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Do Open-Source Books Work? 122

bcrowell writes: "Whose version of the digital book is destined for world conquest? Pure and virtuous open-source books don't seem to have spread beyond the computer-science ghetto, while the dark side of the force is represented by the advent of mandatory antibooks in dental school. This article aims to move beyond the moralizing and tackle the real issues that are playing out in the free-book arena." Interesting to see this article come from someone who has himself written such a book.
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Do Open-Source Books Work?

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  • The website [] for Free for All discusses this and suggests that open source is not really a good model for books. While there are some collaborative books out there, most are the work of one person. It's not exactly clear that letting everyone change a book and reissue it as they want is good. Someone could simply take All the President's Men and rewrite a new ending with Richard Nixon chortling in the White House as IRS agents audit and audit Woodward and Bernstein. That's the ending I'm sure one person wanted to read.

    The important thing to remember is that facts are not copyrightable. They're sort of open sourced already. If you want to use a detail or a factoid from a non-fiction book, you can reuse it and reuse it again. You can lift it like you lift a subroutine. Non-fiction is pretty close to open sourced. Yes, you need to rephrase things, but it's probably good for you.

    Fiction is a more complicated matter. I think fan fiction is great. There's no question in my mind that the authors should have less control over their characters. If someone wants to write new Star Trek stories, they shouldn't have to pay Paramount. This is a more radical point and I might be wrong. Maybe there's an better way with open licensing? Paramount would get a fixed amount no matter who grabbed the characters. That's how they regulate covers of songs.

    The important thing to remember is that open source is good and cool because it simplifies cooperation. The lack of copyright on facts is already a quasi open source solution for books. It's a great way for people to exchange knowledge and work together.

  • Thinking in Java was released as an 'online' free book. ( It was also released as a hard copy and a cd-rom. Releasing his book for free did not kill the sales - it improved them. I believe he also released Thinking in C++ for free. Check out the page to find more. Links ::' []
  • What's wrong with that common and garden standby, the TEXT FILE? You can print it, import it to the editor of your choice, quote from it, view it in a Web browser, grep it, search it with the tool of your choice, and for all intents and purposes it's virtually universally readable. Why wrap it in some weird technology?
  • There's something to be said for being able to hold money in your hand. The flexible paper, the weight, the simple fact that you know it is something tangible.

    Considering that people can spend somewhere around ~300 dollars for textbooks for a single year of school, you could make a very expensive "digital book" that would still be economical if textbooks were available free in digital form. I think the obstacles to their adoption will fall. Though I still plan to keep my physical copies of The Lord of the Rings...
  • So I think the better question would be "What will these books evolve into?

    Easy -- Clipboard and Form into the same device...for government bureaucracies to give to people (like @ the DMV).

    Keep in mind, once something is "digital" there really is no limit to what can be done with it...interactive editing, toggle-able highlights (and sets of highlights, catalogued by date, person, topic...), interactive searching and indexing (and saving the search and/or results)...

    And of course, software enforced copyright protection via passwords, encryption, etc...

    With technology that exists today (or is _easily_ implemented -- OBVIOUSLY (so fuck you patent whores)) you can read a book, highlight sections of it for your report, have the software cut-n-paste the highlights into your report, and then have a grammer+thesaurus program reword the text to make it "original"! Who says you need to "buy" term papers in college anymore? All you need to is buy the software to make term papers out of any source material, as long as that material is digital...

    Keep in mind ^ 2 -- screen technology will think that the resolution of the palm is the be-all-end-all of monitors is stupid.

  • Man, you guys should look at OpenMind Publishing Group [] and the OpenText Project []
  • So as to avoid losing sales from those who would be offended, truth is sacrificed.
    There is a way to avoid this, and that is standardized testing with coverage of the controversial material required. If the text omits the material or fails to cover the relevant parts in sufficient detail,
    1. The students fail to learn it;
    2. The district scores deteriorate;
    3. People start asking, "Why aren't our kids learning?"
    This is currently a big problem in science classes, where evolution is under fire from fundamentalist religious groups. It would not be terribly difficult to use examples from contemporary agricultural or public health issues (evolution of insect pests in response to agri-chemicals, evolution of pathogens under selective pressure of antibiotics) as underpinnings for the evolution section of a text. That would make it very hard to avoid, and also ground the material in issues which are familiar to the students, making it more likely to be retained.

    The fact that it would tend to shoot down the fundamentalists and raise lots of skeptics is completely unintentional, really, I mean it...
    Build a man a fire, and he's warm for a day.

  • Check it out: The Riffler []

    A friend of mine has invented a way to electronically browse a book on the Internet using the PDF format. He calls it the Riffler.

    What's really cool about it is that it works just like browsing a real book at a book store. It will randomly generate a page or block of pages that a viewer can read. So instead of posting just chapter 1, you can post a whole book on the Internet(or only part of it if you are worried about someone stealing it.)

  • But we should also realize that no matter what new technology comes along, it will not nor can it ever completely replace the paper book.

    That's silly. Yes, stuff printed on paper is easiest to read right now. But there's no reason to believe that a future technology couldn't make reading stuff on paper as ridiculous as reading an entire book on a computer screen is now.

  • interesting comment. i think that xml in general can be used to solve some of our pain. the idea is to write to a standard dtd which is extended for the various subjects (math, physics would need extra elements). as tools improve, you can write import utilities which will import from framemaker and word. it will be tough, but as the dtd becomes a standard, programs will be made which assist author by forcing templates (if you want to stay in the standard.)

    btw, check out OpenMind Publishing Group [] and OpenText Project []

  • That is as may be, but I've read about digital paper from a number of sources, not just Negroponte. It's clear they are actively working (and beginning to succeed) at create electronic paper that will look and feel like regular paper.
  • I used to work for a major publisher, and I've extensively used both LaTeX and TeX (and all the recent extension thereunto) for a decade now.

    The original author was correct. TeX is most certainly NOT a page-layout program, which is what is required for general publishing. Quark, PageMaker, and FrameMaker (to a lesser extent) are really the only apps that fulfill the multiple-layer, exact positioning, image, font, and coloration requirements that publishing a big book requires.

    TeX most certainly will work for jobs such as many (if not most) technical books (probably all of O'Reilly's books could be done in TeX - heck, the early ones were done in nroff (as was W.R.Steven's books)).

    However, TeX and it's extensions are completely unsuitable for anything that does not consist of huge amounts of plain text with a some equations and maybe a couple of PS figures/images. Believe me, I've tried for years to publish good AD&D suppliments using TeX, and well, I gave up, and now use PageMaker.

    TeX and LaTeX are ideally suited for their designed purpose: publishing mathematics-heavy academic papers and college-level science/math textbooks. They are NOT general-purpose page-layout tools (despite all the work that people have done to try to extend them that way).

    Quark and PageMaker allow the user a degree of control over the visual layout of the work that is the antithesis of TeX (which is wholely a content-oriented system, where exact layout is a BAD thing, much as HTML is supposed to be). They can say: "Put this object Here, wrap the text just so, dither this pattern in this layer, etc." For real publishing, there is no substitute.

    I still love TeX, but the original article was correct: it's a niche product, and does not solve the general problem.


  • opl and the ocl are both interesting licenses. i think that the opl is regrarded as open and free as long as the options (there are 2) are not invoked.
  • about this part of the artocle...they might get ideas:
    The confluence of these technologies has created a vicious circle. Rising production costs drive up bookstore prices, which makes more students buy used books, which reduces sales. To kill off the used book market, publishers bring out a new edition every few years, with just enough changes to make it impractical to use it side by side in the same classroom with the previous edition. To compensate for the added cost of tooling up for so many new editions, publishers raise their prices, which starts the whole cycle over again.
    Can you say backwards-combatability, people? I knew you could...

