Microsoft pushes electronic book standard
(IDG) -- With Microsoft acting as midwife, the Open eBook Authoring Group gave birth to a draft of a standard for electronic books, called The Open eBook 1.0 specification.
Now, several members of the authoring group are abandoning their own proprietary formats for book content, hoping that e-books finally will take off commercially.
"We have to change our product, but not dramatically," said Martin Eberhard, chief executive officer and cofounder of NuvoMedia Inc., based in Mountain View, California. The company, one of the pioneers in this field, has its 22-ounce Rocket eBook on the market and participated in the standardization work with Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington.
The proposed standard, based on HTML (hyper-text markup language) and XML (extensible markup language), enables publishers to concentrate on one standard and simplifies downloading Web pages and documents to an e-book.
The initiative leading to the new specification was taken by Microsoft in October 1998 at an e-book conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland. In a keynote speech a Microsoft executive warned against a war on standards and asked the e-book industry to join forces. The appeal met with enthusiastic response and Microsoft became a key player in defining the standards.
At e-book software developer Glassbook Inc., cofounder and Chief Executive Officer Len Kawell said the draft Open eBook standard doesn't fully resolve all the problems the industry faces. The draft standard only covers the format of the content, not a copyright protection and distribution specification, said Kawell. So Glassbook, based in Acton, Massachusetts, is working on Electronic Book Exchange (EBX) -- a standard covering this area.
"Those two standards are two halves of a single puzzle. We need a single standard to target both areas," Kawell said of the Open eBook and EBX standards.
In July 1999 members of the Open eBook group will be voting on the final draft of the Open eBook 1.0 specification. They expect the standard to accelerate the availability of electronic book content, according to a statement from the organization.
So far, it has been a chicken and egg situation. Without lots of titles, consumers have little interest in spending hundreds of dollars on an e-book device. And without lots of consumers with the hardware, the publishers' interest in making e-book titles is sparse.
Meanwhile, online bookseller Amazon.com Inc. views the technology as not yet "ready for prime time," according to Bill Curry, director of Amazon.com's public relations. The e-book user interface doesn't compare to black print on white paper, he added.
The author writes for IDG News Service, a Windows TechEdge affiliate.
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