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Summary:

I’ve really been enjoying reading books using e-book readers. But while many e-readers are good at what they do, they are either tied to a specific vendor, or don’t support Adobe’s widely-used DRM. For reading such books, the free Bluefire Reader for iOS is now available.

I’ve really been enjoying reading books using e-book readers. Despite its lack of support for some formats, the new Kindle has an excellent reading experience. But sometimes, it’s helpful to be able to read on my iPod touch. Stanza (now owned by Amazon) is an excellent e-book reader, but it doesn’t support the copy-protected ePub formats that a lot of online sources use. GoodReader only supports PDFs and text. And I haven’t yet tried the Barnes and Noble Nook apps or their Amazon Kindle counterparts.

All of these products are good at what they do, but they are either tied to a specific vendor, or don’t support Adobe’s widely-used system of copy protection for PDF and ePub files. These files are also sometimes called Adobe Content Server 4 (ACS4) documents.

For reading such books, the free Bluefire Reader for iPhone, iPad and iPad touch is now available. It has a simple interface that is attractive and easy to navigate. The app doesn’t have the wealth of options that Stanza does, but it does allow you to select font size, page turn animations, contrast, and black-on-white or white-on-black text (other color schemes, called themes, are coming). The app can operate in portrait or landscape mode, and it allows you to bookmark and copy text.

In order to read books using the Adobe copy-protection system, you can register the app using your Adobe ID and password, a process that went very quickly and smoothly for me.

As the current version is a 1.0 release, Bluefire Reader is still missing some features. Notably, its system for actually acquiring books is pretty limited. The “Get Books” option offers access to the Feedbooks library of free original and public-domain books, but there isn’t yet a way to copy books from one’s desktop computer, or to access free or paid e-book libraries like Fictionwise or Mobipocket.

The developers told me that they are working on setting up access to other sources, including some of the systems used by public libraries. Here in Seattle, for example, our library system uses Overdrive Digital Library Reserve; other systems are used in other places. I gathered that the developers were rather surprised at how quickly their app was approved, and now seem to be working overtime to add the missing features.

It would certainly be nice if DRMed books fell out of fashion, just as copy-protected software (mostly) did. But until then, Bluefire Reader looks like it will be a good way to read them.

What e-reader do you use?

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  1. DRM is a bug, not a feature ;)

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  2. There is a way to transfer eBooks from your computer to Bluefire Reader using iTunes file sharing. There’s a great tutorial on that here: http://bit.ly/b6jn0j

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  3. Charles Hamilton Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    I got a correction from the developers, which I should share:

    Charles,
    Thanks for the nice blog post on Bluefire Reader, though there is an important inaccuracy. There is a very easy way to transfer files from your desktop machine using iTunes file sharing. There is a great tutorial on that found here: http://bit.ly/b6jn0j
    Best Regards,
    Micah

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  4. Charles Hamilton Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    I’m not sure that I’d call the tutorial Micah mentions “easy,” which underscores the point that Imran made. The difficulties aren’t with Bluefire Reader, but with the Adobe DRM system. Any technology that makes content harder to use is self-defeating in the long run.

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  5. Charles,
    I do agree that DRM can be a pain at times, but in this particular case any complexities are actually related to accessing files that were previously downloaded and managed by an app (ADE) with a managed “library”, then using iTunes file transfer (gateway to a somewhat insular ecosystem) and transferring to a tethered device. That “complexity” is the same whether the files have DRM or not. Granted, for users that don’t already have DRM’d books, or users that are not interested in free books, Blufire Reader is of limited use until we expose the stores and cloud services, which we will do in a few weeks after some pounding in the wild.

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