Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Grow Your Own Library

In my last posting, I wrote about Microsoft Reader and Adobe Acrobat Reader being great tools for reading a variety of books and other documents on the Tablet. I mentioned a couple of sites where you could download books in either Reader's .lit format or Acrobat's .pdf format. Unfortunately, the selection of free books in these formats is fairly limited. There are other sites with many free books, such as Project Gutenberg which has over 15,000 texts on-line, but they are all straight text--not very good for reading on a Tablet. It's the old round hole, square peg dilemma.

Fortunately, this is a peg that can be made to fit the hole by changing the shape of the peg. There are two free tools that I use that (relatively) easily convert text or certain other types of documents into one or the other of the formats that I prefer for reading on my Tablet.

The first of these is the "Read in Microsoft Reader" add-in for Microsoft Word. This add-in should work properly for all versions of Microsoft Word 2000 or later. You can download this file here.

To install the program, make sure that Word (and Outlook, if you are using Word as your email editor in that program) is closed, then run the executable that you downloaded. Installation is straightforward, requiring only a few clicks or taps to confirm settings and agree to the license. When you are done, running Word will show a new icon in the standard toolbar and a new menu choice, Read..., under File. The icon shows the Reader logo, a small "r" with what looks like three green leaves above it. (I tried to find the icon on the Microsoft Reader web site so that I could link to it, but interestingly they don't display it there anywhere.)

Once the program is installed, it is just a matter of loading a document into Word, formatting it if necessary (it probably will be), and clicking this icon. You should verify that the Title, Author, and Filename fields contain appropriate values on the dialog box that displays, then click OK. The program will create the .lit file, place it in the default directory for Reader documents, and optionally load it in MS Reader.

If your document is in Rich Text Format (.rtf), or Word's native format (.doc), you are probably in luck and little or no formatting will be needed. Unfortunately for our purposes, the files at Project Gutenberg are all in plain text. While they can be opened in Word and converted immediately, some formatting to identify titles and headings is helpful at a minimum. If you are adept with Word, you can create quite a nice Reader file by doing more extensive formatting.

The files at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library are in various formats, but only the ThML version (a version of XML) can easily be opened in Word. Some formatting will definitely be required for these files, as they contain special markup tags that must be removed. Again, someone good with Word can create a macro to do this clean up, but I haven't found it too bad to do manually either.

You will likely find other documents of interest either as web pages or as text files. For example, I was looking for a poem by Robert Browning and couldn't find it at either of these two sites. By searching for the title, I was able to locate the entire poem on-line as a web page. Either web pages or straight text files can be opened in Word and converted, although some web pages use certain style sheets that the converter will not handle. These would need to be cut and pasted into a new document. This was the case with the Browning poem, so I just cut and pasted it into Word. Documents that span multiple web pages are best handled that way, too, in my experience. Just open a blank document in Word and the first web page in a browser and cut and paste away, navigating the web pages as needed to get the complete document. It is less bothersome than it sounds, generally.

One nice feature of the Reader converter is that documents that have linked internal bookmarks in Word will likewise have the links in Reader. This means that you can create a Table of Contents that works in Reader by putting bookmarks at chapters, for example, and creating a list of chapter titles that are hyperlinks to these bookmarks.

Another nice feature is that you can select cover art for your document. By default, the converter will place an image showing the Microsoft Word logo as the cover art, but any .jpg image can be used for this.

There are also third-party tools that can do this conversion, some free, some commercial, some basic, some more full-featured. They can be located with a web search engine. I tried several of them when I was first looking for a converter, but I quickly found that the Word add-in suited my needs the best. Plus, once again, the price was right. (Free fits my pocket book really, really well.)

Some documents require a fixed layout to look good, so Reader isn't a good vehicle for them. For these documents the Adobe Acrobat format is good. The tool I use to convert these files is PrimoPDF, one of many PDF printers that are free for the download. A PDF printer, when installed, shows up in your list of printers so pretty much any application that prints can create an Acrobat PDF file. This includes Web pages, though I find that Internet Explorer doesn't always do a good job of formatting web pages for printers, including this one.

PrimoPDF is available from Download and run the executable to install it, once again a very straightforward process. I have had very good success with PrimoPDF, though others have a decided preference for others, such as CutePDF, PDFCreator, or PDF995. I haven't used any of them, so I can't recommend for or against them.

With just these two tools, you should be able to expand your Tablet library to your heart's content for no cost as long as you are content with books on which copyright has expired. There is a whole world of great reading out there, just waiting for you.


Anonymous Erik said...

Great information! After reading your previous post I downloaded MS-Reader. I really like the tool. I had previously downloaded books from the Gutenberg Project but reading unformatted ASCII text files isn't the greatest on these middle-aged eyes. Now I've installed the "Read in Microsoft Reader" add-in for Microsoft Word as per your latest post and now I’m able to create some nicely formatted e-books (with cover illustration no less!). E-books are a good alternative to many printed books but as I collect books as a hobby it can’t replace feel of reading a nicely bound book.

Thanks again for the e-sword tip. I was able to pass it on to some missionary friends who work with homeless children in Bucharest, Romania. They were thrilled to be able to view English, Norwegian and Romanian translations in parallel. It’s a great study aid. I will admit that I can’t bring myself to take my tablet PC to Sunday service. I’d feel too conspicuous; maybe I would if I had a smaller slate model but not the boat anchor Gateway convertible that I currently have.

Thanks again!

Erik Gylte

1:02 PM  
Blogger Mark Payton said...


That's fantastic! Thanks for letting me know.

It would be nice if there were some means of sharing our Reader books so that others could benefit and not have to recreate them for themselves.

I love my Tablet, but like you I find there is no substitute for a well-made book in terms of feel.

Maybe you could get a leather case for your Gateway. It would look like some of the huge Bible cases you sometimes see... Clandestine technology!


9:46 AM  

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