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Infogrid Pacific and Adobe Offer EPUB Creation for Desktop and Cloud
Google Book Search results reflow for mobile devices
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2009-03-29 12:10 (KST)   
It is now easier to create new content in the EPUB format, used as a standard for e-books. Infogrid Pacific have released eScape, described as a "converter" from Open Office to EPUB, not a plug-in. Also Adobe have added an "export as EPUB" option to the menu for Buzzword, a cloud-based document editor. Adobe have several cloud-based applications that are not yet as well known as the desktop offers. Google now support EPUB as well as PDF for the books they have scanned from libraries so there will be more interest in the format and in making it easier for more people to create new content.

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On the "Publishing with XML" blog it is explained that eScape is a response to the frequent requests to publish in EPUB from Open Office. However the EPUB works around the structure of the XML and the styling is added through Cascading Style Sheets. So they provide an OTT (Open Office Writer Template) with no headers or footers but about 30 custom styles and an assumed page size of 6 x 9 inches. There is more documentation if you download eScape but the basic point seems to be that if you just expect your Open Document to be saved as EPUB then you have left it too late to ask for help. Things will only work if you accept the suggested method at the earliest stage.

It is interesting that Infogrid Pacific are very concerned to follow the standards for EPUB as published by the International Digital Publishing Forum when developing Azardi, their own reader software for EPUB. The "Using EPUB" blog looks at the specified requirement that fonts be in the manifest and the complexity around the Adobe Digital Editions Reader (ADE).
Unfortunately the Adobe EPUB Best Practices EPUB doesn't put the fonts in the manifest. Nor do the few other books we have seen that are created with InDesign. Oops. They use a pure CSS-3 font path statement. OK it works in ADE, but it probably shouldn't.

It makes sense that if the application has the font available, the CSS only needs standard font statements to display the appropriate font without loading up with local path statements.

So now we had a problem. Our objective is a "strict" EPUB reader. If we are looking in the manifest for fonts, and they are not there, and we don't go looking through the package, Adobe app generated books are not going to look as wonderful on AZARDI. Do we go with the 800lb gorilla and cover the font src descriptor in CSS statement. The specification says the scr descriptor must be supported and we do. However we took the high path, we don't support font loading if the fonts are not in the manifest. We would love to be corrected if we are wrong with this approach. This is possibly one of those grayish areas where we hack around with interpretation, we miss the purpose of something as vital as the manifest. This is reinforced in the OPF required file statement.

Having said that, we are not exactly perfect. Due to limitations in the current version of Qt, the development application, we currently only support TTF - no OTF yet. But our intentions are honorable and this will be changed as soon as possible.
This is quoted at length to illustrate that EPUB is definitely an open standard. PDF is also a standard with ISO review, but Adobe is capable of introducing a new cycle of PDF if there is a requirement in new software design. With EPUB there is an open discussion around standards at an early stage in the life of the format.

Buzzword screenshot
©2009 Will Pollard / Adobe
Bill McCoy, General Manager of the Adobe EPUBlishing Business blogs a "big shoutout" for Aspose, who develop the import/export filters. So far there appears to be no support for a contents structure from headings as Buzzword itself is intended for shorter documents. However the Buzzword approach to offer applications through a browser means that the content may be easier to reformat for EPUB standards such as XHTML. Adobe could have potential here but it is interesting that so far they are buying in the development. Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch seems more interested in Flash than anything to do with text.

McCoy has also commented on the Google decision to make scanned books found through Google Book search available in EPUB format. Compared to PDF, EPUB is easier to reflow for the display on mobile devices as there is less restriction to the look of a printed page. Adobe expect that implementation of their software development kits will result in more devices capable of displaying EPUB in a similar way to the Sony Reader. As reported by Brad Stone in the New York Times. Google have scanned about seven million books in university and research libraries since 2004, of which half a million are out of copyright as published before 1923. Steve Haber, president of the digital reading business division of Sony Electronics, explained the Sony support for EPUB. "We have focused our efforts on offering an open platform and making it easy to find as much content as possible, and our partnership with Google is another step in that direction."

Calibre screenshot
©2009 Will Pollard
A limitation for the Sony Reader is that the software for loading files is only available for Windows. However it is possible to load directly to a memory card and this will then be recognised. eBook management software from Calibre appears to include this function. According to the website "calibre is meant to be a complete e-library solution and thus includes library management, format conversion, news feeds to ebook conversion, as well as e-book reader sync features and an integrated e-book viewer. It is free, open source and cross-platform in design and works well on Linux, OS X and Windows."

There may still be some problems for some people in getting the technology to work but there is enough momentum for this to be resolved in the near future. Based on open standards, EPUB has a reasonable chance of surviving alongside the format promoted by Amazon for the Kindle.

Tim O'Reilly recently suggested in Forbes that "Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like EPUB, which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years." He compared Microsoft Network with the "primitive web" in 1994 and concluded then that "it's not the Microsoft Network that is going to deliver that information economy. It's the World Wide Web."

He recognises that "the Amazon Kindle has sparked huge media interest in e-books and has seemingly jump-started the market." There could be space for more than one format but there is certainly scope for EPUB, especially outside the USA where the Kindle is just not available.

At the London Bookfair in April, the Digital Zone Theatre will feature presentations from Sony, the International Digital Publishing Forum and Lexcycle, developers for Stanza EPUB reader on iPhone and iPod Touch. Detailed statistics may become available on the sales of dedicated devices compared to software downloads.

In May there will be the fourth Libre Graphics meeting in Montreal. Topics include publishing and open standards. They will probably be interested in any technical problem or difficulty around the EPUB format. There is a strong case for expecting creative outcomes.
More about ePUB on the drupa2008 blog - http://drupa2008.blogspot.com
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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