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Bill Hill - Do you think anyone is going to read a book on the screen?

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Bill Hill talks about the difficulties in making the reading experience on the screen good enough so that people will read entire books on the screen. (He claims that ClearType got people interested in reading long passages on the screen for the first time).

What will get you to read a book on the screen?

Will it be a 200 DPI monitor? (Bill showed us an IBM monitor that costs about $8500 today). Will it be a more comfortable form factor (like the Tablet PC?)

Will it be a new font? (Bill's group is working on some for Longhorn)

Or will it be something else?

By the way, if you're using Windows XP, did you know that you can "tune" ClearType? Visit the ClearType tuner and see what works best for you.

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  • HE3HE3 oh.
    I didnt know people minded reading on screens, I read entire books on my PPC (PocketPC) all the time.   I cant imagine taking a desktop to bed with me though.
  • I've tried reading on a PPC and it was just too tiresome, too small for reading long periods.  Yes you can enlarge the type but then you are changing pages every paragraph or something.
    I think perhaps the future might be in electronic paper.  Where a whole book is stored or can be uploaded to it and you can comfortably read that wherever you choose.  Prior to that method, Tablet PC's of some kind could do it I suppose.
    Naturally many of us do quite a bit of reading on monitors due to blogging, message boards, e-mail, etc.  I think ClearType has definitely made a difference.  When I first turned it on I really noticed how much sharper things appeared.  Even so I can't see reading a book at the monitor.  It is not a natural state to be looking up to read.  Nor is my chair meant for reading, its meant for computing.
    Of course if Longhorn can provide improvements in the clarity of text for reading in long stretches in combination with hardware that can evolve for just that purpose (perhaps swiveling down for reading) then I think bookreading on computers stands a much better chance of becoming mainstream. 
    Although there is something about having a book in hand and reading that computers I don't think will ever mimic well.
  • jkirwanjkirwan carpe fermentum
    I have to agree with ghos. I have read entire books on the PPC, but there's nothing like the feel (and smell) of a real book. To me, reading is just one of those truly oganic experiences that technology cannot reproduce.
  • For me, I think it is the "form factor".

    It's so very convenient to take a book/magazine/newspaper to the "library" or to bed.

    And it's just so easy to use one of these "devices" compared to a laptop (although I haven't tried a TabletPC).  And such "devices" stand up to a lot of abuse, and even if they do get damaged, it's cheap to replace them.

  • Jeremy WJeremy W that blogging guy
    I finally had a chance to turn ClearType on (the tuner doesn't work through our firewall guys, maybe a local tuner?).

    Huge difference. The text is so clear it makes me want to increase the monitor size (my video card at home doesn't go any bigger...).

    I'll definitely be playing around more with this. Fantastic, my eyes feel a lot more relaxed, though some text does look weird...
  • Stack Of ToastStack Of Toast There were build errors??

    For me it would definately be a better form factor such as a Tablet PC (or smaller) and a clearer font. So far nothing beats the old fashioned book for durability, speed (no booting requiried) and portability.

  • Clear type will save thousands of trees! Thanks Bill.
  • TejaaaTejaaa Tejas Patel- The Great
    eagle wrote:
    Clear type will save thousands of trees! Thanks Bill.


    The answer to Robert's question is, 'Yes' & 'No'. I have read many books or their part substancial part on the screen, just becuase I read way to many books on different topics and I cannot afford to buy them all nor can I afford to cut down the forests by printing them all just for reading it once. But sometimes it really gets tiring and yes the 'Form factor' is not there too. I really want few hours away from the computer screen, so I can take away the book or my paper printouts and sit on a chair or in my front yard and breate the fresh air and enjoy the reading. I don't think that I will really enjoy reading 600 page novel on my computer screen nor will I enjoy reading other lengthy books as well.

    But I still read books on programming on the screen as it is easy to follow up and cut and copy the code from there. Well with this Clear Type 'On' on my computer now, I will try to read some books and will let you know my reviews.

    http://geekswithblogs.net/tpatel/archive/2004/04/21/4139.aspx

    Tejas Patel

  • As far as I am concerned, a 200 dpi display is not needed, ClearType does its job wonderfully. And, yes, it's cool to take the tablet PC everywhere as a portable book, it makes me feel a bit like a StarTrek character though.

    One problem I have with the ClearType tuning tool is that - while it works great for most displays - it doesn't provide enough options for some (maybe weird) displays. I realize the whole thing was done with LCD screens in mind, but it looks great on CRT too.

