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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Cool Computer Stuff

So, Apple announced and released new Intel Macs today. They look sharp, but I'm a little underwhelmed. They're really just fast new computers to run OS X on, and except for the speed (and eventually battery life) I don't think they're going to be quite as big a change as most people seem to expect.

I've been happily using my iBook since August, and I'm still really liking it. What I've found, though, is that using a Mac hasn't really opened dramatic new vistas of computing before more. The main thing it has done is remind me that "using a computer" doesn't have to be synonymous with "using Windows." It's an easy point to forget, but most of the time the things that people always say they hate about computers are really things they hate about Windows. (Granted, though, if they were using Macs, then they'd have other things they hated about Macs instead.)

I'm really much, much more excited about Sony's new ebook reader than the new Macs...or at least the prospect of pleasantly usable ebook readers finally coming to market. Thinking back to college, it would've been great to have all my textbooks in something that size instead of carrying them all around (or, more frequently, not carrying them at all). A good reader, combined with VitalSource or something like it, could be really special. Personally, I'd love it if I could buy short stories a la carte for $1 or so each. Or, more interestingly, if I could self publish and sell my own writing on that kind of service.

According to Sony's website, their reader will support not only ebooks, but PDFs, blog content, electronic periodicals, and other formats. Alas, however, the website tells us that all of those have to be converted to Sony's proprietary BBeB ("BroadBand eBook") format. What a shame. I guess their thinking is that doing that means the reader only has to support one format, and the conversion can be handled with the syncing software. Still pretty lame, though, and they seem to be keeping it kind of quiet (relegating it to a footnote on their product page), like they're trying to sneak it in.

I'm all for reasonable copyright protection, but it shouldn't be manditory. If I, as an author, want to release my writings in an open, unencumbered format, what's it to Sony? I'm sure it's probably a bone they had to throw to publishers, though, so the real question is how accessible the BBeB creation tools will be to independent authors.

This is all news to me, and I see that Gizmodo has been covering the development of this for quite a while, so maybe those concerns have all been addressed already. I can see great potential in closed formats for content publishers to wrest control (again) from content creators and re-establish themselves as the gatekeepers of public access.

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