  • we, OpenMind Publishing Group [] are trying. please take a second to check us out. we need content and help with the build. also take a look at the OpenText Project []. Thanks.
  • I tried OSing my book, and it was a miserable failure. I started out with a juicy tale about the erotic education of a 30-year-old virgin named Penelope Prood, but when I OSed it some perverts got hold of it and converted it into a boring treatise on safe sex.

  • There's something to be said for books that have been hand-written by monks. The heavy parchment, the massive weight of the tome, the calligraphy, the leather binding, the uniqueness of each volume. If you ask me, machine-printed books are a fad. The printing press will never replace calligraphers.
  • There's something to be said for being able to hold a book in your hand. The flexible pages, the weight, the simple fact that you know it is something tangible.

    Are these arguments for or against paper books? To me, being able to hold a book in your hand is restrictive. The flexible pages - it's not that nice when you accidentally tear a few of them apart. The weight - that much more to carry around with you. Tangibility - meaning "this is mine, this is not to be shared with others. Open source? Freedom?

  • So now instead of authors receiving fan mail, authors can receive thousands to millions of angry letters saying "OPEN THE SOURCE! OPEN THE SOURCE! CmdrTaco's -- I mean, Stephen King's -- latest effort really sucks, the code -- I mean, prose -- is totally buggy and how can you call yourself a zealot -- I mean, developer -- I mean, author if you don't OPEN THE SOURCE!"
  • ...and it's printed on PAPER!

    How Orwellian can our government possibly get? First, they want to control what movies we watch and what games we play. Now, they want to control what we READ. How many mental casualties will it take before we protest this thought control?


  • One of the big advantages electronic text has over printed text is price. Bits are CHEAP, and pushing them around is cheap. No million-dollar book press, no billion-dollar physical distribution system.

    This makes electronic text a really good way to give consumers a taste of the book, so that you can sell them a physical copy later.

    I'm reading H.G. Wells' When The Sleeper Wakes right now on my Palm Pilot. I'm already going to buy it in hardcopy, so that I have a nice, permanent version to read.

    This would help publishers with one of their big problems right now: people aren't discovering new authors they like because with the high price of books, it's too expensive to experiment. Letting people try out new writers cheaply via electronic text sets consumers up to then buy hardcopy of the stuff they like.

    Another nice thing about electronic text is that it is well-suited to ephemeral publishing like periodicals and software doc, because it is easy to replace with the next issue/version and you don't waste a lot of paper doing so.

  • The only important thing about books is the content.

    That's not true. Books can be counted on to be readable thousands of years from now. You write a book and bury it somewhere, and in a thousand years you can count on someone, somewhere, being able to figure out the idea behind your words. Put it in a digital black box, and maybe we will no longer have the technology available to read it. Books are a form of putting ideas into a tangible, and archivable form. Despite all our computer advances, books, not discs, are what we use for long term archiving.

    is akin to dismissing art lovers who purchase prints instead of originals.

    Mmm, but there's only one original. That is, afterall, why they're called "originals". A bad analogy to use with books, because everyone these days has the ability to produce one. Given the literary talent one finds in most of them, this is quite obvious. However, if that isn't convincing enough, simply send a 500 page Word document to your printer, and then take it to Kinkos and ask them to bind it for you. Viola, one book.

    What the hell does the media have to do with what I'm trying to say?

    It doesn't diminish the quality of the work, only the experience. Ideas are intangible.

    If I were a writer...

    Funny.. what were you doing just now?

    Digital books are fundamentally the Right Thing.

    Yes, in the same way that the telegraph was the Right Thing before the telephone, or the telgram was the Right Thing before the radio, or the radio before the television, or the calculator before the computer...

    Digital books will break down, become worn out. REAL books don't have that limitation. You can't archive a digital book for a thousand years.. the batteries will go dead. Somebody might not be able to service it. There is no sticker on the back of a real book that says "no user serviceable parts inside". Not only that, but you can loan a REAL book to your friend. Under the spectre of the stranglehold IP proponents have, it's unlikely you'll be able to loan your digital book to your friend without being thrown in jail and fined a half million dollars.

    Now it's your turn to step down from your pedestal and get a firm grip on reality. Digital books are not the end all and be all of content distribution, in the same way that digital music isn't the end all and be all of music distribution. I still prefer going to a concert as opposed to watching it on TV or listening to it in the form of a CD.


  • In his foot note, the author even states, "The best known license for applying the open-source concept to other forms of expression besides computer code is the OPL." He does not explain why.

    My statement about "best known" was based on a scientifically rigorous study with a sample size of one == me :-) I'd never heard of the GFDL. Thanks for alerting me to its existence. I haven't studied the licenses carefully enough to evaluate their relative merits, but I'll be happy to add a link GFDL to the footnote.

  • > Is information best taught in the linear format used in textbooks?

    Perhaps the best method is individual instruction from a teacher with the ability to make complex topics understandable and the patience of Job. But due to the number of teachers and time required, this solution is not very scalable. :-)=

    If your argument is against the linear format rather than the textbook itself, what about publishing information in HTML? How about PDF, it includes hyperlinks but can be printed? Is that non-linear enough for you?
  • I don't see the problem. Why shouldn't someone be allowed to paint a copy of the Mona Lisa with a different smile? Why not rework portions of Chaucer? As long as you don't claim to have written parts you didn't write (which open source forbids as well), I don't see the problem.
  • As far as the technical hurdles described in the article, a solution that he overlooked was SGML with the DocBook DTD. This is currently being used by teams working on Linux and *BSD documentation.

    Their are several drool-proof GUI tools that users can use like ArborText or a plug-in for Framemaker. There are others but I don't recall them all, I prefer editing by hand with a text editor.

    The SGML format can be transformed into Postscript, PDF, HTML, RTF, XML, etc. The tools to do these transformations have their source code available and can work cross-platform.
  • I was very surprised at how many nice e-mails I got from people in the 3rd world who were using my online physics book in one way or another. But yeah, the students don't have computers, so it's not a complete solution.

    Since it's a college-level book, I was also surprised to hear from a lot of high school teachers, but it sort of makes sense -- high schools are often really strapped for textbook money.

  • Pessimism is understandable, Open Source and related concepts, frankly, sound pretty wild. I didn't used to buy Open Source as viable, but over time I began understanding it.

    However, it's obvious that for different media and different situations, there will have to be different forms of Open Source. A book is like a program (involves information and perhaps instructions) but it is not a program.

    Still, it's worth experimenting. I've enjoyed some of the wild non-program OS ideas here at Slashdot, and even if every last one of them turns out to be useless, they at least made me think.
  • We already have a dtd. It's known as grammar. No nasty little tags to worry about either.
  • From the article:
    Color printing has been getting cheaper, and full color, though still fantastically expensive to set up for production, is now considered mandatory for high school and introductory college textbooks.

    Why is that mandatory? My thermodynamics book had only the barest of black-and-white line-drawing illustrations, yet it was one of the most useful books I had in college. I think a big reason why open-source books have not caught on is that many college professors write/contribute to textbooks. If your book is a Kinko's production used by your own students only, next to a full-color nationwide-selling slick-looking textbook by one of your peers, you don't get the same respect or financial gain. Content doesn't matter, so it's not really the issue. It's marketing.

    Production costs for something less than the finest full-color production are incredibly cheap (since the days of Gutenberg -- the German inventor, not the web site -- black and white has always been pretty cheap), there's no reason textbooks couldn't be close to free, other than greed. We've been sold the idea that slick packaging means better education.

    Maybe if every parent who pays for their kid's education made a fuss about the cost of textbooks, schools would look for other solutions.

  • If I were a writer, I'd be incredibly offended at someone that said my words had less meaning if they weren't printed on the right kind of paper. What the hell does the media have to do with what I'm trying to say? The value of a piece of text is in the message that it conveys, not the quality of the paper it's printed on.

