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iPhone 5 Portable Genius by Paul McFedries

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Getting Your Head around E-book Formats

If there is one reason why e-books took a long time to take off (in the same way that, say, digital music now rules the planet), it’s because the e-book world started out as hopelessly, head-achingly confusing. At its worst, at least two dozen (yes, two dozen!) e-book formats were available, and new formats jumped on the e-book bandwagon with distressing frequency. That was bad enough, but it got worse when you considered that some of these formats required a specific e-reading device or program. For example, the Kindle e-book format required either the Kindle e-reader or the Kindle app; similarly, the Microsoft LIT format required the Microsoft Reader program. Finally, things turned positively chaotic when you realized that some formats came with built-in restrictions that prevented you from reading e-books in other devices or programs, or from sharing e-books with other people.

What the e-book world needed was the simplicity and clarity that comes with having a near-universal e-book format (such as the MP3 format in music). Well, I’m happy to report that one format has emerged from the fray: EPUB. This is a free and open e-book standard created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF; see www.idpf.org). EPUB files, which use the .epub extension, are supported by most e-reader programs and by most e-reader devices (with the Amazon Kindle being the very noticeable exception). EPUB is leading the way not only because it’s free ...

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