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Preview: TidBITS: Comments on Introducing Bookle, an EPUB Reader for Mac OS X

TidBITS: Comments on Introducing Bookle, an EPUB Reader for Mac OS X

We’ve branched out from ebooks into software with Bookle, a Mac OS X application for reading DRM-free EPUBs that we developed in collaboration with our friend Peter Lewis of Stairways Software. It’s a straightforward EPUB reader that maintains a libra

Published: Sat, 11 Feb 2012 00:00:00 EST

Last Build Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2012 00:00:00 EST

Copyright: Copyright 2012 TidBITS Publishing Inc.

Comment from Adam Engst

Sat, 11 Feb 2012 07:45:26 EST

I didn't have time to look into the Nook app in detail, but on an initial impression, Bookle is way smaller (5 MB to 53 MB) and doesn't require that you log in to a B&N account before you can do anything. The Nook app wouldn't even open an EPUB without me logging in, and I didn't have time to set up an account to see what B&N might be tracking or requiring of me with that account. To judge from their screenshot, they're also doing only the two-up page view, unlike Bookle's default scrolling view, which is merely a matter of preference at the moment (in an ideal world, we'll figure out how to a good two-up view as an option in Bookle).

Comment from Philip Thrift

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:54:55 EST

How is Bookie better than NOOK Study for Mac OS X:
It's free and it's what I use to read DRM-free EPUB format ebooks on my MacBook Pro.

Comment from Adam Engst

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 14:23:26 EST

Peter has already rolled out 1.0.3 (1.0.2 was the main public release) with a couple of bug fixes, and we're building a great (if a little daunting!) to-do list with all sorts of wonderful ideas. The Bookle UserVoice forum at has been good for collecting votes and opinions.

Comment from Adam Engst

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 14:22:03 EST

Oh! I don't know and will have to pass it on to Peter. I'm very much still wrapping my head around what we can do with Web technologies within the WebKit view. But it looks very cool.

Comment from Max Pinton

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 11:53:12 EST

That reminded me of TypeSet, which is a JavaScript implementation of TeX's line breaking and justification. Could something like this be added to Bookle?

Comment from Bob Kline

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 11:46:32 EST

I've followed TidBits for a number of years and have always enjoyed your materials. (Back in the days of Eudora!)

Great beginning with Bookle! The ebook world needs more focus on simplicity and quality, thanks for your contribution.

I look forward to future improvements.

Comment from Adam Engst

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 06:03:00 EST

Oh, certainly. An independent version isn't likely right away, since we'd prefer to devote time and effort to improving the program rather than setting up and maintaining an ecommerce site and program registrations and all that. But if it does happen, I'd be certain to say something.

Comment from Adam Engst

Thu, 09 Feb 2012 05:57:00 EST

Not that I know of, but it's a good idea. I suspect that the ebook reading world simply isn't mature enough for that level of refinement to hit the top of a priority list. Plus, remember that EPUBs are basically Web sites, and the controls for reading niceties aren't common in Web standards (I honestly don't know what CSS can do in this regard, but it's not something I've heard anything about before).

Comment from John Spragens

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 23:14:38 EST

I trust you'll post an update if you release a version outside the App Store. I don't go there, but this does sound like an interesting program at a nice price.

Comment from Max Pinton

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 20:40:29 EST

Do any EPUB readers have a layout engine with features similar to Adobe's Paragraph Composer? I'm surprised that problems like widows, orphans, bad wraps, etc, that have been solved for years in the print world somehow seem insurmountable for Ebooks.

Comment from Adam Engst

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 15:20:47 EST

It's not inconceivable! :-)

Comment from Stewart C Russell

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 11:39:25 EST

No, it's just the Bowerbird, who seems to be on the same high horse he was on back on the Bookpeople list c.2004. How's that ZML working out for you, eh Bowerbird?

Comment from Adam Engst

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 09:18:19 EST

Bookle relies on WebKit, so for the moment, what WebKit can do, we can do. Customizing that may be possible with CSS, but we're still wrapping our heads around it.

Comment from TMW

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 06:39:42 EST

I hope that you'll consider including support for OpenType fonts, since there is a mean of accessing advanced typographic features using CSS (although this may still be a draft standard), and so presumably also with EPUB. Much more importantly, though, what all EPUB applications need is more sophisticated H&J routines. It is all about READING after all, and the more even the typographic color of the pages, the more fluently they will read.

Comment from Tonya Engst

Wed, 08 Feb 2012 06:18:53 EST

In addition to Adam's reply here, I wanted to add that an advantage to the PDF of a Take Control ebook is that we do put time into the layout of the PDF, thinking about page breaks and generally designing for a 8.5x11 "page." In the PDF, you will rarely find awkward breaks between pages, weird line breaks, and various layout infelicities that inevitably occur when you set the text free to be in whatever type size (and font) that the reader chooses (or the ebook-reader software displays by default). If the PDFs are working for you, truly, there is no big reason to switch to EPUB.

However, if you gain a better reading experience by setting your own font/size, or if your favorite ebook-reading app is EPUB-only, or for whatever reason, if you prefer the EPUB, it is available. Our early EPUBs for the Take Control series were generated by a third-party conversion service and visually they sometimes are far less than ideal. About a year ago, we brought conversion in-house, and now although there are some aspects of the EPUBs that I would like to tweak, they are vastly improved from those earlier efforts. As more of the older ebooks get updated, more and more of them will look better in the EPUB format.

