Calibre Is an Elegant E-Book Librarian
Jun 30, 2010 5:00 AM PT
Regardless of your take on the iPad as a do-everything replacement device for laptops and netbooks, other e-book readers (EBRs) are gaining a substantial foothold. Devices such as the Kindle and the Nook provide access to volumes of literature and documents without having to lug a fully-functional computer around.
However, EBRs do not completely replace the need for notebooks and netbooks. Depending on your specific needs, both laptop/netbook-based EBR software and a stand-alone e-book device can be indispensable for portable access to work-related and recreational reading. A Linux app called "Calibre" bridges the gap between both reading devices.
Calibre is a free, cross-platform e-book library management application for Linux, OS X and Windows. This open source app goes far beyond letting you access your collection of e-books on a computer. In many ways, Calibre does for e-books what other Linux apps do for your digital picture libraries and music collections.
My first exposure to e-books other than those distributed in PDF format was a handy EBR app called "FBReader,", a free e-book reader that runs on Linux desktop and portable computers. It is a handy program for accessing the thousands of free titles of literature stored on the Internet. It works great as a basic EBR, but its functionality is limited to that narrow focus.
I discovered Calibre while searching for a program that converted e-book formats to the .fb2 code that the FBReader uses. Do not try out Calibre if you are looking for an app to break the Digital Rights Management (DRM) lock some publishers use to protect the purchase price 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 made FBReader unnecessary. You do not need a netbook to use Calibre or even the FBReader.
Calibre makes child's play of e-book library management, file format conversion and e-book reading on a computer screen. It also does three absolutely vital functions. It downloads news and magazines from the Web and RSS feeds and converts them into your specific e-book format. It synchronizes e-books, magazine and news downloads managed on the computer to stand-alone e-book reader devices. It also has a built-in content server so you can access to your book collection from any Internet-connected computer.
When I treated myself to an Amazon Kindle e-book reader, Calibre became even more essential to me. Amazon lets Kindle users (called "Kindleers," by the way) send e-books and documents in any format from other sources directly to their Kindle addresses. Amazon's computers handle the file conversion and wirelessly send the converted stuff directly to my Kindle, albeit for a very small fee of pennies per KB.
But I can bypass those extra steps and slight expense by doing it myself with Calibre. I just attach the Kindle to the netbook. It takes a single click of the button on the Calibre menu bar to send the selected content to the device.
Calibre's interface is much different than typical Linux or even Windows apps. Due to the nature of the tasks involved, you use Calibre more with a point-and-click rather than drop-down-menu mentality.
Each of the program's main tasks is activated by clicking a postage-stamp sized button across the top of the screen. Limited options are available where needed by clicking the tiny down carrot next to the button.
These buttons control adding books to the library, editing meta data information, converting e-books, viewing a selecting book from the library listing, fetching scheduled news downloads, sending selected books to an EBR device, saving a book to a specific location.
Options for removing books already in the collection are handled via the Remove Books icon. Clicking the preferences icon opens a window with app settings so you can make the program work with default actions. This minimizes the need to use the drop down menu for the icons.
At a Glance
The bulk of the app display is a window that lets you scroll through the library's content. Below this list is the cataloging info for the selected title. This provides details on the formats (you can save a book in more than one), comments and tags that you may have entered to facilitate searching.
A cool feature is the option to also display the catalog by book covers. A cute 3-D carousel graphic shows the books cover one at a time as you click the window's background.
A preference settings lets you show the 3-D catalog display in a separate 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 entry in your library that corresponds to the actual e-book files in several formats. 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 a particular book easy. You can construct advanced search queries by clicking the Advanced search button to the left of the search bar.
I like Calibre's added functionality in letting me export subsets of my collection to an internal or external drive in a fully customizable folder structure. Calibre even can go out onto the Internet to find book metadata based on existing title/author or ISBN information.
Much like a music management package, Calibre can automatically download various types of metadata and covers for books in your library. This may be nothing more than eye candy, but it does add a nice touch.
One of the features I love about my Kindle e-book reader is the app that sends part or all of my e-book collection to my Blackberry smartphone. Amazon wirelessly syncs the furthest point read so 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 Calibre e-book library to my phone.
Other plug-ins support a variety of devices. Of course, I have to tether the phone to the netbook. But clicking the Send to Device button 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 additional functions. This plug-in systems allows for the app's developers to add new features more easily than issuing version updates.