Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey, Fictionwise! Use this book for your in-house testing!

Although eReader is a very robust application on Palm OS devices, and the Windows implementation isn't bad (although the B&N Reader version has lots of bugs, and many features stripped out), other recent implementations have left much to be desired, especially when dealing with complexly formatted ebooks.

The Foxit eSlick, as I observed before, can't even properly format basic text properly. The ECTACO jetBook - Lite does a much better job with eReader-formatted books, but still isn't anywhere near as good as the Palm implementation (for instance, hyperlinks for tables of contents and footnotes don't work).

I hereby suggest that Fictionwise and Barnes & Noble (owners of the eReader format), and Foxit, ECTACO, and others making hardware designed to interpret that format, use the following book as one of their standard in-house-testing samples:

Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene

Why? Because it is a great example of what the electronic edition of a print book should be, and it incorporates features that will put any ebook-rendering software through its paces:

* Hyperlinked table of contents

* Chapter headings and subheadings coded to be in different text sizes

* Bulleted lists

* Block quotations set off from the main text

* Numerous footnotes (including often more than one on a single page/screen)

* Foreign-language characters (including Hebrew and Greek) embedded in the text

* Numerous illustrations

* Captions for these pictures

* Proper typography (including em-dashes and smart quotes).

It is, in fact, a joy to read on a Palm -- and should be a joy to read on all platforms.

As an example of work still to be done, when reading this book with the ECTACO jetBook - Lite implementation of eReader software, subheadings appear in the same text size as normal text (on the Palm, the render at a size intermediate between Chapter headings and normal text); pictures that are small enough to show on screen render properly, but larger ones don't (instead they show as just a black square), and all hyperlinks and footnote calls are dead.

Indeed, on the ECTACO jetBook - Lite, depending on the dimensions of the picture, the picture may show properly when using the device in portrait mode but not in landscape, or vice versa.

Now, as it happens, this is also a truly fascinating book, and I'm enjoying it immensely -- but that's not the point.

The point is that Fictionwise clearly hasn't been testing eReader sufficiently on new platforms (and particularly not on platforms that they are actually selling as the single most expensive things available for purchase on their site). Testing the software in-house with this book would be a good start.

Oh, and hats off to Penguin/Viking, the publishers of Reading in the Brain in both print and electronic editions, for doing the ebook version right. (On the other hand, a pox on whoever set the price for the ebook edition; $27.95 is crazy.)
Robert J. Sawyer online: