The Daynotes Journal Messageboard
» To The TechnoMayhem.com Messageboard
» To The HardwareGuys.com Messageboard

» back to ttgnet.com

Search Members Help

» Welcome Guest
[ Log In :: Register ]

1 members are viewing this topic
>Guest

Page 1 of 41234>>

[ Track This Topic :: Email This Topic :: Print this topic ]

reply to topic new topic new poll
Topic: What's the best format for a self-published e-book?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
 Post Number: 1
Thompson Search for posts by this member.
Administrator - Owner




Group: Super Administrators
Posts: 6781
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 03 2001,13:43  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

This will appear on my web page tomorrow, but I decided to get the ball rolling here:

Barbara and I are working on a book (eventually, a series of books) that we intend to distribute electronically. These will be reference books, intended to be used on-the-fly by people who are sitting in front of a computer anyway, so putting the books in electronic form makes sense. The question is, which electronic form?

I've looked at numerous e-book "solutions" but most of those have as their raison d'ętre preventing people from stealing the content. I've argued for years against any form of copy-protection that hinders the ability of honest people to use the product they paid for, which is to say any form of copy-protection whatsoever. So now as a content provider, it's put-up-or-shutup time for us. We'll be putting up. We will not lock, encrypt, or otherwise protect our content in any fashion that might hinder an honest user from using it in any reasonable manner.

And we'll define "reasonable" as a typical user looks at things rather than as a typical content provider looks at things. For example, a single user who has both a desktop system and a notebook system should be able to install the product on both systems without paying for it twice. They're going to do it anyway--I would--so what's the point to turning them into criminals, if only technically? Obviously, we'll prohibit giving away or selling copies, posting the content on the Internet, and so on, but our license will prohibit nothing that we believe constitutes reasonable use.

So with the necessity for encryption, copy-protection, serialization, and so on out of the way, we come to the question of how best to package the content. We considered using standard HTML, but there are some problems with that. Size, for one. Lack of a search facility for another. The huge number of individual files that would be needed for a third. HTML does have one thing going for it, though. Cross-platform compatibility. Whatever we decide on, we want it to be equally usable on a Windows PC and a Macintosh. Linux would be nice, but is not essential. We need a good search capability, and would like to have an automated TOC/Index generation system. The ability to copy/paste and print is highly desirable, and the ability to embed live links to Internet sites is essential. We'd like the content to be accessible with a standard browser, ideally without any requirement for loading a plug-in or dedicated client. A royalty-free run-time distribution system is essential.

So, with all of that in mind, I started looking at the available options. We ruled out Adobe PDF stuff immediately on several grounds, including the fact that I despise PDFs. We ruled out stuff like the Microsoft Reader and similar e-book clients on many grounds as well. We looked at various HTML compilers, but none of them seemed compelling, and all seemed to lack one or more of our requirements.

What we came up with, believe it or not, is the Microsoft HMTL Help authoring and viewing system. It compiles HTML and image files into a single .chm compiled help file, greatly reducing the size of the HTML in the process. It provides strong search capabilities and operates in the same way as the new standard Microsoft help files, which means that most users already know how to use it. The authoring system and the viewer are both free and royalty-free. The system is proprietary only in that it uses the Microsoft Internet Explorer engine, requiring IE 3.02 or higher to be installed (although not requiring IE be the default browser). That means chm files are accessible on Windows PCs and Macs, but not Linux systems. The lack of Linux compatibility is really not an issue, because I'd guess that literally not one in ten thousand of our prospective customers runs a Linux desktop system.

The downside to the Microsoft HTML Help authoring system is that using it will require some significant investment in time to learn the product and prepare the raw content for use. It's not simply a matter of pointing the compiler at an existing web site and letting 'er rip. So before I start putting in time with that product, I wanted to ask if anyone had any experience with it and if there are better solutions I've overlooked.

We'll have zillions of other questions as the project develops, including how best to market the product, how best to accept payments for it, and so on. We'll need lots of help and that help will have to be voluntary, at least at first. We're doing things on the proverbial shoestring. Getting one's own publishing company off the ground is no trivial task, even if one limits it to electronic publishing. We may even fail. But we're convinced that the best course for content creators is to take control of our own destiny rather than depending on traditional publishers. As the Chinese saying goes, the longest journey begins with a single step. So we're taking that step.

