To be honest, both the reader and the geek in me would love to get their hands on a Kindle, Amazon's e-book reader. Unfortunately, though, the Kindle isn't available in Canada. So, if I want to read my ever-expanding library of electronic books while on the go, my choices are limited.
I could print out the books, but I'd have trouble justifying such a waste of paper. Or, I could lug my laptop computer with me, but that's not a great solution on a crowded train or bus. But, if you’re like me and you own an Eee PC, then you have a great way of reading e-books no matter where you are. Best of all, you don't have to shell out any more money for additional hardware or software. Everything that you need is already on the device.
Note: While this TechTip focuses on the Eee PC, you can use the techniques described here on other sub-notebook computers, like the Everex CloudBook.
Taking advantage of Acrobat Reader
Like it or not, the PDF format is arguably the standard for electronic documents on all operating systems. Many e-books are distributed as PDF -- whether they're free or sold by the likes of Lulu.com, O'Reilly, and countless others. The most popular way to view PDF files is with Adobe Acrobat Reader, which comes pre-installed on the Eee PC.
The main drawback of using Acrobat Reader is that it's big and kind of slow, and can only handle PDF files. But, if you're only reading PDF e-books then the latter isn't much of a problem.
You can download or copy PDF files to the Eee PC's hard drives. I prefer to carry my PDFs on a USB flash drive. Why? Partly to save space -- my Eee PC only has a 4 MB drive -- and partly because with a USB flash drive it's easier to move e-books between my computers. Let's be honest: few people read the same e-book all of the time!
To get going, launch the File Manager and double click on the e-book that you want to view. This will start Acrobat Reader. From there, you can read the text as you normally would on any other desktop computer or notebook computer. If you're in a cramped space, you can literally orient the Eee PC like a dead-trees book for easier reading.
To do this, select View > Rotate View. Then, click either Clockwise or Counterclockwise. This flips the document 90 degrees left or right.
You'll notice, though, that you can still see the menu bar and the various toolbars in Acrobat Reader. You can hide all of that by pressing the F8 and F9 keys. Then, press CTRL+L to view the document in full-screen mode.
How do you get around the rotated view? Easy: just physically flip your Eee PC around. I like to have mine set up so that the screen is on the right -- this makes it easy for me to press the page up and page down keys with my left thumb.
Taking FBReader for a spin
PDFs aren't the only e-book format out there. Maybe you've downloaded a text file from Project Gutenberg. Or maybe you've gotten hold of e-books that are in such formats as CHM, MobiPocket, or even HTML. Sure, you can read these files in their native viewers --- assuming, of course, there's one available for your operating system. Or, you can go one better (for the most part) and use FBReader.
FBReader is a dedicated e-book reader that's available for multiple operating systems and for a number of mobile devices. On top of that, it supports 12 e-book formats (but no PDF). You can read more about FBReader's features here.
FBReader comes pre-installed on Eee PCs hat run Linux. If your device doesn't have it installed, or you deleted FBReader and want it back, then you can download it here. When you first start FBReader, you'll notice that the interface is quite simple: the document that you're reading, a toolbar consisting of icons at the top of the screen, and a position indicator at the bottom of the screen that shows how much of the e-book you've actually read.
As with Acrobat Reader, you can change the orientation of the document in FBReader. How? Click the Rotate Screen icon, which is the second one from the right. From there, flip the Eee PC around and start reading.
You might notice that the document might sometimes not rotate. If that happens, press Enter to go to full-screen mode. FBReader will automatically reorient the document. The only problem now is that the position indicator is taking up valuable screen space. To get rid of it, press the B key on the keyboard. To pop out of full-screen mode, just press Enter again.
Something that can be annoying about FBReader is that the text of an e-book is right up against the edges of the screen. I don't know about you, but I like to have some white space on the left and right of the screen. You can adjust the margins of an e-book by clicking the Options icon, which is the third icon from the right on the toolbar. Then, click Margins. You can specify the top, bottom, left, and right margins in units of measure called points. Keep in mind that 72 points equals one inch, so use this feature with care. If you don't, you'll wind up with squished text.
You don't have to spend several hundred dollars on a dedicated e-book reader. If you already have a sub-notebook computer like an Eee PC (or are planning to buy one), you can turn it into a serviceable e-book reader with just the software that's already on the device. And if that software isn't there, then you can easily download it. You might not be getting access to the latest titles, but there are still a lot of books out there and more than you can read.