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Making e-books easier to enjoy

©New York Times, published February 14, 2000

Scheduled for spring release, Microsoft Reader is being promoted as the software that will make reading an electronic book as easy as turning a page. But Microsoft also says the software will improve the appearance of digital text on liquid crystal display screens.

Reader will be the first Microsoft product to use ClearType, a technology that, according to the company, can make on-screen type appear three times as clear as conventional displays. "It will look like professionally published work," said Dick Brass, Microsoft's vice president of technology development.

Reader has an unusual screen appearance. To allow users to focus on the text, the software doesn't have any on-screen icons or navigation devices. It presents text that looks, quite simply, like a page from a conventional book, complete with a title and page number at the top. "We didn't want a rocket ship control panel," Brass said.

Users move through the text by clicking either to the right or the left of the page number. A menu of options is produced by clicking on the title. For now, Reader will allow users to choose only the type size. Everything else related to the page's appearance will be set by e-book publishers.

The software will be distributed free to users and loaded into new handheld devices using Microsoft's new version of the CE operating system, to be called PocketPC. While Brass is eager to expand ClearType to all Microsoft products, he said Reader offers at least a stopgap way to make text easier to read. Files produced using other programs, such as Microsoft Word, or downloaded from the Web can be converted to Reader's .LIT format by using Save As commands.

ClearType won't work with some unusually designed LCD screens or with traditional cathode-ray-tube monitors. Brass said, "For those type of screens we have a perfect solution: an off switch."

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