    But on some displays I had the problem that I wanted to increase the anti-aliasing and the general font intensity without bumping up the subpixel rendering at the same time. The result was to either choose a "weak" looking setting OR a "strong" looking setting with color artifacts from subpixel anti-aliasing. Did anyone else have that problem, too?
    (On the other hand, maybe I'm nuts and everything is in my head only.)

    This is a thing that works great on MacOS and X11 from a readability standpoint, though I believe they don't have that cool RGB-subpixel anti-aliasing at all. And the Windows standard font-anti-aliasing (non-ClearType) just plain sucks (not smooth enough) in case you wondered why I don't use that instead...
  • bill hillbill hill bill hill
    I'm going to try to roll a few responses into one mail, so:

    Question or comment: "I can't imagine taking a desktop to bed with me, though"

    Answer: Absolutely right. Commercial success of eBooks will ultimately depend on the right device. None of the major contenders so far hit the quality bar needed. We built a terrific prototype, but currently it's too expensive for a standalone device. But try reading books on an NEC VersaLite Tablet PC. Now you have a great reading device that's also a fully-fledged Windows XP PC, runs Office as well.

    Question or comment: "Reading is one of those truly organic experiences that technology cannot reproduce"

    Answer: The first automobiles were uglier than horses, smelled worse than horses, were less reliable than horses - and you couldn't use their exhaust materials to fertilize your roses either. But within 15 years automobiles had replaced the horse as the primary means of transport in the USA.

    Question or comment: "200dpi is not needed" (This was actually a kind comment about ClearType. Thanks for all the kind comments, BTW)

    The vernier acuity of the fovea - the tiny area in the human retina we use for high resolution pattern recognition (reading being one example) - is about 600dpi.

    ClearType's a hardware resolution multiplier. We don't get a 3x improvement, but with 200dpi and ClearType, you're so far up the curve of Perceived Resolution Improvement v. hardware cost you're in the Law of Diminishing Returns when you throw more reoslution at it.

    I'm typing this in English ( well, Scottish), on a 147dpi Dell Inspiron 8500 laptop with ClearType, and it's beautiful. But if I was typing in a very small font in, say, Japanese I might want more. I think the sweet spot lies somewhere between 140 and 200. But 200 dpi technology is already out there and will become commercially viable over the next five years. Why stop at 147, when at 200, you're done for all languages and have a truly global solution?
  • I've been very willing to read short fiction on my Palm, especially in places where Angel I have my PDA with me anyway, and (b) the quarters are tight.  Examples include airplanes, on the can, and at the beach (Why is my PDA at the beach?  Chance of geocaching. Yeah, I've revealed geekiness).

    The readability has varied from awful (Hugo Nominees in 2002 had munged special characters as html entites which didn't work in PalmDoc format) to excellent (recent Cory Doctorow fiction at http://www.craphound.com).  I've tried a couple of novels, but my PDA-based reading is sporadic enough that short stuff works best.

    So what about laptop reading? Haven't done any.  I've got a short work by Andrew Vachss (http://www.vachss.com) that I've never gotten around to reading because it's only in PDF.  The laptop just isn't as convenient to read on the beach, the can or the airplane seat (not when you're 2 meters tall, it ain't).  And I've got plenty of 'real' books to read on the couch or in bed.

    I had had ClearType turned on, and turned it off for some reason (probably when I had an external monitor attached), and so I turned it on again.  Some things are beautifully better, such as the shadowed text on my desktop.  Some things, though, are annoying: bolded text in Outlook Express tends to have red edges, especially when there's tight horizontal frequencies, like "mail" or "bell."  A few websites are unreadable with white text on light blue in a small font.

  • qwert231qwert231 M Kenyon
    I have a link on my page about Sony/Phillips/eInk's new ebook reader.

