Reading ebooks on your Palm PDA

I have exactly two types of custom applications on my Palm PDA – things I added to the standard bundle – encrypted password storage and ebook reading. At present I have two separate ebook applications: eReader from Palm and “Plucker,” an open source application that appears abandoned.

I acquired Plucker because Project Gutenberg (the source of almost all of my ebooks) now includes a “Plucker format” option. It’s incredibly annoying that, by 2008, ebook software developers haven’t managed to support a reasonable range of book formats. Plucker is supposed to be free software, so there’s no reason not to support it everywhere. Or, for that matter, why can’t an ebook reader incorporate some moderately simple heuristics to reformat plain old ASCII text for reading on a PDA?

It’s silly to have to have multiple applications that do the same thing. This is especially annoying when the principal difference is in the input format. Personally, I find it annoying because I connect one of the PDA buttons to my reader, and then I can bring up my book (on the page where I left it) with a touch of a button. That’s a problem if I have 2 or more readers. If I had an iPhone with its myriad of button options, I’d still complain, since I wouldn’t want to waste the space for a second button on the screen.

Moreover, the different apps have different appearances and interfaces. I can see how the Plucker people came up with the unfortunate GUI choices they made, but I don’t like them. I prefer the muted and practical choices of the eReader interface, especially the progress indicator and clock face.

But ultimately I’d just like to be able to use one program or the other. If Plucker read the other PDA book formats, I’d stick with Plucker.

What about raw text?

Why, why, can’t I just toss a standard ASCII text file at an ebook reader and have it do something intelligible? When PDAs carried less than 1MB of RAM it made sense to have a special compact format for text, but that was a long time ago.

A while back I coded up a Java program to take a typical Gutenberg ASCII file, reformat the line breaks to better fit a PDA (i.e. omit them except when separating paragraphs). Then I’d run the file through the (apparently unsupported) DropBook application. The latter step was essential to get the text into a form eReader would use.

In point of fact, there’s no reason why a sensible ebook reader couldn’t take a raw ASCII file and do the same reformatting itself, no conversion required. If there’s really a problem with ASCII being too inefficient, then we could incorporate some sort of standard file compression (ZIP?) that exists on just about every computer on the planet.

Why tie us to nonstandard, unsupported software?

Unsupported Software

I call Plucker, DropBook, and probably eReader itself, unsupported software because the software hasn’t been upgraded in a while. The latest information on the Plucker web site is at least a year old, and the latest software releases are at least three years old. The actual Palm PDA software is about four years old. The desktop software for the PC actually crashes when you try to run it. I haven’t bothered trying the Macintosh software yet.

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