March 19, 2009

Another Take on Open vs. Closed [9:15 am]

I have to confess — I really wanted to like the new Sony eBook Reader. As a way to carry large volumes of content when on the road (a professional necessity in my case, between teaching materials, paper reading & editing, and other materials), it seemed so much less painful than stacks of dead tree slices or PDFs on a laptop. But the closed architecture (yes, yes — it will take in PDFs, but only in the most limited way possible, and particularly ineffectively for someone with eyes as old as mine) of their file format (not to mention their focus upon the Windows platform - read the fine print!), I had to take it back. Now, we get this odd partnership: Sony and Google Announcing E-Book Partnership (pdf)

Aiming to outdo Amazon.com and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

[...] Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.

If one could only reasonably expect that Sony will adopt this format for their reader. But, this is Sony — the champions of control over openness (a/k/a willing to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face — so I expect that what will happen instead will be that they will instead helpfully “translate” ePub files into the Sony format. (Note that, in order to get at the Google books, one must employ the Sony eBook Library Software. As the text on the page notes: “PRS-500 [the 1st generation product reader] is not currently compatible with the books from Google.” That could mean many things, of course.))

*sigh* You have to wonder what Akio Morita would suggest.

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