Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook?

Mark O'Neill 26-03-2009

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? aceraspireoneThere’s not many things in life that I ardently desire from a materialistic point of view but the Amazon Kindle is definately one of them.   I am a huge reader and the thought of putting my enormous library onto it and carrying it around with me in my pocket is just something that I really want to have, regardless of the price. But once again, I seem to be suffering from the curse of living outside the United States where the Kindle doesn’t work.


But when I bought an Acer netbook a few weeks back, I realised that I didn’t need a Kindle to carry my books around with me.  I just needed to find a software program to open e-books, find the books I wanted on either torrents or Project Gutenberg and then read them on my netbook.

After a bit of searching, I settled on Microsoft Reader as the app of choice.  A lot of people seem to scoff at Microsoft Reader because it’s 9 years old and it’s Microsoft but so what?  It works and as far as I’m concerned, if it works, what does it matter how old it is and who’s made it?

What I really like about MS Reader is that they have a conversion tool for turning Word documents into Reader e-books.   So if you have say a text file from Project Gutenberg that you want to read in MS Reader, you can transfer the text to a Word document, press the Reader button which sits in the Word toolbar, then after 30 seconds or so, you have a nice new Reader file to open up as an e-book. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

After installing MS Reader on my netbook, I opened it up and the first thing you’ll see is your library.  (Please note that some parts are in German because I have a German language computer) :

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? 2503


Now it’s pretty empty because I’ve just installed it.  If you want to buy more books, it goes without saying that Microsoft encourages you to buy books in their own file format (.lit).  Their online store starts here and the book links are redirected to stores such as Powells, Diesel, Fictionwise and so on.   Prices start from $10.

But this is MakeUseOf and the emphasis with us is always on free.  So I want to show you the conversion tool to make your own e-books.   It really is pretty good.   Now if you want to grab the latest Steve Berry or John Grisham book from torrents then that is up to you.   I am not going to condone it or take any stance on it whatsoever.  That’s just going to get me and MakeUseOf into trouble.  Instead I am going to play it safe today and talk about a copyright-expired book.  Let’s take one of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures.

Now when you install the MS Reader conversion tool, it will perch itself on your MS Word toolbar like so :

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? 2503c


Now let’s say for example that you want to read The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes in MS Reader. It can be found here for free in Project Gutenberg.   All you need to do is download the text file, copy (CTRL+C) the entire text and paste (CTRL+V) it all into a Word document.   Make sure the margins are all OK, your fonts are all OK (I personally detest Times New Roman so I always change the font) then hit that conversion button.  Within 20-30 seconds, you’ll see the converted file in your computer which you should then drag over to your Reader library folder.   Double-click the file to see it in your Reader library page :

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? sherlocklibrary

Now the conversion tool is good but it isn’t perfect.  So you’re going to get the odd paragraph here and there which is going to get pushed out of whack.  As you can see below.  But look at the excellent quality of the text.  Very readable wouldn’t you say?   I chose Arial size 10 as my font but you can choose any font and size you want.

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? scandalbohemia


The conversion tool apparently also converts pictures so you can also embed the images into the Word document and Reader will also move them over.

Now what if the original document isn’t a text document but a PDF file?   A lot of e-books are PDF files these days.  Well you have two options as far as I can see.   You can either convert the PDF to a Word document or you can use an OCR scanning service to turn the PDF e-book from an image into text (a bit like what Project Gutenberg does. Varun highlighted an OCR tool called JOCR How to Extract Text From Images (OCR) The best way to extract text from an image is to use optical character recognition (OCR). We show you seven free OCR tools for the job. Read More a few days back).  Your fastest option is probably to convert the PDF into a Word document.  We’ve covered quite a few of these services on MakeUseOf.   Karl has covered HelloPDF How To Convert PDF To Word. Get That Text Back! Read More .  There’s also ConvertPDFToWord ConvertPdfToWord: PDF to Word Doc Converter Read More , PDFUndo and many more.

Anyway, to come back to MS Reader, once you have your custom-made e-book installed inside, there are options you can take advantage of.   You can have it read the book back to you (although the voice sounds like Hal from 2001AD).   You can bookmark a page (obviously an essential requirement) and if you right-click on a word, the following menu pops up –

Who Needs the Amazon Kindle When You Have a Netbook? bohemiaoptions

  • Add Bookmark – By highlighting a word or phrase, you can bookmark that page in different colours and automatically come back to that page at any time by clicking a bookmark icon in the right margin.
  • Add Highlight – You can highlight a word or phrase as if you would with a highlighter pen on a normal book.  Again, you can automatically go straight to a highlighted word or phrase by clicking on the annotations icon in a pop-up menu.
  • Add Text Note – you can add a personal note to a word or phrase.
  • Add Drawing – you can add a freeform drawing to a word or phrase.
  • Find – finds all other instances of that word in the e-book.  Not sure how useful that one is.
  • Copy Text – no explanation needed here
  • Play – you can hear the word being spoken by MS Reader.  Good if that language is not your first language and you want to hear how the word is pronounced.
  • Lookup – looks up the definition of the word.  Only works if you have a dictionary installed in MS Reader.

