Monday, 11 June 2012

Software: Calibre

Calibre

With the increasing popularity of e-books and e-book reading devices, one of the main problems is how to organise your library. Individual e-readers usually have some way to set up a hierarchy of folders, but this cannot be transferred between e-readers and often will not sync with e-book reading software on your computer or tablet, even if the software and e-reader come from the same company.

Calibre is an e-book management programme that allows you to manage your library and apply this across devices and formats using a very simple graphic interface. Calibre was issued in 2008, based on earlier software developed by Calibre’s inventor, Kovid Goyal. But it does a lot more than simply manage your e-books and sync your collections to various devices. You can use it to read your e-books and to find new books on the web (sorted by price). It also has a very comprehensive news download function where you can subscribe to news and convert it to an e-book format to read on your chosen device. The news sources come in a variety of languages and most are free.

The software is open source and will work on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. A number of people have contributed to its development over the past few years, making it a powerful piece of software. There are various plug-ins that will allow you to find graphics of book covers or other book details, and you can edit the metadata of your e-books and add in notes about a book for your own reference. The Calibre website has a very useful introductory video to explain how the software works, and there is the inevitable support forum on the mobileread.com website.

One of the frustrating things with e-books is that they come in a variety of formats and these are not always compatible across devices. Many e-books are locked by digital rights management (DRM) keys, which means that you have bought a book but cannot choose the device on which you read it. Amazon.com is a particularly bad offender in this regard, trying to limit the use of e-books to its own proprietary software and devices. No doubt it copied this approach from Apple, but it means that whereas a hard copy book is your property once bought, when you buy an e-book your rights over it are much more limited.

While the inventor of Calibre does not support DRM, the programme does not include any tools to remove DRM keys so that you can convert your e-books between formats for reading on any of your devices. This is where Apprentice Alf rides to the rescue. His website, which provides very clear explanations about DRM and e-book reading, provides links to plug-ins for Calibre that will allow you to convert between all the major e-book formats and read them on the device of your choice.

If you purchase and download e-books, then Calibre will make your library management and shopping for e-books much simpler, and will provide you with tools to maximise the ways you can read and transfer e-books between devices. It is also a very useful way to subscribe to news feeds. As a (late) convert to e-books, I find it indispensable.

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