Microsoft move could boost e-book sales

Microsoft is to give product details of an application that should make it easier for users to read text on their computer screens. Readability has been one of the prime inhibitors to consumers embracing electronic books, or e-books, which can be read from computers or specialised devices.

The software giant is due to discuss the application known as Microsoft Reader at this week's Seybold show in San Francisco, according to a report in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Reader uses Microsoft's ClearType technology to apparently make digital text as readable as words on a printed page, the report said.

To great fanfare, Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer Bill Gates unveiled ClearType -- technology to improve computer screen font resolution -- at his keynote speech at last year's Comdex show in Las Vegas. However, Microsoft's thunder was somewhat stolen by reports surfacing late last year alleging that ClearType was in fact an Apple Computer invention dating back over 20 years. Microsoft refuted such suggestions.

Microsoft will ship a beta version of Reader in the next couple of months, with the software shipping in the first quarter of next year, according to the Wall Street Journal report. The application will also feature tools to help users find their way through documents, prevent the illegal copying of documents and allow readers to buys the rights to access such copy-protected documents, the report added.

The software giant has been promoting the e-book concept for some time. In May of this year, Microsoft, along with other members of the Open eBook Authoring Group, gave its backing to the Open eBook 1.0 draft specification. The proposed standard, based on HTML (hypertext markup language) and XML (extensible markup language), enables publishers to concentrate on one standard and simplifies downloading Web pages and documents to an e-book.