BOSTON (08/08/2000) - Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday launched the PC version of its Microsoft Reader software designed to let users read electronic books.
Microsoft also announced the opening of an online retail bookstore at BarnesandNoble.com Inc., where Microsoft Reader books will be available for commercial download. The Reader software can be downloaded for free from the Web at http://www.microsoft.com/reader/.
An earlier version of Reader for Microsoft's Pocket PC is not completely compatible with the PC version released Tuesday. Microsoft Reader for Pocket PCs has a rudimentary encryption that can't fully protect novels and other copyrighted, full-length books, said Wendy Hoover, a spokeswoman for a public relations agency representing Microsoft.
When asked if this was a software glitch, she said it wasn't, adding that "the word 'glitch' makes it sound like something wrong." The Pocket PC version wasn't designed to have the level of encryption that the PC version of the Reader has. "It's something that Microsoft is working to upgrade, to get a more recent version of the software that can work on the Pocket PC." It wasn't clear when an upgraded version would be available.
Proper encryption of e-books is essential to the viability of electronic publishing, she said. Microsoft also announced an anti-piracy initiative Tuesday, contributing money and technical resources to fight infringement.
"With all the things going on in the music industry, publishers are taking a lot more cautious steps to get into this market. We want to create a safe and secure environment for publishers. That's what's been holding publishers back -- piracy," she said.
The limited number of titles and big-name authors has also been a factor until recently, added Gus Carlson, a BarnesandNoble.com spokesman. Modern best-selling authors like Stephen King distributing "Riding the Bullet" and "The Plant" online have begun to draw interested readers, he said.
E-books have been a tiny percentage of the publishing business, he said, but the Reader software will draw content into the new market and keep older titles available. "There are a lot of books that are out of print or that aren't commercially viable" for traditional bound-paper publishing, said Carlson. "The cost of publishing a book in the traditional way is limiting. You have to print it, you have to deliver it, you have to warehouse it. If you can publish it in electronic form, it will make the phrase 'out of print' obsolete."
BarnesandNoble.com also sells e-books in the Rocket eBook and Glassbook formats. The Microsoft Reader program uses software to render fonts more readable on a screen. "This type is so different and so much better than what's been available," he said.
Carlson said he didn't expect e-books to supplant the printed word, but would rather add to the content available to consumers. "We look at this as a new market to be built. We don't see this as cannibalizing the print market.
Anything that makes reading more accessible is good for the business as a whole," he said.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or online at http://www.microsoft.com/.