iBooks.com Keeps IT Staff's Skill Sharp

SAN MATEO (05/15/2000) - IT professionals rely on the latest release of technical books to keep their skills current and to assist them in their jobs.

For everyone from hard-core programmers to phone-savvy help desk personnel, finding up-to-date information is critical to succeeding with a task or helping a customer in need.

If you've run out of room for storing outdated books and want to increase the speed with which your staff can find the information they need, check out iBooks.com. The site offers a well-stocked online digital bookstore that offers IT professionals current technical information. Moreover, iBooks.com Inc. puts searchable content of multiple books at IT professionals' fingertips from any Web browser, and it offers the materials at a significant discount over traditional bookstores.

Other online booksellers, such as Amazon.com Inc., generally do not let customers peruse the contents of a book before buying it as they can can in a brick-and-mortar store. And, of course, readers have to wait until the book arrives before they can start using it. But iBooks.com lets customers preview a book before committing to the purchase. Once bought, the book can be read immediately.

Other digital book services, including books24x7.com, are based on subscriptions that allow access to multiple books but don't let readers own them; most customers end up paying for more than they use. With iBooks, you pay only for what your staff will use.

During my review, I discovered that most of the books on iBooks were listed at 30 percent to 40 percent below retail price, making the service price very competitive with that of Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. On Feb. 28, iBooks launched its digital bookstore with a focus on providing IT professionals with reference materials from many publishers, including SAMS Publishing, O'Reilly and Associates Inc., Que, and Sybex Inc. Future endeavors will include expanding to other industries such as law and business, areas in which employees can benefit from having quick access to critical reference material.

To start using this service, I registered at iBooks.com and was immediately able to search through many titles and subjects, including Linux, Windows NT Administration, and Windows 2000. Just for registering, I was given a free book for my personal bookshelf, which is where the books I purchased were stored. As well as receiving the free book, users accumulate iBucks, depending on the amount of their purchases, which can be used toward future purchases.

Before I bought any books, I searched iBooks.com for titles, authors, and publishing houses, as well as the specific text in which I was interested.The site's clean interface presented search results with a brief description of each book and which chapters in which specific hits were found. For example, when I searched for "NAT security," all books with this text were listed with relevance indicators, similar to what you find when using a search engine on the Web.

In addition, I could view the contents of these books to see whether they met my needs. Of course, I could not read the entire book because much of the text is garbled until the book is purchased. In most cases, however, iBooks showed enough text to get an idea of whether the book was worth buying. If I did purchase a book and was dissatisfied, I could return it within 2 hours for iBucks.

What were missing from this impressive site were recommendations and reader reviews. iBooks plans to offer these services in the near future. Also, I would have liked to have been able to add bookmarks or annotations to books as you can with books from competitor books24x7.com Inc., even though books24x7.com's book selection is not as extensive as that of iBooks.com. I also liked the added information I found on books24x7.com such as its top 10, recent titles, and coming-soon lists. In contrast, iBooks.com offers only a featured books list.

I was able to purchase books with the same shopping basket metaphor that is used on other sites and to add books to a wish list. The site uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for security and currently accepts credit card payments; corporate purchase models are on the horizon. I was pleased to find that when ordering books I had to provide my password to ensure I was the user of my account.

IT professionals will find iBooks.com to be a helpful tool that gives them access to the manuals and reference materials they already rely on, but at sharply discounted prices. With searchable digital books, your IT staff will increase their productivity without having to remember what book the information is in or, for that matter, finding the book and carrying it with them.

Senior Analyst Lori Mitchell (lori_mitchell@infoworld.com) has been reviewing high-technology products for the past eight years. Lori has covered Internet-based workgroup, collaboration, and training tools since she joined InfoWorld in 1997.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

iBooks.com

Business Case: Spend as much as 30 percent to 40 percent less on the technology books your IT staff needs to complete their jobs. Users have access to the materials from any Web browser, eliminating the need to store books and making it easier to share technical information.

Technology Case: Network administrators, programmers, help desk personnel, and everyone else who needs access to current technology materials will find this digital bookshelf a handy tool for solving problems or finding information to complete a task.

Pros:

+ No service subscription costs

+ Searchable book content

+ Users can preview books before purchasing+ Books accessible from any Web browserCons:

- No book reviews or recommendations

- No annotations

Cost: Purchase digital books singly at 30 percent to 40 percent off retail pricePlatform(s): Any Web browseriBooks.com Inc., Austin, Texas; (512) 478-2700; www.ibooks.com

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