Microsoft plans to provide its ebook Reader free to Windows users in a bid to push the technology into the mass market.
The move coincides with the news that bookseller Barnes & Noble (B&N) has opened its online ebook store featuring the Microsoft technology. The retailer aims to make 2000 titles available for the ebook Reader with another 150 scheduled to be added every week.
Publishers Simon & Schuster, Time Warner Books and Random House also announced they would make their best-selling titles available in the Microsoft format at www.bn.com, the B&N website.
Microsoft Reader is designed to deliver on-screen computer text as an alternative way of reading books. The layout follows the style of a book and features electronic annotation tools. The technology has been shipping as part of Microsoft Pocket PCs since their launch in April.
Dick Brass, vice president for technology development at Microsoft, said: "This is a major milestone for the publishing industry and book lovers alike, offering anyone with a Windows-based computer the ability to easily experience the power of this new technology."
Although it will be available to consumers free of charge, publishers will be levied a small, per-copy, single-digit royalty, explained Brass.
As an initial incentive, B&N's online store will offer free downloads of 100 world classics including Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Simon & Schuster will also provide titles from authors Stephen Ambrose, Jackie Collins and Jerry Stiller.
The online store will allow consumers to buy and download ebooks as well as electronically purchase titles which can subsequently be printed out at home.
Microsoft also announced an ebook piracy initiative together with the Association of American Publishers aimed at preventing ebook hacking and theft by combining encryption technologies with enforcement and education.
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