reader. How they will fare in competition with Adobe remains to be seen. Suffice to say, that the debut version of  Microsoft Reader failed to impress. However later versions have improved the product substantially.

As well as the established products described below, anyone purchasing a handheld, PocketPC device, such as the HP iPAQ, should consider the free newly-developed µBook software, a review of which you can read here. 


This free application (now incorporated in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader from version 6 onwards...follow the link to view the Adobe offering) is the most advanced reader software on the market with a plethora of features. Text sharpening technology is available to improve the resolution of text on low quality laptop displays. The "back" option in the built-in browser works as per a web browser allowing multiple hyperlinks to be followed and retraced. All bookmarks in the text are fully accessible and there is an option to add further book-marked notes of your own as well as specific text highlights. A read-to-me feature is included for the blind allowing text to be read by a limited computerized voice.



Internet Explorer 4,5,or 6 or beyond, must be installed. Though any browser may be set as the default browser.



The read-to-me feature is advertised as functional with Windows 2000 and beyond only. Whilst it is certainly non-functional with Windows 95, it has been successfully tested on a Windows 98 system with Internet Explorer 5, DirectX 7.0 and Windows Media Player 7.0 installed.



Adobe Acrobat Reader (Glassbook) takes files with the extension ".pdf"




This application , whilst also free, is more basic than Adobe's. Microsoft have introduced "ClearType" text technology to smooth text on low resolution LCD screens, but the overall package is a little less user-friendly. The "Return" option in the built in browser is not only hidden in a sub-menu but is limited, allowing only one hyperlink to be followed before the original position within the text is lost. Hyper-linking is now fast enough to be effectively usable within large ( 500 pages plus ) documents though the initial file load is still slow. The text size is changed manually rather than via a zoom feature which may cause problems with the layout of ordered documents. That said Microsoft Reader files are very compact and are readable on both the Franklin eBookMan and PocketPCs ( multipurpose handheld PCs with the ability to run miniaturized versions of most Microsoft applications ). There is also a powerful text to speech facility downloadable from the same Microsoft site as the reader, which has good tone and phrasing.



Microsoft Reader takes files with the extension ".lit"



The Mobipocket Reader was designed as cross-platform software for a wide range of PC and PDA platforms and as such is relatively low on functionality in it's PC incarnation. It is basically a cut-down version of Microsoft Reader without the "ClearType" text technology but with all the deficiencies. The software is useful as a tool to preview texts when publishing in the Mobipocket .rca format but not for much else. See the hardware readers section for details of how this software really comes into its own.



Mobipocket Reader takes files with the extension ".rca"