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info WEB 
 Post Number: 2
Roy Harvey Search for posts by this member.
Subscriber
Avatar



Group: Subscribers
Posts: 918
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 03 2001,19:16 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I am entirely unqualified to give advice in this area, but my initial reaction is that Microsoft is prone to dropping a standard and replacing it with a new and incompatible one with painful regularity.
Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
 Post Number: 3
CEMyers Search for posts by this member.
Subscriber




Group: Subscribers
Posts: 248
Joined: Dec. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 03 2001,21:16 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I think you are quite right.  Seems to me the Microsoft system as it exists today is the convergence of an evolutionary process and strong user lab testing to produce exactly the product you want for the reasons you want it. The competition seems to be better at putting paper on the screen.

You may well choose to offer, but not require, a browsing engine so customized  that it distinguishes your product. I've been annoyed by different IE installations and offers to install myself.

In your shoes I would talk to the people at O'Reilly about their experience with things like the Deluxe Editions that include several books in HTML with enough folders and files on the CD to frustrate the impatient or at least me when I am looking for instant gratification on a broad search across several related texts. Does Dr. Pournelle have any reaction to the Strategy of Technology?  

I bet you end up offering more than one choice all on the same final CD or DVD.  

(Edited by CEMyers at 2:46 pm on Jan. 4, 2001)

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
 Post Number: 4
Kerry Search for posts by this member.
Member




Group: Members
Posts: 5
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,10:42 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I have spent the last several years writing user manuals and programming manuals in various flavours of Microsoft standards... Anyway, a few observations:

- compiled help files are cool until you have to create them. We used RoboHelp to create compiled help files (.chm) and it is a squirrely product but beats whatever Word-based nonsense that Msoft suggests... Using robohelp is a bit of a struggle I foudn though because you are *forced to deal with presentation issues almost to the point of severe annoyance*   Steep learning curve and it is not particularly cheap.

- You did not explain why you hate PDF - it is the ultimate in cross-platform solutions and can be cranked out regardless of the real software you use to create the material - a big plus: separation of production from presentation - also, I believe pdf files can have a digital watermark n'est-ce pas?

- HTML on a CD (as a previous poster alluded to) is a decent compromise, but forget using Front Page  (my 2c)
HTML has the advantage of hypertext linking and dynamic content etc.  - I think the search requirements can be solved by using local search packages that bolt on to your browser or PC...

Good luck in the Quest...

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
 Post Number: 5
Kerry Search for posts by this member.
Member




Group: Members
Posts: 5
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,10:58 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

A follow-up that I just recalled:  last time I tried to print even a portion of a .chm file, IE (the rendering engine if I am not mistaken) failed miserably to print anything of any value! It was a complete mess... this may have been fixed or somewhat repaired in IE5.5 but beware!

Many people like to print portions (if not all) of the .chm information to read while, for example, in the bathroom... (enough said - images of laptop balanced precariously on lap are vivd here)...  

Last I checked, Adobe PDF prints very well indeed on any printer supported by windows or whatever host OS

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
 Post Number: 6
Greg Search for posts by this member.
Subscriber
Avatar



Group: Super Administrators
Posts: 273
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,11:13 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I think you should stay FAR away from the .chm format. Not only is it Windows/Mac only, it's IMHO very hard to get useful info from something in a .chm. The MSDN docs are an example of why.

1. The search functions don't seem to ever return pertinent results.
2. The HTML help authoring system is a mess. It crashes alot, often corrupting your work. Its full of bugs and unimplemented features.

3. Linux compatibility is important. Please don't ignore the Linux audience. You yourself have said that you plan to convert to Linux soon. Do you really want to invest time and energy into MS proprietary formats?

I think your best bet is HTML. You can set up a search function quite easily with htdig or another perl/php based search engine/indexer.

I am more than willing to help you set up a publishing method based on php or cgi via the web. You can set up a password protected area that only "subscribers" can access where the content is located. Obviously people can steal password/usernames in that case, but they can also post the chm files on Warez sites so the differance is negligable.

Anyhow, I am confident that php code can be written to acomplish any needs an ebook would have. If you like, I could set up a demo...

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info WEB 
 Post Number: 7
Thompson Search for posts by this member.
Administrator - Owner




Group: Super Administrators
Posts: 6781
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,11:47 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks to everyone who's posted so far. I've also gotten several private messages, and the consensus seems to be that there's no consensus. Some people swear that CHMs are the best thing since sliced bread and others that they wouldn't foist them on their worst enemies.

