Microsoft has joined forces with publishers and electronic manufacturers to establish a set of open technical standards for the emerging electronic book market.
Electronic or ?ebooks? are digital versions of printed books which can be displayed on specialised portable reading devices or desktop and portable PCs.
Companies working with software giant on the ?Open ebook? standard include publishers Bertelsmann, Harper Collins, Penguin Putnam, Simon & Schuster, Time-Warner Books and Microsoft Press.
The online bookseller barnesandnoble.com, manufacturer Hitachi and Internet audio book distributor Audible will be represented, as will ebooks pioneers Every Book, Glassbook, Librius, Nuvo Media and Softbook Press. More companies are expected to join the effort over the coming months.
The companies plan to collaborate on a common set of file specifications that will allow a title to be read on all machines compliant with the standards. An open standard will allow publishers to reach a wide audience without separately reformatting their titles for each machine.
"The goal is to create as many titles as possible, and win as many customers as possible - as fast as possible," said Dick Brass, vice president for technology development at Microsoft, who heads the company's ebook efforts. "The idea is to get ebooks off the ground," he continued.
Brass stressed that the "Open ebook" standard will be designed so that early purchasers of ebook titles will be able to read their "books" on all devices supporting the standard. "There will be no penalty for buying early," he said.
The Open ebook specification for ebook file and format structure will be based on the popular HTML and XML languages used to format information for Web sites.
The specification, which will be available free of charge to all interested users, is designed to allow compatibility between many different types of ebook devices, including conventional PCs and notebooks, as well as the specialised reading appliances that are now beginning to appear.
While ebooks have a great potential to lower publishing and book costs and ease distribution, past attempts to launch devices have been unsuccessful, primarily because they have been expensive and bulky.
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