So to sum up, the Kindle is a fantastic device but if you live outside the US and it’s not available to you, it’s not the end of the world.   You can easily install something like Microsoft Reader on your netbook and have something kind of similar.   As you will see, the text quality is excellent, you can go full-screen, bookmark pages, highlight text….with a bit of app tweaking and hacking, you can probably make your netbook do the things that a Kindle does.   Well OK, not quite everything but you get my meaning.

I’d be interested to get your opinions on this so if you’ve done something similar, if you know of a better e-book program or if you have any other comments, start writing them below!

Related topics: Amazon Kindle, BitTorrent, Ebooks, Microsoft, Reading.

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  1. used computers
    December 17, 2009 at 1:48 am

    A major trend that I am pretty sure that will come to fruition is integrating cellular broadband cards into netbooks. I would like to see some manufacturer partner with a cell phone company to offer prepaid internet for these devices. I think this is a perfect marriage between portability and function.

  2. grappler
    November 12, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Hey did you know you can download the kindle software to read to kindle books on your pc.

  3. nick archer
    July 24, 2009 at 3:29 am

    What a cool idea! I'm going to have to download MS Reader again and give this a try! I used to have it years ago but never used it.

  4. DrZhiv
    April 6, 2009 at 5:59 am

    Mark you dun get it.
    eBook readers r different and perhaps u already know dat.
    Its actually the eInk display that rules and not Kindle or any other thing. If NetBooks can also come with dual screen (1 LCD and another to read eBooks - eInk) then it wud be great. But apart from that netboks just cannot substitute an ebook. The ease of switching to other distractions on the netbook is just too much, to stay continue reading (atleast for me).
    If u really want an eBook reader, there are still many available for Europe, and by EU companies.
    Kindle is just too hyped.
    I just ordered a Foxit eSlick. Its the cheapest yet.
    But the king of all is still iRex iLliad, but its pricy.
    Sony's PRS 700 is a good bet too..

  5. Richard
    March 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    You can also get free e-books in .lit and other formats at They have a free library of some great Sci-Fi books. The idea is to get you hooked on an author so you will buy more of his books. their prices for a new book are also only 5-6$ so it is very reasonable. Since 1999 I have purchased about 600 books!

  6. jewels
    March 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    This was a timely article for me as I've been doing tons of reading the last few months, having discovered the availability of ebooks on torrent sites. Although reading on the pc can't compare to the comfort of a real book, the free price is highly attractive. It makes it hard to justify the price of the kindle, even though the thing makes me drool.

    I predominantly use MSreader and adobe digital editions, but I prefer MSreader as it feels more like a paperback page. I was excited by your conversion tool and wondered how I hadn't found it myself, but then discovered that it doesn't support word07. I've been using Readerworks to do conversions and have found it easy to use, though it doesn't do pdf conversions. Thanks to the comments I'll be checking out mobipocket and calibre. Thanks!

  7. Buddy Scalera
    March 27, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Dollar for dollar, the netbook may beat the Kindle as a utility machine. But the Kindle is a pretty compelling device because of the way it displays text and manages power.

    I've had the Kindle a little over three weeks now and I'm using it daily. Here's just a little post I wrote at Week 2 with the Kindle:

  8. Rarst
    March 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    It is not clear from the article (or I am missing it) - had you actually ever used book reader with e-ink screen?

    Because reading experience is on completely other level. Yeah, adoption rate is low and it costs bit too much at moment. But it is ultimate screen type for reading while reading books on LCD screens is merely compromise.

    I am so tired that most of people posting about book readers hadn't actually used one and just throw assumptions.

  9. Holden
    March 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Although I like your focus on free, MS Word is not free. Now if you could find me something that worked on OpenOffice that would be another story.

  10. Chucky
    March 27, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I agree with the first comment. Mobipocket is much better and its conversion program is free as well.

    I would love for just one of the major ebook formats to make a decent reader for the linux platform (life would be complete).

  11. Babak
    March 26, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Sorry Mark by the title does not look good.
    "Who Needs The Amazon Kindle When You Have A Netbook?"
    They're totally different things and you can't compare a Netbook to a Kindle.

  12. Bruce M
    March 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    I also have to agree about the eink on the Kindle. You just can't compare that to a regular monitor.

  13. Paul
    March 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I alos like to turn my laptop sideways and then I use the arrow keys to "turn" the pages. But I do have to agree about using an eink reader as opposed to a monitor, you can't beat the eye strain reduction of a non-light emitting source

  14. Mackenzie
    March 26, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    When did Arial become a serif font?

  15. Juan Carlo
    March 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I'd like to say I'll never trade a true book for an electronic one.

    Now for an actual comment on the post --I once downloaded THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES and WALDEN from Project Guttenberg, and the out-of-wack paragraph is because of them, not the converter. In an unusually geeky moment, I made a macro that corrected that format in Word. In about two hours (sheesh!) the book was ready.

  16. Rose
    March 26, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I tried loads, including Microsoft Reader, and I reckon Mobipocket is a lot better.

  17. Eduardo Frumpenstein
    March 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I don't have a Kindle- I have a Sony Reader (PRS-505). You just can't compare devices that use E-ink to computers, because the difference is like night and day. If you've never personally seen one, you owe it to yourself to make a trek to Borders or Target and play with one. There's no eye strain because it doesn't emit light. I would never read a novel on my computer- even a small, lightweight laptop. I've read at least 20 on my ebook reader.

    Also, the best converter for ebooks these days is the wonderful and free calibre.