eBooks: Preferred book formats in the digital era

It was in the mid 90s when I read a Gartner study that predicted the end of the photographic film era and the rapid shift to digital photography. By that time I was shooting dia slides, using a large SLR camera, and the strange idea that something digital will be able to replace film seemed quite remote. However, things accelerated, and, in 2000, I got my first digital camera.

Today, if someone would predict that in a few years the number of books distributed in digital format will exceed those printed (on dead trees!), I wouldn’t be that surprised.

iPadIn the last years there were many interesting tablet devices on the market (like Amazon Kindle and a plethora of other e-Ink devices), but I think that the turning point of this new digital revolution can be considered the unprecedented success of the Apple iPad, lunched in early 2010.

Interestingly enough, although Project Gutenberg dates since 1971, it was only after 2002 that electronic publication growth became significative.

There are many eBook formats, but, from my point of view, only PDF and ePub are worth considering.


PDF, or Portable Document Format, was introduced by Adobe, and since 2008 it is an open standard, and version 1.7 also became an ISO standard (ISO 32000).

For me, it remains the preferred format for technical books, since it preserves pagination and formatting, important features when dealing with computer books.

On OS X, reading PDFs is very convenient, since the system Preview application handles PDF very well, and there is no need to install the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Two Pages

Even more, Preview also has a Two Pages view, which display two adjacent pages together, making reading PDFs on a large and wide monitor a really enjoyable experience.


For literature, the most convenient method of reading eBooks is with a portable reader, preferably one using technologies like e-Ink.

There are many eBook readers, but actually there are only two main classes, Amazon (the Kindle family) and non-Amazon readers. Technically the Kindle devices are quite advanced, and the selection of titles available from Amazon is probably the largest available. However, for DRM reasons, Amazon uses the proprietary Kindle format. Even worse, users do not own eBooks bought from Amazon, they just license them to be viewed on a specific reader, which makes sharing books with family and friends almost impossible.

On the other hand, ePUB is a free and open standard, much more appropriate for sharing. It is also widely used on many software readers such as iBooks on Apple devices, and Google Books on Android.

Virtually all non-Amazon readers support ePUB, so the selection of readers is quite large (I personally have a Nook and I’m quite happy with it).

Do not buy Kindle readers!

Unfortunately, for political reasons, Amazon Kindle devices do not render ePUB formats at all, so, regardless how many features they have, they’ll remain on the do not buy list.


About Liviu Ionescu (ilg)
Hi! My name is Liviu Ionescu (ilg, ilegeul or eunete for colleagues and friends) and I’m a senior IT engineer. Or should I say a real programmer?

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