    "The medium is the message..." - Marshall Machluan

    I am a writer. Content is important, but so is presentation. Literature is not composed of books on HTML, Linux, Perl etc. etc. etc. For these topics, content may far outweigh presentation. But what about O'Reilly? Their cover images and postcards are innovative and interesting. They add nothing to the content per se but go a long way in creating O'Reilly's image.

    For literature, it may also be argued that content outweighs presentation. This attitude, while entirely practical, ignores the esthetics of books in general. I possess two versions of the Hobbit and Lord of The Rings. One version is the standard paperback, great for reading on the bus etc. The other is a presentation bound, tooled cover, boxed set. The paper is of superior quality and the printing is crisp and clear. I do read the "superior" version usually in an armchair with a cup of tea. Same book same content, entirely different experience. note: I said different not necessarily better.

    Finally, there is the rightly famous version of Farenheit 451 bound in asbestos. Physical form bound to content to create somthing more than either alone.

  • Holy shit! Is there ANYTHING that you people DON'T think should be GPL'ed? A book is a form of artistic expression, not a tool!

    What next? Open Source painting?
    Y'know, we never liked the ambiguity of Mona Lisa's smile, so Jimbo here painted over it.

    Hacking Chaucer?
    Dude, I got this sweet algorithm that totally eliminates the need for the Wife of Bath's story!

    Christ on a Vespa! You can not expect to use one liscense to save the world!

  • CVS is a good system for open source books as well as software. Books do not have to be written in a proprietary binary format. They can be written in DocBook or some other SGML or XML based format.

    This leads me to wonder, are there any word processors that export these formats?

  • The question is, however, how can these liscences and concepts be applied effectively. It's only by exploring extremes that we find a reasonable center.

    Besides, one man's tool is another man's art and vice versa.
  • You may just be flaming, but I beg to differ.

    I'm an 'open source hippie' and I have been told my writing skills are quite good. Not to toot my own horn (honk, honk) but I've been published in magazines and am currently writing my first book.

    I think there are plenty of people into open source that are very, very good writers. In fact, some of the trolls on slashdot would be excellent writers if they channelled their energies into something a little more productive than trolling. They obviously know how to write a good story (or parody) and are very good at creating a nice dialog. It's a little disappointing to read through one of the rather lengthy fictitious stories posted by a troll or off-topic poster and realize that all that talent is going to waste.

    Write some good fiction, and publish it open-source/open-content. That's what I'm working towards. And you don't have to sell your sould to have your work appreciated. Of course, if you're just into the trolling, then I'm totally off base in my assumption the posting on slashdot is simply from boredom. In which case, ignore me.:-)
  • Having used this book, I do think it's an excellent product. I strongly reccomend it to all Java programmers.

    I don't think this is exactly the same as what is proposed in the article, but it does show there's many ways to approach distribution and availability beyond the current models.

    What we will likely see n the future are several different approaches to distributing text information, not one. Different models fit different needs, areas, and people.
  • What a bunch of shite. Some of us prefer the electronic format because it isn't paper, therefore more economical, likely more environmentally sane. Let's not forget that the O'Reilly library would fit rather nicely on DVD-ROM instead of in thousands of pages in dozens of bindings and occupy multiple shelves (and I think you know that, too).

    As far as eDocuments being a pain to read goes, you're right, particularly if you're talking about PDF, which usually isn't very pleasant to read until printed.

    OTOH, if a format existed that allowed custom public/private/protected bookmarks and annotations with embedded multimedia, you've really got something. I'd like to see dead trees pull that one off...
  • If you know the structure of the document in advance of its composition (as you might if the document/book is fatual in nature), then your problem is trivial to solve. Simply allow entry of the structure/outline of the document into some widely accessible and centralized format (e.g. a web page application - PHP should work) and allow a document entry for each "leaf" on the document's "tree". Allow only one person at a time to change each document. Versioning can be done behind the scenes or explicitly by the user. Put together a tool that can extract a document from the collected contents at any one given time, and voila!

    Pros: structured document entry (lends itself to conversions to other formats, like XML), primitive concurrency control, centralization of the documentation, no more proprietary documentation formats
    Cons: requires a centralized server that will need administration and other upkeep, whining from users about having to use a web page instead of Word, training costs, potentially limits your users document contents, requires an agreed-upon document structure before composition occurs
  • Negroponte has continually proven himself to be a complete moron in the pages of Wired. As a general rule, if he advocates something then it is a stupid idea.
  • When Jon Katz's new book comes out, I'll reserve a copy from the library and pay a kid down the street a penny a page to scan it for me. Then I'll turn it into HTML, eBook, .lit, text, PDF, etc. formats and stick it on a website so that anyone who already owns a copy can download it into their favorite portable format.

    I hope that he doesn't mind (I can't tell from his writing whether he would or not — he might genuinely appreciate it being made more accessible at no charge to him), but it doesn't really matter whether he does or not, because I'll be posting the copies regardless. (I think it's all right for me to borrow the book from the library rather than buy the book outright, since I won't be reading it myself.)


  • Yes, I read the article. It talks about starting with textbooks as a way to integrate OS into publishing. The article also completely fails to acknowldge the existance of non-textbooks (no pun intended).

    This is still a dumb idea. Open Source is great when applied to a very small subsect of computer-related things. It sucks for everything else because it was not made for anything else.

    I swear, /. readers grasp ONE concept and then they get some kind of vapor lock of the brain. Believe it or not, there are other approaches to dealing with issues besides those advocated by Stallman.

  • The verbage as I remember it was that there would be an "open"(read gratis) version available online. Has the book already been published and in stores? I would have thought there would have been a big announcement here (If not then perhaps they're in for another round of flaming? At least this article is appropriate and fairly ontopic for the subject.)

    Fist Prost

    "We're talking about a planet of helpdesks."
  • Books often use a non-proprietary language called ENGLISH that needn't be licensed in order to use. And like HTML any and all derivitive works based upon ENGLISH are by definition open source, since the rendering engine (sometimes called the reader) must have direct access to the source.
  • A book is a form of artistic expression, not a tool!

    Did you read the article? It's talking about textbooks. A textbook most definitely is a tool and not artistic expression. Unless it's a really bad textbook...
  • What's your source? A decrease of 50% huh? So, where did you get standardized IQ scores from 250 years ago?
  • This article was a pleasure to read, and it is nice to see a well written argument in the midst of straw man arguments and yelling on the Internet. I have given a bit of thought to this very idea and I approached several professors and proposed a means of breaking the book store cartel, but it didn't work out. The problem we found was the same that the author found. If you distribute something electronically people print it.

    I attribute some of this to a thinking problem that Xerox accidentally discovered years ago. The impetus for their research into the GUI was that they were concerned that electronic documents would render the copy machine and the press useless. It turns out that desktop publishing increased our paper usage ten fold and Xerox had nothing to fear. It isn't because we can't do this stuff... people simply don't want to think differently.

    I'll give an example from a place where I do contract work. Frequently I'll send email to someone in the department with answers to questions or with proposals. They print out the email and walk the peice of paper over to my desk and talk about it. They could have just responded to the email, but they don't think like that. More accurately, they choose not to think like that. Sad, but true. I don't expect people to be cold and never to talk face to face, but at the least we should use the technology for what it is good at. It is good for communication.

    Although I think this is mostly a thinking problem, much like the purchase of SUVs in America, I concede that there is a technical limitation with our displays. It is simply not pleasant to read a lot of material on a CRT. I find laptop and flatscreen LCD displays to be much better, but a book is still much easier on the eyes. I'm sure this will be resolved someday, but it really won't matter unless people start disconnecting from their printers.