    I've always wanted a 4x5 screen size PDA. It would be nice to have more words on a screen at a time. I read Crime and Punishment on my Sony Clie, Hitchhiker's guide to the universe... and some others. Before it died. Now I'm Pda less.
  • blizbliz Bliz
    So when are help docs going to be published as a Reader file? It would be SO helpful to be able to annotate, highlight, bookmark my help documentation. Reader has search / definition / other helpful features as well.
  • PubbPubb Everybody Everybody!
    The reason reading a lot of text on a screen is hard for me is immersion. It’s difficult to concentrate on what you’re reading when you’re constantly distracted. When I read a lot of text on a screen my attention shifts from what I’m reading to operating the computer. Scroll this, click that, press something on the keyboard. All of these are more distracting than flipping a page in a book.
  • Another aspect of the paper 'UI' is physical location. In a lengthy work of fiction or history, a character may reappear after a long break.  I can stick a finger between the pages I'm reading, and flip to scan through the pages to where I *believe* I originally read the first reference.  I have a good visual memory, so I may recall the shape of the paragraph, the place on the page where what I'm looking for can be found.

    Regardless of how fast search is, it's still more of a pain on the PDA to drop in a bookmark, scrawl or copy/paste a search term, search, then flip back again (at least on Palm Reader -- I'd be happy to find more intuitive software).  Perhaps hyperauthoring that assists in linkages to a dramatis personae page; quick search by hilite and a gesture... I don't know.


  • GooberDLXGooberDLX Avatar.Image = Jake.Get​Females();
    If only books had the same "lifetime" that books on a PC had...

    I love reading computer books, as I have hundreds.. but it stinks when you forget one in your basement and a flood happens.. or the binding gets worn out cause you flip through or fold it open.

    Jake
  • Form factor and price of reader.  That's why I read a lot of books on a screen - but it's not a Laptop or a Tablet PC (though I have used a Tablet PC and worked well - just not great.) 

    The device I use is an ancient (by techie standards) reader called the Franklin Rocket Ebook.  It was put out in the 1999-2000 timeframe and I managed to pick one up for about $200.  It's about the size of a paperback book and styled to feel like you're holding a paperback with the cover folded back to the left.  I get about 24 hours reading without the backlight - about 12-14 with the backlight on at the lowest setting (which is my standard mode.)  I upgraded it to 36 MB of RAM and never have run out of space on it.  It stores books in an XML format and does compression on the text to get the best use of space.  Text is low resolution and you don't want to put graphics on it (though it'll take PNG files) and the audible that it has is laughable.  But it'll take html and text files and let me take a library of text with me when I'm on the road - and for most trips I don't even have to bring my charger.  Powers up in about 5 seconds, and I could take annotations and upload them to my PC if I was so inclined (which I'm usually not.) 
    THAT's the target (at least for the market segment of me.)  Give me that level of performance, but give me color, graphics, wireless connectivity, video (like I can get here, and (for some realism) the ability to read PDF's and I'm all for converting.  That's the potential I want the Tablet PC to meet - though I'm worried that we won't get there until the Organic LED's make the displays less expensive and less of a power draw.  The new Sony eInk book looks promising, but the eInk technology has some limits I'm worried about.
  • Shai-HuludShai-Hulud Shai-Hulud

    Well, actually I bought my Convertible (Acer C102) because its ideal for relaxed reading. But the one thing that is  really bad is, that I cant use it reading outside by daylight. Therefore I don't wait for something like ClearType but a paperlike display. I'm very sad that there are prototypes but no company stars mass-production.

    Greetings, Andreas

  • For me, the readability of the on screen font is just fine.
    My big problem with reading a book is the usability of the reader.
    Most books are designed to be read as if printed on a page. That means that I spend a lot of time scrolling through a page, then I have to fish around for the "next page" button.
    Just like Pubb said, you spend too much time using the computer instead of reading the book.
    Some simple rules for me:

    1. Use large type and put less on a page so that I can see everything on a page without scrolling (i.e. make the page horizontal, not vertical)

    2. Allow the user to set two buttons on the computer for going foward and backwards. This will help replace the need for "thumbing" through the pages. That is probrably the number one thing that bugs me is not being able to easily thumb through the "pages" of a book.

    3. Yeap, a table PC would work wonders (but then we are back to making sure there is an easy way to thumb the pages. Sorry, I don't see using the pen to push a "button" on the screen as an easy way to do it. It would have to be  physical buttons properly placed.)
  • Edit: Nevermind! I retract my silly comment.
  • BTW, Bill, what is the shape of the pixels on the Dell Inspiron 8500? Are they the traditional square, or are the a hex shape.

    Do you think changing the shape of the pixel will help make the screen look better?
  • Duncan MackenzieDuncanma "yeah that's awful close, but that's not why I'm so hard done by"

    Opening these comments, as Bill's videos are getting viewed again (also an interesting discussion considering the current state of e-reading Smiley )

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