Comment from gastropod

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 17:45:49 EST

How about a Bookle Pro that's independent of the app store, once you see how the original Bookle fares. It would presumably be a separate program, but aimed at serious readers/creators, who will (hopefully) be willing to pay $20-40 for full featured software, including no library--just double an epub, and it launches. Maybe meta data editing within BP, and it would be great to be able to hand the css or other parts to something like bbedit for in place editing (foiling publishers who think they know best :-)). Bonus points (and bucks!) for Leopard support.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 13:31:40 EST

Actually, we do have these options, and we always have (since the point where we started converting our PDFs into other formats). PDF is our primary format for purchasing for historical and user experience reasons, but once you have the PDF, you can click Check for Updates on the cover to access the Ebook Extras page that has links to the EPUB and Mobi versions. Plus, if you buy the PDF from us, it's automatically added to your Take Control account, so you can log in to download the EPUB and Mobi versions of all the Take Control books you've purchased.

And, if you decide you want the print-on-demand version of a purchased book, you can click the Order Print Copy button on the cover of the PDF (or in the Print tab of the Ebook Extras page) to order a print version discounted by the cover price of the book so you're paying only for materials and shipping.

Comment from Bill seitz

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 12:45:40 EST

I've been using FBReader, which is OpenSource and cross-platform... though I mainly use it on my Android phone and tablet. On the TCoBookle book it works pretty well, though it isn't pretty.

Comment from Victor Norton

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 10:19:40 EST

Typically, if you buy a PDF version of a technical book from O'Reilly, you can download the .epub (iPad) version and/or .mobi (Kindle) version for free. I don't know if you have these options with Take Control books, but I expect not.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 09:21:55 EST

Yes, I've played with various approaches with .ibooks files, but they're basically unusable. I haven't tried a text-heavy .ibooks file, though.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 09:16:56 EST

We haven't heard of others having trouble, so I'd recommend restarting and seeing if that clears the problem on your Mac. (But this is partly why we're using the Mac App Store - problems like this don't send us diving to figure out if our server is functioning.)

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:59:35 EST

Honestly, no, if the PDF versions of our books are working for you, there is no reason to switch to the EPUB versions of our books. And as I said in the article, we have no plans to switch away from PDF as our primary format. It might happen in the future, but it's not even on a roadmap.

There are some advantages to EPUB in general, largely relating to the fact that it's a reflowable format that adapts (fairly) well to changes in window size, font size, and so on. Since PDF is a page-based format, there's a limit to how well it can adapt to size changes. That's why, for instance, we recommend our EPUBs to people who want to read on an iPhone, but PDF to people who read on an iPad. The PDF display is better and more intentional (since we do things like fix line lengths and page breaks), but it's just too small on the iPhone.

The goal with Bookle is to give people another option for reading EPUB on the Mac.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:56:21 EST

A good suggestion, thanks! I'll add it to the Bookle UserVoice forum so we can see how many others want to see it as well.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:55:31 EST

We certainly went into this knowing that Calibre exists, has tons of features, and is free. And if it meets your needs, that's great. Personally, I really hate Calibre's interface - things like menu items that read (I'm not kidding here):

Add books from directories, including sub-directories (One book per directory, assumes every ebook file is the same book in a different format)

As a Mac user, I expect more thought and care to be put into user interface. But again, if it works for you, go for it.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:50:11 EST

Peter is the final word here, but it's possible, even likely, that it wouldn't be feasible to generate a Leopard build based on the APIs that we need to use. I'll certainly raise it as a question, but don't get your hopes up.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:48:44 EST

If you send me some of these books via email (click the envelope icon next to my name at the top of this article), I can take a look. My experience with using Calibre to convert Word documents to EPUB was poor, to say the least, so it's entirely possible that Calibre isn't putting out valid EPUB. Or, it's equally possible that it's creating a valid EPUB variant that we simply didn't expect or run across in our testing.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:46:43 EST

Yes, that's true, but BBEdit isn't a sandboxed application right now, since it wasn't necessary initially. So they can do things (like share support files across machines using Dropbox) that we can't. (And they won't be able to at such point as Apple forces sandboxing.)

But your point about extras is a good one - perhaps there are some things that become possible with add-ons or scripts or the like. We'll keep it in mind.

Comment from Adam Engst

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:45:06 EST

Understood. Yes, there are tradeoffs with the Mac App Store, and we're well aware of them (and thoroughly annoyed as well).

In terms of modifying metadata in the EPUBs, I'd like that to be the sort of thing that is possible in Bookle. And perhaps we could add a feature that would make it easy to pull things back out (even just displaying the files in the Finder via a menu command), so Bookle could be the source of all the EPUBs, but it wouldn't be hard to use them elsewhere either.

Doing the referencing thing to files in arbitrary locations, even if we were able to avoid the sandboxing limitations, does have other user experience problems, because files move, disks aren't available, and so on. So it's not an unalloyed win.

Comment from Dennis B. Swaney

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:37:36 EST

I'm with you. It is sad to see loyal users being continually slapped in the face because they can't spend a few thousand $$ every year to replace perfectly good functioning computers. Not to mention being punished for not using the worst OS Apple has ever released: Lion

Comment from Dennis B. Swaney

Tue, 07 Feb 2012 08:32:02 EST

Great! Make it available to Leopard users, both PPC & Intel. I'll even pay a little MORE for it.