  • One of my areas of interest is Java and two excellent books on that topic are available as freely downloadable files and they also sell in the shops. Bruce Eckels Thinking in Java can be downloaded in various formats and I can buy it in my local book shop.

    Ed Romans (excellent) EJB book is downloadable in exchange for registering at the serverside web site and is also available from one of the mainstream tech book publishers. These are top notch highly rated books.

    I suspect the authors make up in the lecturing and reputation anything they loose in the retail. Bruce sells a CD video and the book acts as a sales tool for this.

    I have been writing a java certification tutorial as a web site that has grown into a book. Maybe I'll buy a duplex laser printer and offer it in dead tree format in exchange for money. I suspect there will be a market from those who can't be bothered to muck about with printers, folders and loads of paper.

    None of these ideas involves making the books "open source", the authors keep the exclusive rights to sell the printed version, but jo and joanne public get a benefit of the content for close to free if they so choose.


  • Everyone is making comments about online books and ebooks, which aren't the same as Open Source books. Or maybe this was just an error in the headline.

    An open source book means that anyone can contribute and/or edit. That's not necessarily a good thing. Boooks are written by experts in a field. The net is crawling with "experts" which are hardly the same thing.
  • Pure and virtuous open-source books don't seem to have spread beyond the computer-science ghetto

    What makes these works "virtuous"? One example of non-virtue is that I recently purchased a text for $50 because I wanted the information contained therein. Upon taking the book home and opening it, I discovered that it was an "open-source" book and that I could have recieved exactly the same information without spending $50. I don't know about you, but I was pretty pissed at spending $50 for processed wood pulp. If you asked a bartender how much a glass of beer is, and he says $3 and you buy it, then he proceeds to announce all future beers on the house, you would be pissed too.

    Sharing your works with others is indeed virtuous, but charging folks money for what you already intend to give them for free is immoral. If you wish for donations to support your work, then be brutally honest about it and call it a donation! (Yes, I was pissed at paying $50, but in the end it was still my own damn fault for not being informed about the book)

    ...while the dark side of the force is represented by the advent of mandatory antibooks in dental school

    All schools have "mandatory" textbooks. As this is a dental school (a medical profession), I am sincerely glad that some of their texts are mandatory. However, do not mistake this use of the term "mandatory" as being non-voluntary. No one is required to attend dental school or one particular dental school. Neither are the professors required to use them.

    And then there is the coined term "antibooks". Apparently this is in reference to books that are password protected and licensed. I fully agree that people should have extensive rights to their own copies of works, but you you have a licensed work, it is not your copy! You have only purchased to right to use it, you have not purchased the book itself. Again, no one is being forced to use these books.

    Of course, there will be those of you saying that you are forced to because your professor assigned it, and that you just can't take another class instead. This is BS and run-of-the-mill student whining. Last I heard, the general populace was not enrolled in dental school. Apparently one must make an explicit choice of their own free will to enroll.

    It seems as if in their zeal for Free Software and Open Source, the slashdot crowd has lost track of what freedom and liberty are all about. Liberty is not about getting whatever you desire and damn all who stand in your way. Liberty is about being in control of your own lives, freedoms and property. If you wish to be in partial control of another's property (a textbook or software package), you must make arrangements with that person. You are not allowed to use force to get your way. If the textbook author places terms and conditions upon the use of his property that you don't like, then don't use it. But if you do agree and take the textbook, then breach the agreement who have made, then you are a liar, and that is immoral.
  • I like both digital books and paper books for different reasons.

    Paper books have all the quality paper books have, which I am sure all these other posts will point out, which makes them easier to read and manipulate.

    But as reference material goes, nothing beats a digital book. I keep a copy of O'Reilly's Ethernet book in my laptop bag as a reference. I would kill to be able to find a digital version of this book in order to save weight and space in my bag, which is very important when you travel at all with your laptop.

    I say there should be more digital books, simply because they don't make your laptop weigh any more than it already does, and keep the status quo on the printed material as well.

    Lou Albano -Ex manager of Wrestlers
  • Open-Source books and more broadly free educational (Internet-based) information are a blessing for developing countries.

    I would lie when I would say that teachers are not needed anymore because of those free resources of knowledge.But in future, once when our teaching staff will have itself adjusted to the Internet revolution, more of our usually large poor population will be able to enjoy basic education because the task of teachers on higher level will be reduced (partly overtaken by the Internet) so those teachers will become available for basic education.

    Of course a condicio sine qua non is that (old, 2nd hand) computers find their way to the 3rd world. But I am optimistic.

  • I have serious doubts about fiction working as "open-source" (even collaborative works between commercial authors often fail miserably).

    But.. I did think of a couple interesting ideas (perhaps these are not new, forgive me if so)..

    - Religious documents. I'm presently reading Wilton Barnhardt's "Gospel" (and yes, this is a novel, not an actual historical text). Still, not being the religious sort, it's quite fascinating to peek into the origins of current-day religions, and to ponder the extent to which the church has manipulated history to its own ends and how. It might be beneficial to have the public rather the Catholic chruch dictate what's "official" and what isn't. (Which of the gospels are discredited? Which gospels offer contradictory evidence? Which popes decided this or that? How do we re-evaluate it all to make sense of it?)

    - Historical Documents. "The winners write the history books" -- no longer? In the interest of historical accuracy for future generations, would it not be beneficial to have, say, a history of the Gulf War written as a collaboration by people around the world? By people who lived through it? By people who fought in it?

    A ranking system akin to Slashdot's might work well for something like this. I think it would need to be founded by a genuinely well-intended (whatever that means) core group. These things seem to be in their infancy, but I wonder if they'll wind up like software -- you start with a shitty core (eg DOS) and you wind up with half-baked stability (i.e. Win95). Hopefully it would differ from Linux in its accessibility to the masses..
  • For those of you, not unlike Signal 11, who are too stupid to look more than a few weeks into the future, consider something like instead. []
  • Your theories on market failure seem very sound. Thank you for presenting them.

    However, I don't think government sponsorship of textbooks will help, because it will become a political nightmare. Imagine all of the fights over textbooks happening all at once on a national level!

    Also, who is going to supervise the government's work, and what guarantee is there that the people supervising the work would have the proper discretion anyway? Frankly, just saying "the government can do it" does NOT make me think that the problems of bias and politicizing of textbooks would somehow magically go away. I don't think big government possesses the degree of wisdom and impartiality that you seem to be attributing to it. I'd rather be able to yell at my school board and get rid of the bad eggs at the next local elections, thank you.

    What the government could do that would help would be to shine more light on the issues of how much of the costs of textbooks go towards for marketing and fluff. And, if there are small publishers whose work is a relative bargain, the Department of Education would be wise to set up a cheap web page pointing these kinds of bargains out to school boards and teachers.


  • It sucks for everything else because it was not made for anything else.

    That's stupid. The only way you could possibly believe this is if you think all designers tailor-make stuff to solve exactly one problem. Telescopes weren't originally made for looking at stars. Kleenex were made for removing make-up.

    If you think it won't work, try giving actual reasons for it.

    I swear, /. readers grasp ONE concept and then they get some kind of vapor lock of the brain.

    So either:
    a) you don't read Slashdot.
    b) you've never grasped a concept.
    c) you have vapor lock of the brain.

    Regardless, you haven't made an intelligent comment.
  • That is a revolting concept. And before you mention music sampling or collage, those things are already covered by Fair Use. Open Source is a completely different animal.

    To take your comment to one of its' logical conclusions; why shouldn't I be allowed to have sex with your wife, as long as I don't claim to be your childrens' father?

  • Plain text. File extension "TXT." 'Nuff said.
  • Hey, Hemos and Katz...

