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A quick read on Amazon's Kindle for PC software

Amazon turned a page in its electronic-book story yesterday with the overdue release of a program to read Kindle e-books on some regular computers, without first having to buy one of the Seattle retailer's $259-and-up Kindle e-reader tablets.


The new Kindle for PC software -- a free download for Windows XP, Vista and 7, with a Mac version "coming soon" -- fills a space in Amazon's e-book portfolio that's bothered me since the debut of the first Kindle reader. But it also looks and works like a first draft, even more so than its "Beta" label would suggest.

Like Amazon's earlier Kindle for iPhone program, Kindle for PC downloads older purchases in seconds, lets you buy other Kindle titles using your regular Web browser, and remembers the last page you read in a title and synchronizes your progress to other Kindle devices and programs. It also matches that phone program's limits in its lack of a text-search function and its inability to show newspaper, magazine or blog subscriptions purchased on the Kindle Store.

But unlike Amazon's iPhone app, this program doesn't let you add notes or highlights to a book; you can only view those created earlier.

The reading experience suffers somewhat in Kindle for PC, thanks to its lack of a full-screen mode that could hide such distractions as the Windows taskbar and its various system-notification alerts and icons. (The same problem exists in Barnes & Noble's desktop e-book software.) At least you can flip through pages -- with a tap of the space bar or the cursor-arrow keys -- a lot faster than on a Kindle device, and you also get a choice of 10 font sizes and the ability to widen or narrow the onscreen page.

A "Menu" button on Kindle for PC's home screen offers a short list of commands and options that includes one somewhat disturbing default setting: "Automatically install updates when they are available without asking me." A "Future improvements..." menu item leads to a page on Amazon's site listing such possibilities as text search, creating notes and highlights on the computer, and zooming or rotating images -- but not text-to-speech or printing.

(Fortunately, the old Print Screen key still works for that last option.)

If you've already Kindled your reading, what do you think this software could do to enhance the experience? If you've yet to buy into the e-book thing, does the arrival of software like Kindle for PC change your mind? The comments are yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 11, 2009; 10:22 AM ET
Categories:  E-books  
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Kindle "books" only work with Amazon's device and software. If my Amazon device breaks and I want to replace it with a device made by another company, then I can't read all the Kindle "books" anymore. Furthermore, all the copy restriction and Amazon remote controls over the devices mean that you are not really "buying" these "books". You are renting them from Amazon, which reserves the right to revoke them from you whenever it pleases. The "1984" debacle is proof of this.

Until there is an interoperable eBook format that does not have copy restriction and remote kill switches, I will not buy any eBooks from anybody, and I will not buy any eBook device. Electronics are hard enough to use as it is. I don't need a device that treats me like a crook with all its copy restriction, and I certainly have no interest in paying hundreds of dollars for a book rental device.

Posted by: wharfy | November 11, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse


And herein lies the 'brave new world' of electronics. Suppose you are an author. Your book gets Kindled with the possibility that it can be copied forever - for anyone. Then everyone in the world can have a copy of your book for free - and you get nothing from possibly years of your hard work.

Posted by: cmecyclist | November 11, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Rob, as a 1st-gen Kindle owner, I have to disagree with the previous comments. As far as I am concerned, I pay a lower price for the books I want to read, have them delivered at high speed and high convenience, and then enjoy them as I do any of my "real" books.

I'd like to note that I can lend my Kindle to any of my friends, should I desire, and if I ever want a book so badly that I can't afford to have it digitally revoked (with reimbursement), owning a Kindle doesn't prevent me from buying a hard copy.

I guess I chafe against the principle, but not enough to deprive me of the benefits I'm enjoying by owning a Kindle. The PC software is just one more convenience (or rather, the Mac software will be when it comes out).

Posted by: docmcconl | November 11, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Wharfy: You need to understand the difference between the physical artifact of a paper book, and the intellectual property of the string of words imprinted on the book. In the case of a paper book, you are not "buying" the book in the sense of buying the words. You're buying a single copy of a physical artifact upon which the rights owner (the author) has licensed the manufacturer (the publisher) to reproduce his property.

The terms of the license allow you to sell the artifact, if you want. They do not allow you to photocopy it, sell it to Stephen Spielberg for adaptation into a movie, perform it in a reading, or do any other things that ownership would allow you to do. So you're exaggerating the extent that the Kindle license differs from a paper book.

In the case of the Kindle, the need for a physical artifact made of paper is lost. We're dealing with the pure intellectual property of the words. The license is directly with you. It has terms. Read them. They're pretty generous. You can use the work on up to six Kindles, the iPod touch, the iPhone, and a Windows PC. But if this isn't a good fit for you, paper books are still an option, and Amazon will be happy to sell them to you.

The Kindle is best for people who read books for entertainment, and don't plan on accumulating them for the distant future. Readers of the Kindle recognize that they will not read the books again in the vast majority of cases. They realize that the books will be available for purchase in the future on whatever reading platform they may use at that time, so for the few books they might want to read again, they can obtain them and in the process reward the author for producing a book worth revisiting.

Posted by: mark16 | November 11, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

"The Kindle is best for people who read books for entertainment, and don't plan on accumulating them for the distant future."

Does this mean Kindle users don't have unlimited access to books they purchase?

If so, that's too bad. I have a collection of technical books that I wouldn't mind converting to an electronic format.

Posted by: NJ2MDdude | November 11, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

There are plenty of books in .epub and .prc, both of which are open formats, convertible to other formats, and readable on many readers. I bought a Nook (shipping the 11th of December, supposedly) and downloaded lots of freely available books for it to have them ready when it arrives. Meanwhile they read fine on the BN reader on my Mac. Cheaper than buying in a used bookstore (or a new reprint) too.

Posted by: wiredog | November 12, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

OR... you could look into an Astak Pocket PRO. Lighter, faster, more convenient, and more full featured than the Kindle... it gives you Adobe DRM for EPUB and PDF (reflow) PLUS 20 other formats and it displays 20 languages too. Add Text-To-Speech, a USER-REPLACEABLE rechargeable battery (WHY aren't all such batteries user-replaceable), memory expansion slot to 16GB (that is 8,000 eBooks and MP3 music), and the leather case with magnetic clasp and ear buds are included for $199. Did I mention it is in 6 colors?

I have been trying for a year to get Rob to review it. He does a great job; but missed this one.

You can see it at:

Posted by: EZReader1 | November 12, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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