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Calibre: the ‘VLC’ of eBook reader software

Whilst reading eBooks on dedicated hardware devices has become the trend of late there are many people who still read eBooks on their computers via the use of eBook reader software.

eBooks have been knocking around for a lot longer than the Kindle has been in existence. It’s partly due to this longevity of eBooks that has resulted a stodgy mish-mash of competing eBook formats and, thusly, ebook readers. In fact there are almost as many eBook readers (software) as there are eBook formats!

Seeking out the best

Bilal Sana, a Doctor and an Ubuntu enthusiast, contacted us recently to express his disappointment at the lack of a wholly comprehensive eBook reader application. Having downloaded some eBooks to view on his Computer – one in .chm format and the other in .pdb – he soon found that whilst one app would open one it wouldn’t open the other – and vice versa.

“The wine based chm viewer was not good enough and the books were all broken. I went to synaptic, searched for chm and found ‘chmsee’ which is good enough. For .pdb i had to google and found ‘isilo’ and installed it via wine.”

The proprietary nature of some formats coupled with DRM or unfamiliarity with certain eBook formats on the part of an applications’ developer has lead to this oft frustrating situation; it seems there is no one catch-all solution – or is there?

Calibre

Calibre is feature-packed e-book reader, manager & more with a swish Cover Flow-like browser and the ability to sync books with actual hardware devices, share your books online and even convert web feeds into perfectly formatted eBooks – all at the punch of a button.

Better yet Calibre cis able to display pretty much any eBook format you throw at it as well allow for quick conversion between formats – more than earth for even the nerdiest eBookworms to burrow in.

CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, EPUB, FB2, HTML, LIT, LRF, MOBI, ODT, PDF, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, RTF, TCR, TXT

What else can Calibre do?

  • Supports table of Contents, bookmarks & CSS,
  • Reference mode
  • Adjustable font sizes, etc
  • Printing
  • Searching
  • Copying/Highlighting
  • Customizing the rendering via a user style sheet
  • Supports embedded fonts
  • Remembers last position in book

But the real jewel in Calibres already-studded crown is undoubtedly the ability to fetch content from RSS feeds and online sources and turn it into a well formatted eBook, replete with full posts, hyperlinks, images and contents.

To better aid users in this Calibre ships with a large collection of predefined feeds to choose from, called ‘recipes’, that fetch content from many popular sources, such as CNN, Ars Technica & a gaggle of other well known weblogs and publications and convert them into eBooks for you. These eBooks can then be ‘synced’ with any hardware devices you may have or read in Calibre itself.

All in all, Calibre is literally the kingpin of eBook managers/readers. Not only does it provide users with a one-stop solution to their eBook needs, such as managing, tagging, sorting, converting and even sharing, it does so with ease in a well though-out interface.

Install Calibre on Ubuntu

Calibre do not provide distribution-specific packages. Instead you need only run the following command in a terminal to install it:-

sudo python -c "import urllib2; exec urllib2.urlopen('http://status.calibre-ebook.com/linux_installer').read(); main()"

Going Further

Obviously Calibre is one of many eBook readers (as noted at the beginning of the post) but it is the one with the most comprehensive format support & feature set.

But what could make an eBook reader even better?

Anyone who has ever needed to study content from a book for an exam or course will see the need to make notes, highlight things and generally scrawl all over the text. With an eBook you can’t do this – even the latest eBook Hardware doesn’t contain support for this.

I’ll finish up with the last ideal Bilal offered up: -

“I can use it to read my books and make notes on the go, underline/highlight stuff and do all kinds of activity. Plus it should be touchscreen compatible, so that i can make notes with a stylus in my own hand writing like i do on real books. It should support notes, post-it notes etc. the ideas are unlimited – trust me, it would be a students dream come true!”

Screenshot courtesy of the ace Xfact