    What happened to the Columbine book(s) material that you were going to release?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    For instance, dropping a 4 pound physics book on the desk in front of a sleeping student who drank too much last night is a sure way to get their attention.

    And then there's that couch you picked up in the garbage, so what if it's missing a leg, that's what textbooks are for.

    And when you are done with college, you can hollow out one or two to keep your stash in. No underclass burglar is going to grab your copy of Differential Equations and Laplacian Equations.

    This is why there will always be a need for a few double LP albums, have you ever tried to clean your stash and roll a joint on a CD?

    thank you very much.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @09:49AM (#752735)
    There's something to be said for being able to hold a book in your hand. The flexible pages, the weight, the simple fact that you know it is something tangible.

    All of the current "digital books" that I've seen are a kind of tablet and you click buttons to make the pages scroll by. A big version of a palm pilot, or one of those Transmeta "web appliances". They won't replace books, because books have a quality that pure digital devices don't.

    A book has texture, substance, density, weight, alot of things that make it much more physical, and therefore real, than these digital books do. If you're asking me, this is a fad. These digital books will wind up looking more like the Star Trek pads that you saw being waved about. Small palm-pilot sized devices which can interface with nearby systems (bluetooth) and upload/download information. They will have texts in them, of course, but people won't use them to read volumes - it strains the eye.

    So I think the better question would be "What will these books evolve into?"


  • Digital books will break down, become worn out. REAL books don't have that limitation.

    That's funny; the way I see it, it's exactly the other way around. If you have a copy of Programming Perl on your wireless network server, and drop your "Star Trek Pad" into the water while reading it in the bathtub, you haven't destroyed your copy of the book.

    You're getting too bogged down in implementation issues. When I say "digital book", I don't mean product X from company Y, I mean the notion of using a digital device to access a "soft" version of the book's contents. This might be a Palm device reading a Gutenberg project text from internal memory, it might be the Hitchhiker's Guide pulling down a short description of the Earth out of the sub-ether.

    The key point is that the "book" is merely an access device. The content is an abstract digital work that can be viewed or manipulated in a thousand ways. The device and the content are divorced.

    ...the batteries will go dead. Somebody might not be able to service it. There is no sticker on the back of a real book that says "no user serviceable parts inside". Not only that, but you can loan a REAL book to your friend. [IP lawyers suck]...

    Implementation, implementation. Yes, it has to be done right. Your original post was against digital media in a purely aesthetic sense.

  • I know I'm probably going to be flamed for this but I personally like the Microsoft .lit format for eBooks. They are a lot less strenuous on the eyes than .txt and .doc, and even .pdf. Microsoft Reader is the best eBook reader that I have seen. The only problem is that it isn't an open format, which is too bad, because MS actually has something nice here. This is actually the main reason I got my iPaq, so I can use it to read books. I've gather a collection of about 400 eBooks in .lit format, I keep them on my windows partition and sync whatever book I want to read to my iPaq. It saves a lot of space (physical space) to keep the books on my computer than on my bookshelf. Plus come on who doesn't want to read books like they do on Star Trek?
  • by plover ( 150551 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @09:53AM (#752738) Homepage Journal
    What if the authors of Open Source Books were to release them in eBook format? Yes, I realize that dead trees are still here to stay, but for many studens the appeal of a no-cost copy of the book may swing the deal?

    It won't solve the "can't merge Word docs with Pagemaker docs" sort of problems (unless the authors agree up front to always write in RTF.)


  • It's worth noting that the author is publishing this under the Open Content Publication License [] as opposed to the GNU Free Documentation License [] which seems just as adequate.

    In his foot note, the author even states, "The best known license for applying the open-source concept to other forms of expression besides computer code is the OPL." He does not explain why.

  • "There's something to be said for being able to hold a book in your hand. The flexible pages, the weight, the simple fact that you know it is something tangible. All of the current "digital books" that I've seen are a kind of tablet and you click buttons to make the pages scroll by"

    The key words in your thought are "that I've seen." Future digital books will look just like regular books, if that is what you want. Note this discussion [], including the comments by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte.

    So in the near future, a digital book will have all the advantages of a regular book plus all the extra advantages of digital. Once that happens, regular books will be marginalized except among the folks who reject any new concept.

    Then the next generation will come along and will say, "Hey, I don't care about some old book-style paper smell and feel! I want some rad new paradigm for my books", and the book form may change entirely.

    At a minimum, however, regular dead-tree books are doomed. Digital holds too much promise.

  • Nah... think open sourced software documentation. If it sucks, rewrite it.

  • Quite a few physicists and mathematicians know LaTeX, but it's far from being a universal standard, and it does not allow the kind of control that is necessary for a book with a complex layout and lots of illustrations. (To be fair, many LaTeX users would consider this a feature, not a bug, since it results from the philosophy of separating form from content.)

    I'm not sure the author has really studied TeX very carefully; on the contrary, it is extremely flexible, and allows enormous amounts of control--it's just the default macros used by LaTeX that this author is unhappy with.

    But maybe I'm missing something? What can you do in the page desktop publish programs he mentions that you can't do in TeX?

    Not that I'm suggesting TeX would be the ideal format, but at least for a math textbook, say, it might work well, since most of the contributors are likely to be fairly comfortable with TeX already.

    ---J. Bruce Fields

  • The cost of printing and distributing textbooks is fairly small. Admittedly, it is less profitable to do a small run of some huge graduate physics text than a mass market bestseller, but still, it isn't the cost of printing and distribution that makes textbooks expensive.

    I've been trying for years to find out what the problem is, and as far as I can see, it's a case of simple market failure. A big textbook publisher offers a large royalty to an author to write a text, spends a lot of money marketing it, uses various forms of kickbacks and influence to get universities and school boards to buy it, and then has to charge a fortune to compensate for these costs. Smaller price publishers could enter the market, but without high pressure marketing or big names doing the writing, or claims of US Dept. of Education approval or something, they stand little chance of selling, much less making a profit on short runs.

    In the end costs are high and neither publishers nor authors are seeing large profits. Important texts often go out of print. My textbook for phonetics was Ladefoged's "Course in Phonetics" - far and away the best text in the English (and several other languages) on the subject. Yet, it was out of print for 15 years because the publisher held the rights and didn't think it was profitable to print up. I used photocopies. (BTW, the book is now back in print and selling well. It's available from Amazon in paperback for $57.50 - a still obscenely high price for such a fundammental text.)

    I have a proposal, but no one is going to like since it invovles spending tax money.

    Government could commission textbooks from worthy authors, print them up and sell them at cost, and release them as some form of open content. (I prefer the kind of model that allows unlimited republishing, but not the kinds of modifications open source software allows. Authors want books with their names on them to say what they want them to, and not something else.) If other publishers want to reprint them and sell them, they can, but they have to compete on an open market for their editions.

    I think this would have the effect of reducing prices in general. Good text writers could receive a reasonable cash payment up front, and the government has no vested interest in uselessly rereleasing modified versions, but has no motive not to update the text when it genuinely calls for updating.

    Those who do write genuinely better texts and don't want to participate in this scheme can still write and publish independently. They do, however, have to have content that is really better because they have to compete with these low cost texts.

    In the end, everybody gets at least a bit of money and good texts stay available. No one ever got rich writing textbooks anyway, so I think my half-loaf is better than none for everyone involved.

    As for the cost to government, remember that tax money already pays for high priced texts. Most students get grants or student loans to go to college, and public school textbooks are fully paid for out of public school budgets. I think my system would cost less in the long run.
  • by Mark F. Komarinski ( 97174 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @10:45AM (#752744) Homepage
    The LDP is using CVS to store its documents (DocBook SGML) and I've collaborated with other LDP authors on the LDP Authoring Guide [] (formerly the HOWTO-HOWTO) via CVS.

