The Online Books Page

HELP WITH READING ONLINE BOOKS

Most of the books we list can be read in an ordinary Web browser by people with normal vision and physical capabilities, and a reasonably up-to-date computer. You may need special programs to read some of the books we list, either because you have special needs, or the digital formats of the books have special requirements.

If you need assistance beyond what's given here, please don't hesitate to contact us (use the email address at the bottom of this page) .

Enlarging the type size

You can increase the type size for many of the online books that appear in your Web browser (if it's not a page image-based book, and doesn't require a special plugin). In many browsers, there's a "Text size" option under the View menu that lets you increase or decrease the size. A commonly supported shortcut for changing font size is to hold down the Control key (or the Apple key on Macs) and either rotate your mouse's scroll wheel (if it has one), or hit the '+' or '-' keys on your keyboard. (Thanks to reader Wanda for the tip on the mouse shortcut!) Check your browser's Help for more details.

Blind and handicapped readers

Blind and visually impaired readers may need special programs or devices to read online books. Here are a few useful resource directories for such tools:

Special formats

Some of the formats used for online books may require special programs to read them. Here is a list of known programs for reading various formats. Please let me know of others, particularly ones that are freely available.

DjVu

Caminova, the current maintainer of DjVu, makes a browser plugin for viewing DjVu images available free of charge for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. See this page for details. A noncommercial site for DjVu, including links to documentation and open-source DjVu software, can be found at DjVu.org.

Epub

The International Digital Publishing Forum's Epub format for books is not natively readable in most web browsers, but can be read by a number of plugins and applications. Two free commercial Epub readers are Adobe Digital Editions (for Windows 2000 or later, or Mac OS X 1.4.10 or later), and LexCycle's Stanza (for Windows XP and above, Mac OS X 10.4.8 and above, Iphone, and Ipod Touch). For Linux, there's FBReader. The Wikpedia Epub page mentions additional Epub reader programs.

Flash

Some books we list are only available in the Flash format. The Adobe Flash player is available for Windows 2000 or later, Mac OS 10.4 or later, and certain newer Linux distributions. Flash is generally displayed within a Web browser. Some open source Flash display programs are also available from third parties. Certain Flash features might not be fully supported by third party programs or under Linux.

Users that want to see Flash selectively (for instance, to read books interactively but block intrusive Flash ads on other web sites) may want to consider installing a browser plugin like NoScript or Flashblock, to prevent Flash from running except when the user wishes.

The Wikipedia page on Flash has more information about Flash display and management programs.

As with other proprietary formats, we generally only list titles that are not also legitimately available in open formats.

Frame-dependent HTML

Most graphical browsers, except for ones that are very old or designed for specialized devices, can handle frames. Commonly used frame-capable browsers include Firefox, Opera, Netscape, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

However, text-based browsers and other browsers for special needs may have a harder time with frames. Some, such as Lynx, can still let you navigate through framesets-- but might only show one frame at a time, making it easy to get lost in a frameset.

If you're thinking of putting a book online that uses frames, consider making it accessible to frameless browsers as well. This can often be done with very little extra effort, such as by making a link to a contents page in a <NOFRAMES> section.

GZipped files

Several programs are available on various platforms to unpack gzipped files. (Gzip is a format for compressing files, and typically produces files ending with the suffix .gz . It should not be confused with the "zip" format, which is described further below.) For more information on the format, and on software available to uncompress gzipped files, see the gzip home page.

HTML

This is the standard format for Web pages, and should be readable in any Web browser (at least, as long as the preparer of the online book followed Web standards.) Let me know of any books described as "HTML" (without qualification) that are not readable in a commonly used browser. If you prefer reading larger type than you see on the screen for the book, most Web browsers will let you increase the size of HTML text. See the start of this page for details.

MS Reader

Microsoft has a a free program to read MS Reader (.lit) files that you can download for Windows machines. Some "Pocket PC" computers also have MS Reader software built in. I am not aware of any software available for other platforms, and the file format specifications have not been published, so I tend to avoid listing MS Reader editions and other proprietary formats, except for titles only available in such formats.

Page Images

These are mostly GIF and JPEGs, which most graphical browsers can cope with. I'd like to hear about any formats used in online books that such browsers can't already handle (and once I hear of them, I'd like to find out about programs to display them).

There is no practical way at present to use a text-based browser to read a book online stored as page images.

PDF

Readable by Adobe Reader (formerly known as Acrobat Reader), available for Mac, Windows, and many Unix machines. The latest versions of Ghostview can also display many PDF files. Mac OS X also comes with a "Preview" program than can display most PDF files. On Unix, there's also xpdf.

Some PDF files (version 1.4 or later) may be incompatible with older PDF viewers. If you can't read files marked "PDF 1.4" (or other PDF files) you may need to upgrade to Adobe/Acrobat Reader 5 or later, or a newer version of other third-party PDF reading programs.

Adobe also provides a set of free tools to convert PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text, which can be helpful for visually disabled readers. See this site for more information. (Note that these tools will not work on certain (very large) PDFs that consist only of scanned, un-OCR'd page images, since there's no encoded text to convert.)

Postscript

Several programs can be used to view Postscript files, the best-known being Ghostview, which is available for all major computer systems.

Postscript is the language used by most modern printers, so in many cases you can print the content of Postscript files just by sending the files to the printer (however this is done in your system).

Text

Viewable through all Web browsers, but some browsers may run out of memory on very large text files. For those, try downloading the text straight to your disk, and then view it using your favorite word processor. (Word processing programs can typically handle large files more gracefully than Web browsers.)

TK3

Readable with the TK3 Reader, available for Windows or Mac (OS 8.6 or later) as a free download. They do require an email address, but you can uncheck a "notify me about relevant news" box. (They'll still send an acknowledgement of the download.) After you download the Reader, you immediately get solicited to download a trial version of the Author program, but you don't need that to read the books. As with other proprietary formats that don't have openly published specifications, we tend to bypass listings for TK3 files in favor of listings for more open formats, when available.

Word

Microsoft has a a free Word viewer that you can download, for Windows 2000 or later. Word files are also viewable through the regular Microsoft Word program.

The free OpenOffice suite, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, will also display many Word files. Some other word processing programs also provide converters from Word to their internal formats, though they don't always work perfectly for all Word files.

As with other proprietary formats that don't have openly published specifications, we tend to bypass listings for Word files in favor of listings for more open formats, when available.

Zipped files

Several programs are available on various platforms to unpack zip files, including WinZip (for Windows), Stuffit Expander (for Macs and Windows), and unzip (for Unix).

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Edited by John Mark Ockerbloom (onlinebooks@pobox.upenn.edu)
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