I just installed Microsoft HTML help, pointed it at the local copy of my web site, and let 'er rip. I was surprised to find that it actually compiled a CHM file of sorts, compressing my web site into a single 26 MB file from the hundreds (thousands?) of individual files that total about 40 MB. Obviously, there weren't any Contents or Index tabs, and so on, but as a first rough-cut I was happily surprised. I expect it to choke and crash.

As far as PDFs, there're a lot of reasons why I don't like them, not least of which is that they require a viewer whereas CHMs are supported natively by Windows 98/2000 and later. But what I really dislike, and it's a fundamental problem for me, is that PDFs are essentially pictures of content rather than the content itself. HTML (and CHMs) can reformat to fill the available screen space of whatever window the user chooses to use.

I've not had any of the printing or searching problems with CHMs that have been mentioned, but I'm going to do some more exploring in this area.

I think the first thing I'm going to do is get started writing the first e-book. Barbara has done all the research, so I should be able to knock out a couple of test chapters fairly quickly. Once I have a body of work to play with, I'll try the CHM format and see what happens.

As far as Linux, I wasn't saying that it wasn't important, just that it's unimportant for this project. These books are going to be reference books focused specifically on the needs of novelists, and the number of novelists who use Linux on their writing systems can probably be counted literally on one hand, if not one finger. I know a lot of novelists, and I'd estimate the breakdown at ~85% Wintel, ~14% Mac, and ~1% typewriter. I don't know any who use Linux, and I'd be very surprised if that changes any time soon.

As far as securing the content on the web, I truly appreciate the offer. But what I want is to provide the content as a local resource, on the hard disk of the person using it.

Incidentally, I'm getting so many private questions about the e-books' subjects that I'd better post another message to clarify that.

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info WEB 
 Post Number: 8
Jon Search for posts by this member.
Subscriber
Avatar



Group: Super Administrators
Posts: 485
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,12:01 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I'd think that HTML, possibly supplemented with XML, would be the most straightforward approach. Running from the local disk should mitigate some of the problems associated with large text file sizes, and some standard javascript could be written to bring up larger illustrations on mouse-over for thumbnails. As to migrating it to .chm, I'll leave that to them what's done it.

You're undoubtedly right that writers won't be using *nix to any significant extent - both since they're commodity buyers, and are writing to meet their publisher's standards - usually Word X.? In 3-5 years that might change, but in 3-5 years the preferred cross-platform solution will probably change, too, as will preferred means of delivery. Anyone now who's geeky enough to use Linux surely knows of the available Winows emulators to let them access an IE-dependent file format.

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
 Post Number: 9
rboatright Search for posts by this member.
Member




Group: Members
Posts: 24
Joined: Nov. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,13:59 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

If you are going to do HTML Help, run, don't walk to get a copy of ROBOHELP HTML HELP VERSION.

Don't even THINK about doing it without that.

It's the very best tool for the job, taking care of the tables of contents and tabs and etc without it will drive you into a silly little hole in the ground.  With it, you will only tear out your remaining hair. (This stuff is _hard_ )

But it works and we use it.  Good stuff.  

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info WEB 
 Post Number: 10
CEMyers Search for posts by this member.
Subscriber




Group: Subscribers
Posts: 248
Joined: Dec. 2000
PostIcon Posted on: Jan. 04 2001,13:59 Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Quote:
Quote: from Thompson on 12:47 pm on Jan. 4, 2001[br
I'd estimate the breakdown at ~85% Wintel, ~14% Mac, and ~1% typewriter. I don't know any who use Linux, and I'd be very surprised if that changes any time soon.

Just maybe that's the class of successful novelists.  Possibly the class of yet to be novelists - Writer's Digest readers - includes more of the impoverished students running Star Office on surplus hardware. Maybe the impoverished are less likely to pay for tools and maybe more likely to feel a need. Hard to research potential though.

Offline
Top of Page Profile Contact Info 
30 replies since -- < Next Oldest | Next Newest >

[ Track This Topic :: Email This Topic :: Print this topic ]


Page 1 of 41234>>
reply to topic new topic new poll

» Quick Reply What's the best format for a self-published e-book?
iB Code Buttons
You are posting as:

Do you wish to enable your signature for this post?
Do you wish to enable emoticons for this post?
Track this topic
View All Emoticons
View iB Code