    In terms of editors, there are quite a few:

    PSGML for Emacs (highlighting and validation)
    gvim does DocBook highlighting
    LyX has some rudimentary DocBook export support
    nedit supports hightlighting and validation
    tksgml is more tag-oriented, but has a nice layout
    WordPerfect for Windows also has an SGML mode (the Linux version apparently does not)

    I give a quick mention (along with URLs) of most of the above in the LAG.

  • Those wishing to get involved in a serious effort to make open content happen in a real way should investigate Nupedia [], the open content encyclopedia.

    Nupedia has 2500 members and has worked really hard to put together an editorial/oversight framework that guarantees quality. Thus far, 5 short articles have worked their way through the system, and over 100 more are currently in process.

    The main thing that is needed are volunteers ready and willing to make things happen. If you're like me, and not good enough of a programmer to contribute something back to the community in terms of software, here's your chance. Whatever you are an expert in, Nupedia needs your help.

  • I believe the OPL came before the GFDL... I sure heard of it first. In fact, I only heard of the GFDL very recently, in the past month or so, while I've known about the OPL for at least a year and a half...

  • Funny you should mention "hacking Chaucer" and the Wife of Bath's tale.

    At a symposium on "The Transformation of the Book" (which directly pertains to this conversation) at MIT, a Chaucer scholar presented the work of his group. There are some ~50 (IIRC) extant source manuscripts containing the Wife of Bath's Prologue, and these blokes put together a massively hypertextual comparative edition (on CD).

    This was immediately followed by a presentation on the Perseus project [] in classical literature at Tufts. It was at well over a million (hand coded!) links at the time of the presentation.

    The point of this is three-fold:

    1. The boundary of book and program can blur pretty dramatically. When a "book" is a site or a CD, then the laws which pertain to programs may be well applied.
    2. The idea that a book is, as you say, "an artistic expression, not a tool", is clearly incorrect in these quite legitimate cases, and in the case (textbooks) presented in the cited paper. No one was suggesting open sourcing novels, they were talking about reference and teaching works.
    3. The second of the two cases above seems to me to clearly be open source: you can (if you have great bandwidth and are really, really patient) download the thing for yourself and edit it to your heart's content. If you want to submit a "patch" (i.e. a bit of relevant ancient greek trivia), they'd probably be delighted to receive it and would incorporate it into their main edition.
  • please take a look at OpenMind Publishing Group [] and the OpenText Project []. They are trying to bring open source to higher education.
  • There is already a quite lively trade going on in "open source" books. The Gutenburg Project ( []has a long history of archiving expired copyright texts in ascii. I built a simple XML tag set for these and some macros in my favorite editor and created an XML document and a couple of stylesheets that I use to transform those into html or PDF using formatting objects.

    I later found that the Oxford Text Archive ( [] has done something similar but much more extensive with a large markup language and XLST files for converting to html. It wouldn't take too much mork to create the FO to generate PDF.

    I read the html texts on my Pilot with one of the freeware transformer/browsers. I am one of those types who holds an almost sacred relationship with books. I have found while reading on my Pilot is not quite as aesthetically pleasing an experience as reading a paper and cloth text, it has one of the most essential aspects of it, portability. I can read it in bed.

    I have also started to author simple texts in the same manner. Writing poetry seems to fit better the hierarchical structure of XML and flows better than prose. Nonfiction outline type material (most academic style writing) works flows pretty naturally as well. Telling the story in writing with XML markup is disastrous. It really interrupts my thought process.

    In my experience the motivating experience for most authoring is to "share" with the notable exception of "how-to" books of all genres including those saints of the Open Source movement, O'Reilly & Assoc.. If the point is to share a story, an explanation of research or an idea or a thought or image, it seems we have overcome the impediment economic motivation. It is a gift economy type of thing.

    Most academic journals in my experience are fantastically expensive for a subscription but make no money for their sponsors. It is the intermediary activities, not the authoring or editing (those are largely volunteer activities), that add this expense. I also think that most fiction authors write out the love the "telling" of the story in the authoring event rather than the recognition and fame. Who knows what possesses poets to write but it isn't for money.

    Academic, scholarly writing has been essentially open source for centuries. There are well known rules for citation and formal and informal sanctions against improper appropriation prior work.

    So an Open Book movement is already well underway and not that differnet a paradigm from what has proceeded it. It seems, then, that all that is required is the standardization of an authoring and reading infrastructure with tools that are already in hand. Let those who seek to publish from economic motivations worry about the economics of printing and or distribution. For an interesting take on this see the goReader ( electronic text book. []

  • Bruce Eckel's Thinking In Java [] is free as in speech and as in beer for the online version. The entire book is free to download and the author has consented to allowing people to print copies of the book from the online version (which is traditionally against copyright law).

    He accepts corrections and updates from most people as well as sample code. In this sense it is free as in speech. Read what people have had to say [] about the book.

    What's really cool is that the book has turned out to be so good that many people I know still ; buy the dead tree version []. Best of all it doesn't use any proprietary formats but instead good old HTML.

    Second Law of Blissful Ignorance
  • by trims ( 10010 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @11:46AM (#752751) Homepage

    Your argument has some merit. Indeed, not everyone learns linearly. Also, the fixed, static nature of books is a detriment in a rapidly-changing information scene (look at my collection of OReilly books - I'm 2 versions out of date already.... Sigh.)

    However, I'm going to take issue with you on several statements, and make some of my own:

    The most immediate advantage of print is it's readability. There has been some interesting developments in digital ink (technologies where you have a white "paper" with crystals embede in it which change orientation (and look black rather than white) on application of a small charge), but even then, readability for electronic books sucks hard. You certainly can't have people reading off of LCD/CRTs for any period of time.

    Durability and portability. Books never run out of power. The ability to use them as legs for your sofa is a testament to how sturdy they are. Fundamentally, until we can build a portable reading device that allows you to bash it around like a 4th-grade history book, well, electronic books are not going to be anything popular. Paper doesn't crash when you run it under water (hey, just dry it out!), erase itself when left on top of the TV or microwave, or delete itself when you accidentally hit the wrong key combo.

    With respect to textbooks and changing information: in the vast majority of cases, textbooks should never be used in a rapidly fluctuating environment. Textbooks are for imparting a base knowledge level of a subject. Essentially, they are reference material. The information in them generally is not Incorrect (yes, you HS biology books from the 50s need to be tossed out, but the ones in the 80s? I think not.), rather it becomes out-of-date. Supplements and addendums are excellent ways to keep "static" textbooks relevant for years. W/R/T non-textbooks, the practice of publishing errata and updates to the original book via the Web is an excellent way to combine the advantages of print with the immediacy of the electronic (especially when you can print out the electronic updates and stick them in the back of the book!).

    Alot of the debate around textbooks is really a funding issue, not a medium issue. Honestly, I'd rather see schools invest in having no textbooks older than 10 years than getting a computer for each child. Which do you thing is really better?

    Also, despite about 20 years of "reformers" claiming that the linear teaching methods are stiffling our children and limiting their ability, "flexible/associated learning" is a complete, unmittigated disaster, especially in the lower grades. Linear textbook or teacher-driven learning is probably the BEST method for imparting a base understanding and fundamental knowledge of anything. A structured program where knowledge is presented in a pre-determined manner is really the only way to effectively teach a complete newbie a subject rapidly. A certain subset of the population would do better quickly switching to a more exploratory method of learning, but textbooks are aimed at the vast majority of people, most of which need structure to learn. Now, later in life (college, and probably HS), we should look to alternate methods rather than purely strict structure, but remember, you have to learn to crawl before you can run the 100m dash.

    Fundamentally, the printed textbook has so many advantages over the distributed eBook-thingy that I can't see the eBook being anything more than a gizmo for decades.

