LINUX PICKS AND PANS

Calibre Is an Elegant E-Book Librarian

Regardless of your take on the iPad as a do-everything replacementdevice for laptops and netbooks, other e-book readers (EBRs) aregaining a substantial foothold. Devices such as the Kindle and theNook provide access to volumes of literature and documents withouthaving to lug a fully-functional computer around.

Calibre

Calibre
(click image to enlarge)

However, EBRs do not completely replace the need for notebooks andnetbooks. Depending on your specific needs, both laptop/netbook-basedEBR software and a stand-alone e-book device can be indispensable forportable access to work-related and recreational reading. A Linux app called “Calibre” bridges the gap between both readingdevices.

Calibre is a free, cross-platform e-booklibrary management application for Linux, OS X and Windows. This opensource app goes far beyond letting you access your collection ofe-books on a computer. In many ways, Calibre does for e-books whatother Linux apps do for your digital picture libraries and musiccollections.

My first exposure to e-books other than those distributed in PDFformat was a handy EBR app called “FBReader,”, a freee-book reader that runs on Linux desktop and portable computers. It isa handy program for accessing the thousands of free titles ofliterature stored on the Internet. It works great as a basic EBR, butits functionality is limited to that narrow focus.

I discovered Calibre while searching for a program that convertede-book formats to the .fb2 code that the FBReader uses. Do not try outCalibre if you are looking for an app to break the Digital RightsManagement (DRM) lock some publishers use to protect the purchaseprice of ebooks they sell. Calibre will not help you there.

What Calibre Does

As much as I liked reading e-books on my netbook with FBReader,Calibre’s built-in e-book viewer provided a one-stop app that madeFBReader unnecessary. You do not need a netbook to use Calibre or eventhe FBReader.

Calibre makes child’s play of e-book library management, file formatconversion and e-book reading on a computer screen. It also does threeabsolutely vital functions. It downloads news and magazines from theWeb and RSS feeds and converts them into your specific e-book format.It synchronizes e-books, magazine and news downloads managed on thecomputer to stand-alone e-book reader devices. It also has a built-incontent server so you can access to your book collection from anyInternet-connected computer.

When I treated myself to an Amazon Kindle e-book reader, Calibrebecame even more essential to me. Amazon lets Kindle users (called”Kindleers,” by the way) send e-books and documents in any format fromother sources directly to their Kindle addresses. Amazon’s computers handlethe file conversion and wirelessly send the converted stuff directlyto my Kindle, albeit for a very small fee of pennies per KB.

But I can bypass those extra steps and slight expense by doing itmyself with Calibre. I just attach the Kindle to the netbook. It takesa single click of the button on the Calibre menu bar to send theselected content to the device.

Simple Interface

Calibre’s interface is much different than typical Linux or evenWindows apps. Due to the nature of the tasks involved, you use Calibremore with a point-and-click rather than drop-down-menu mentality.

Each of the program’s main tasks is activated by clicking apostage-stamp sized button across the top of the screen. Limitedoptions are available where needed by clicking the tiny down carrotnext to the button.

These buttons control adding books to the library, editing meta datainformation, converting e-books, viewing a selecting book from thelibrary listing, fetching scheduled news downloads, sending selectedbooks to an EBR device, saving a book to a specific location.

Options for removing books already in the collection are handled viathe Remove Books icon. Clicking the preferences icon opens a windowwith app settings so you can make the program work with defaultactions. This minimizes the need to use the drop down menu for theicons.

At a Glance

The bulk of the app display is a window that lets you scroll throughthe library’s content. Below this list is the cataloging info for theselected title. This provides details on the formats (you can save abook in more than one), comments and tags that you may have entered tofacilitate searching.

A cool feature is the option to also display the catalog by bookcovers. A cute 3-D carousel graphic shows the books cover one at a timeas you click the window’s background.

A preference settings lets you show the 3-D catalog display in aseparate window as a default. Otherwise, you can toggle this 3D-display.

Functional Search Concept

The approach Calibre takes for library management is very logical. For instance, it uses the concept of a single entryin your library that corresponds to the actual e-book files in severalformats. The app sorts the books in your library by Title, Author,Date Added, Date Published, Size, Rating or Series.

This variety of fields makes searching your collection for aparticular book easy. You can construct advanced search queries byclicking the Advanced search button to the left of the search bar.

I like Calibre’s added functionality in letting me export subsets ofmy collection to an internal or external drive in a fully customizablefolder structure. Calibre even can go out onto the Internet to findbook metadata based on existing title/author or ISBN information.

Much like a music management package, Calibre can automaticallydownload various types of metadata and covers for books in yourlibrary. This may be nothing more than eye candy, but it does add anice touch.

Plugged-In Support

One of the features I love about my Kindle e-book reader is the appthat sends part or all of my e-book collection to myBlackberry smartphone. Amazon wirelessly syncs the furthest point readso I can pick up either device and continue from where I left off.Calibre has a Blackberry app to let me send books from my Calibree-book library to my phone.

Other plug-ins support a variety of devices. Of course, I have totether the phone to the netbook. But clicking the Send to Devicebutton is a much better solution than opening a file manager app,locating the two directories, and dragging the files.

Calibre uses a variety of plug ins to provide numerous additionalfunctions. This plug-in systems allows for the app’s developers to addnew features more easily than issuing version updates.

1 Comment

  • Calibre is a great program. I use it to convert ebooks into a format that I can read on my netbook and, for that, it’s been a real lifesaver.

    I’m impressed that it does all the things you note in this column. I knew it was versatile – I just didn’t know how much!

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