Introduction to the Thoutreader ebook reader

I might be one of the last people to know about this, but here goes anyway.

I was (yet again) at the MySQL website looking for the place to download the latest documentation, when I noticed this curious download link called Thoutreader format. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and it took me to the MySQL documentation download link at .

Turns out that the OSoft ThoutReader is an opensource (GPL) Java based cross-platform ebook reader (Sourceforge project). This was exciting - this company gives away the reader, the authoring tools etc. for free, and makes money by providing a valued service - selling DRMed ebook versions of paper books. Now this is not all, as a service to OSS developers it has already created free (non-DRMed) reference packages for the complete Perl, PHP, Python, Apache and MySQL documentation! The Python section of the store not only has the official documentation but also copies of the excellent Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim, and the popular A Byte of Python by our very own Swaroop CH.

Browsing documentation in Thoutreader

The features section of Thoutreader talks about the improvements of the reader over other ebook readers. I am directly quoting some important features here:

  • _ThoutReader™ is NOT a subscription service. _ Once you download ThoutReader™ free or paid content, you own it and can load it on any computer you own. If new updates become available to content you downloaded from, you will be notified by email and the content will automatically be distributed to you at no cost.

  • Install on multiple computers. When you buy and download a package, you own it; much like a book. Instead of “hard coding” encrypted commercial content to a specific machine, OSoft assigns content to the end user. One user = one license, allowing them to install their content on any of their personal computers.

  • ThoutReader™ is an open source, multi-platform application built with Java. Thanks to this, the Linux community has got an ebook reader of their own.

  • Free ThoutCreator™ tools make it easy to create and publish good documentation. Powerful creation tools allow you to publish and distribute your own content. The ThoutReader™ uses XML to render content. Creation tools are free. (_Quite unlike Adobe and Macromedia who give away the readers for free and charge hefty fees for creation tools _)

Package library in Thoutreader

I have already downloaded several of the free available packages. The download process involves accepting a licence which I found odd because the packages I was downloading were free documentation. True to my reputation I didnt bother reading through the legalese and blindly accepted it. But I am sure that licence document requires some inspection.

A grouse I had with the download process was that it prevented me from using a download manager to download the files. So when Firefox died on me in the middle, I had to restart the download from scratch. I am sure a transition from a cookie based shopping cart to one with the sessionid in URL would prevent such an annoyance.

The upcoming titles list is really impressive! Compared to the present paid-for packages(books), this list had some which I can spend money on.

I never thought that being a read-from-printout-only kind that I was, I would be excited by an ebook reader! But there are some reasons behind it.

  • Regardless of the feel-good factor and portability of paper books, nothing beats online documentation when you are coding. Till now I have been mostly downloading HTML documentation to my workstation web server and reading from there. But they are a pain to use ( I hate the latency of web apps, even ones running on my own computer).
  • I tried using xchm with chm formats of several documentation (like php, mysql and adodb). But xchm is still too buggy to use - for some reason, the fonts come all screwed up everytime I start it up, till I open and close the fonts dialog once. Also, it doesnt seem to be under active maintenance.
  • Many books are yet to hit India. Probably because OSS is not particularly strong here. The past year I have noticed a disturbing trend - all the computer book stores I go to, seem to be pushing the o’Reilly book shelves into the back of the shops. Odd OSS books are difficult to find (I am still looking around for the Zope Bible out here).
  • Other ebook readers seem to be too hung up about DRM. The worst part about these DRM schemes is that it holds your machine hostage. You never know the combination of hardware that makes it tick, and the day you upgrade the computer .. BANG .. all your precious investments in DRMed content goes phut. (This is my understanding of DRM in product like Acrobat ebook reader or Windows XP). For once the Thoutreader seems content assigning the rights to the person instead of the computer ( a good analogy being you are allowed to read your book anywhere, not just in the house where it was shipped. Doesnt the DRM concept sound so outrageous when you look at it this way?).

In conclusion, I am really impressed with this latest addition to the Linux platform of an OSS tool I always wanted. I sincerely wish Osoft success in this venture and hope that this ebook platform catches on like wild fire.

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