    Oh, and by the way, we already have "open" educational information. It's called the Internet. Look how reliable and trustworthy information that comes from it is. The editorial process provides a level of certainty that is not to be found in rapidly-changing e-texts. yes, print does occasionally have mistakes, and there is a detectible bias according to the period the book was written in. However, the constant "revision" process of e-texts means that large amounts of the text will not be fact-checked (or even consistent), as future updates will undoubtably be counted on to fix mistakes. That's OK, until they find mistakes in chunks I've already read and internalized, which means that I've got to go back and re-read it. Basically, it's rather have the information correct the first time around, rather than constantly worry that what I've read is right or maybe a mistake.


  • I think I might be willing to pay for that if they actually picked the good trolls and off-topic posters. I kind of miss some of the good story tellers. They seem to disappear this time of year. I suppose it has something to do with all of the truly imaginative trolls having to go back to school. ;-)

    Of course, everyone thinks the trolls are a terribly disgusting lot. We wouldn't want to feed those fragile egos now would we? (This is not my perspective, but it appears to be the majority. I've heard a lot of 'ignore the trolls or you'll be giving them what they want' type of statements and that seems silly. After all, the good trolls deserve a response for putting all that effort into their work. I just wish there were more 'good' trolls.)

    Now, this one should get moderated into oblivion. Bye, bye karma
  • It will take a long time before any sort of screen has the resolution of even the cheapest paperback book. 2400 or 4800 lpi printing is cheap, but even the best monitors don't usally go very much past 100 ppi. Unless we can close this gap, paper copies will be easier to read.
  • Bah, there's not enough pseudo-random punctuation characters in there for it to be e. e. cummings.
  • I'm terribly enthusiastic about OpenSource Educational Material.

    Open Publications can provide us with much more than merely free and improved literature. We can apply groupware concepts to online education and build a very modular and exacting approach to education. Knowledge requirements for particular subjects can be made explicit and linked to. Community systems (such as ArsDigita []'s) can be applied in order to permit annotation, both textual and graphical, chat rooms (the largest study group in history), and other assistants to understanding material. Multiple explanations of the same subject can be given side-by-side. Methods of explaining can be analyzed and optimized.

    OpenContent books such as Havoc's book Gnome/GTK+ Application Development []appear to be doing well on the shelves. I haven't witnessed price wars yet; most Open Publication books are only being published by one publisher, even though there is nothing to preventing republishing. Indeed, it makes me wonder why more books are not published under free licenses.

    Publishers' roles (and living) will not disappear until book compilers are commonplace, even though content may be liberated; I, and several others, severally annotate our books. (My copy of House Of Leaves [] has a lot more in blue than just the word "House".)

  • by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @12:10PM (#752756)
    There's something to be said for being able to hold a book in your hand. The flexible pages, the weight, the simple fact that you know it is something tangible.


    The only important thing about books is the content.

    I think that book-luddites annoy me more than any other sort. Berating digital media because it doesn't have the "feel", "weight", or "substance" of a hardcover book is akin to dismissing art lovers who purchase prints instead of originals. It's incredibly elitist. I can imagine that in Gutenberg's time, the owners of original illuminated texts of great works reacted in the same way, scoffing at the substandard products being produced for the masses by those newfangled "printing presses".

    And then there's the casual dismissal of the incredible cost that paper media has on the environment. We should be clear-cutting forest because books "feel better"? Give your head a shake. No, digital media isn't environmentally "free", but it's a one time cost that is negligible compared to an ongoing cost of printing new books every day.

    A book has texture, substance, density, weight, alot of things that make it much more physical, and therefore real, than these digital books do.

    That's very, very sad.

    If I were a writer, I'd be incredibly offended at someone that said my words had less meaning if they weren't printed on the right kind of paper. What the hell does the media have to do with what I'm trying to say? The value of a piece of text is in the message that it conveys, not the quality of the paper it's printed on.

    Digital books are fundamentally the Right Thing. The implementation needs to improve, to be sure, but we're almost there. It would be tragic if they failed to take root because of some traditional notion of they way text is "supposed" to be read.

  • Your original post was against digital media in a purely aesthetic sense.

    If I'm gonna spend 4-6 hours reading a book, it damned well be pleasing to do so, I think!


  • I'd argue that licenses on books - particularly non-trivial books (eg textbooks) ought not to be licensed.

    As long as you keep the wording to "ought to", then I will agree. But past history has shown that every time a significant group has believed in an "ought to" or "should not", it becomes a "must" or "must not", then lobbyists get involved, and before you know it people get hauled into court and thrown into jail for merely offending someone's sensibilities. This is why I will defend a publisher's or author's right to decide how they will release their works even if I disagree with how they do it.

    I can think of nothing more non-free (in both the dictionary and the Stallman sense) than to force publishers through the use of law, courts and jails to release their works in the manner that I want them to.

    If they want to keep people from pirating, they should let classical (e.g. pre DMCA) copyright law do it's thing.

    I wholeheartedly agree. DMCA is bad law and it should be repealed immediately.
  • That's almost believable, except I've put it to the test firsthand. Normally reading crap off my monitor SUCKS, since my monitor is wayy old and is in desperate need [of funding to do a] replacement. However, reading on Trinitron monitors at my college was much more pleasing. At any rate, I read 1984 in a digital .txt copy, lynx printed from an html document and doublespaced using some quick perl. On my home monitor, 'gless' from GNOME was my reader of choice, on the college computers, just plain 'ole 'less' running inside a MindTerm SSH session with white-on-black was the champ. And it was one of the most intense and enjoyable reads I've ever had. Books do the job, but digital can, IF YOU HAVE AN AESTHETICALLY PLEASING DISPLAY DEVICE! (i.e. 800x600x85HZ instead of the 800x600x56hz that this POS is doing right now)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @09:56AM (#752760)
    I do not forsee the death of paper books any time soon. When given a set of cdrom documentation, what do most of us do? Print it out of course. While a searchable index which is hyperlinked to the appropriate page is nice for brief reference reading. Documentation ultimately ends up in paper form because staring at a screen is too stressful for the eyes.

    If e-books or whatever you want to call them become mainstream, there will be people like myself printing out the data they contain. It has proven invaluable to have hard copies of data that is truly valuable to me in the evnt of serious wrath-of-god type situations. (One can still manage to decode a book that has been through a flood, where most data media will be gone for good)

    I think that we should temper our fear with reason on this front. Yes, we need to be viligant to ensure that the proper formats for these new e-books get put into place and that we don't end up with corporatized versions of books. But we should also realize that no matter what new technology comes along, it will not nor can it ever completely replace the paper book. We will need to worry when they start trying outlawing printers and printing presses to push electronic books on us though.

    Anyone with serious documentation at their house knows it is hard copy (printed text on paper) that is the easiest to read.

    I also have faith that anything they throw at us in an attempt to stop us from printing it out and accessing the data contained on the e-book will be circumvented. They cannot imprison information, it won't happen because people like us won't let it happen. That is the most important issue, we need to make sure that we are vocal enough now to ensure that we don't need to circumvent anything. At the same time we can't run off into hysterics though. Which is why I say we need to be careful about how we present what we know is the proper view about such new forms of books, they should be free and have the same rights of access and copying as any other books. Be that permission from the author/publisher or open source books ala project guttenberg.

    RMS may be loony sometimes, but he was right in prophesizing that there would come a day when these freedoms we take for granted with books would be threatened.

  • by winterstorm ( 13189 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @09:56AM (#752761)

    These books are not the "book" equivalent of "open source software". They are mearly texts whose copyright have expired. "Open Source" works are by definition still covered by copyright.

    Gutenberg is quite cool, but it only contains OLD books. For "new" work authors need to use something like the GNU's free content license or the Open Content [] license.

  • "So I think the better question would be "What will these books evolve into?"

    One step in the evolution is as an enhancement to paper textbooks...
    Take a look here -> Web Pearls: Hypergeometric Functions []
    and here -> Web Pearls: Principles and Practice of Mathematics []
  • They decided not to go ahead with it after we flamed them so badly for trying to do so.


  • by Private Essayist ( 230922 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @09:59AM (#752767)
    There is certainly a need for textbooks that exist primarily to educate, not primarly to generate profits. Note this quote from the article:

    "In this climate of vanishingly thin margins, the most successful textbook is little more than a loss leader, and one with more modest sales is a disaster. Every book has to be a home run. K-12 biology books often don't mention evolution for fear of losing sales in socially conservative school districts. History books avoid controversy by propagating the myth that John Brown was insane, or by failing to mention that the Vietnam war began as a war of independence in a French colony."

    So as to avoid losing sales from those who would be offended, truth is sacrificed. This is a dangerous slope upon which to stand. Since there are a myriad of opinions and sacred cows in the world, to be so focused on the money at the expense of teaching reality is to eventually reach the point where you teach nothing controversial. Only feel-good, rah-rah, aren't we wonderful material will get printed.

    It's somewhat different in the general book market where a variety of opinions is still considered a good thing. But in the textbook market, I think the open source concept is needed, if only to provide an alternative to the money-above-all crowd.

  • I'm preparing a report, and I need a photograph of a bent-over man with a huge, gaping asshole. Can anyone help me out?

    All generalizations are false.

  • Open Source Books? Why not? We've seen positive effects in software.

    I figure Open Source is inevitable/desirable for two reasons:
    • Information constantly accumulates, and unless draconian attempts (see below) are made, more and more information becomes avilable to people, and this information eventually is open to those who wish it. Open Source merely accelerates and goes with this trend.
    • In the Information Age, control of information is becoming the obsession (in the full pathological sense) of many companies and organizations. It is necessary to take a more Open stand against such organizations for our own sakes, and I believe the inevitable result is a more Open approach to information - the ridiculous laws and bad corporate policies will not stand the test of time nor sanity.

    So, Open Source Books? Why not, it's worth a shot. It's better than not trying.
  • by Da VinMan ( 7669 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2000 @10:23AM (#752772)
    I'm afraid this wanders a bit, but hopefully it sparks some real thinking (the source article wanders too so I'm just being consistent :).

    Crowell's article makes a fundamental assumption: that (educational) books are the best way to learn real information. I agree that books are the best way to hunker down for a nice enjoyable read, but that's not information in the educational sense, that's entertainment (however sublime the author's writing - yes it can be educational too, but let's not get into that).

    For those who did not read the article: he basically goes into the fact that because the price of entry into printing is so high, that open source books, or even collaborative books for that matter which are intended to be as useful as possible (rather than as profitable as possible) don't stand much of a chance in today's markets. He also despairs over the lack of other real options (aside from Latex, which he dubs as too complicated for the average user).

    What is it about printed books that makes it a superior format for textbooks and other kinds of changing information? Is it the fact that every change requires a new generation of trees to be sacrificed to propagate the update? No. It's the fact that printing is so systemized that it's become relatively cheap (compared to word of mouth and compared to computers). In fact, books are very inconvenient to use for dissemination of changing (educational or otherwise) information. Textbooks must change to keep up with changing information and to keep up with the changing demands of society. (Crowell also mentions how horrible textbooks are today and seems to imply that open source books would remedy that somewhat, but that's more of an assumption on his part which is irrelevant to the feasibility and methodology of open source texts).

    As a side note: Information taught in schools is crucial to modern civilization, so this is not a trivial issue. If the medium becomes restrictive or inaccessible, then civilization's very development will be hampered. Yes, I do think that key-locked DVD textbooks are inherently evil. They should be outright illegal or legally unsupportable for intellectual property suits.

    Another side note: Is information best taught in the linear format used in textbooks? Think about how you think for a moment. How does your sense of curiosity work? Maybe it's only geeks that do this (thank you, but no I personally am not a nerd), but it seems to me that our thinking about a subject will network, regardless of a subject's real complexity. Again, this branches into yet another discussion about the best way to learn, yadda, yadda, yadda; but I think the point is clear: the few of us who do think like a textbook (linearly only) are clearly at a disadvantage. (Yes, I have met in-DUH-viduals like this. It's pretty sad.)

    So what now? Well, we'll probably be stuck with paper until something as accessible and just as cheap comes along. So, until those nifty plastic screens with low-energy processing units (preferably solar powered), high resolution and easily readable characters, and ubiquitous and cheap networking (for new and *open* content) become available, we're pretty much stuck. But I will go out on a limb here: those sorts of devices WILL replace paper within 50 years, and much more quickly I hope. It will become necessary primarily for economic reasons: as the price of dead-tree resources skyrockets, impetus will exist to move to this new format.

    The masses will be ultimately intolerant of locked down or closed educational information. The market will adapt to allow the masses to have open content. Any solution that doesn't do this will lead to despotism.

  • The solution for the creation of digital books and their dissemination for profit is the same as for the creation and dissemination of any other content.

    Some form of trusted cataloguing site, some form of storage site, some form of micro-payment to collect money from the receiver and send it to the producer and that's it.

    The producer can control (own and pay for,) as much or as little of the data pipeline as he wants/cares to. And unlike unregulated peer-to-peer Napster-ish chaos, we get trustworthy, evaluated if not professionally edited, content.

    The elimination of the copy mechanism, and its attendant 'resource allocation' lackeys, from the pipeline between content-provider and consumer truly puts "the power of the press" in the hands of the producers and "the power of the dollar" in the hands of the consumer.

    It will change publishing from a power base, a cotery and a choke point for information into a service industry.

    Leibnitz would be proud...
  • There are some newer books, such as the HomeBrew HomePages Put YOU On The World Wide Web [], or The Hacker Crackdown []. These are books which have been explictly gifted to the public domain, or to Guttenburg itself.
  • Dunno,...
    Content is not the one important thing about a book. Ease of use is almost as important.

    A have a nice high quality monitor in front of me. Nevertheless I sometimes make a printout of some document or other text that I want to read and study more closely.

    If all devices that transmited text were equally good, why don't we still use those phosphorous green on black monitors? After all it is the same content!

    I agree that electronic devices eventually will win over paper. First for manuals and other text where search functions make up for a worse reading experience (sorry for the marketoid language) After that we will se short stories and news och those things and, eventually, even novels.

  • The visceral experience of reading a book will be absent from future generations.

    To them, an electronic display will be as tangible as any book is to you or me.
  • Many people in this level have made good points on why paper is not so wonderful.

    My take is that I like to lie more than sit. You can watch TV in this position, but holding a heavy book or a big newspaper is strenuous after a while. A light electronic reader, or maybe a projection screen would be better here.
  • Hmmm, yeah, government control of the entire base of "Knowledge", that sounds like a good idea.
  • I can't speak specifically about the feasability of Open Source Books. But I can say that Contrary to what I've read so far, reference material can excellently exist in an electronic format. The reasons stem from the hyper-linking and searching cababilities with which a reader can be empowered. This is good for all kinds of research, although I use it most for refering to APIs. How many people like to print /all/ their man pages?


  • A book is a form of artistic expression, not a tool!
    What next? Open Source painting?
    Hacking Chaucer?

    Well, X years after the author's death, the "artistic expression" becomes public domain and everybody can copy and modify it.

    Occidental art has actually copying from Neoclasicists that copied from the Renaissance that copied from the Romans that copied from the Greeks.

    And this William Shakespeare that decided that he didn't like that Danish chronicle or this Italian novella and adapted it, and later Kurosawa or Kenneth Brannagh made thir changes as well.

    Open source is just making the period of exclusivity freer.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984