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The US Army is Adopting Epub

e2bookFor reasons that escape me, the world’s largest military force is adopting Epub (as well as a proprietary format called E2Book).

This crossed my desk today:

The Army is pushing knowledge to the point of need by making e-Publications available for download to Soldiers’ mobile devices.

Doctrinal publications are accessible as Portable Document Formats (PDF) on personal computers and some mobile devices, but viewing them on mobile devices is less than optimal.

By the end of June, the Army will have converted many Army doctrinal publications to an EPUB format, making it easier to read on computer tablets and smart phones. Depending on the device’s sophistication, users can bookmark, highlight and insert notes on the publications.

The Army is in the process of converting their existing docs to Epub as well as to a rich ebook format I’ve never heard of before, E2Book.

It’s described as having videos, animations and other embedded multimedia, but from what I see online this looks to be just a variant of iBooks. I don’t have the specs so I can’t tell you if it is simply iBooks by another name (perhaps a subset of iBooks with a restricted feature set?), but the one I found to download is reportedly only compatible with the iBooks app.

While it’s all well and good that the Army is adopting a rich ebook format, I don’t see a reason to move to Epub.  I’ve found that nonfiction, particularly the dense and complex material that the Army publishes in its training docs, works best as a fixed layout format.

And since they’re already producing PDF, I don’t see a reason to replace them with Epub. Fixed layout Epub is significantly less useful and has fewer features than PDF, and it is also less widely supported.

But that hasn’t slowed adoption significantly in the civilian world, or apparently in the military.

Tradoc via Dvids

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puzzled June 16, 2015 um 5:55 pm

The article never says that the Epub will be fixed layout. PDFs just don’t work on small devices.

[cue the naysayers, but really, fixed letter sized page PDFS don’t work on 6 inch ereaders]

As for Epub, what other non-proprietary ebooks format is there, where readily available software reading apps (and creation apps) exist? And if the manuals are re-designed, may work nicely in free-flow mode.

E2book, if it isn’t proprietary, has now gotten a big boost to becoming a rich-media standard.

Nate Hoffelder June 16, 2015 um 6:16 pm

I think PDFs work okay on 6″ to 7″ LCD screens, but I won’t fight you on the point.

And you’re right in that I am assuming fixed layout; nonfiction works better that way.

William D. O’Neil June 16, 2015 um 11:09 pm

"I’ve found that nonfiction … works best as a fixed layout format." So all the scores of nonfiction titles on my Kindle, not to say the nonfiction I’ve written, is all wrong? What am I missing here?

But of course you wouldn’t expect the Army to know anything about training pubs, now would you?

Nate Hoffelder June 16, 2015 um 11:16 pm

See, this is why I expressed it as my opinion. I didn’t think everyone would agree with me.

William D. O’Neil June 17, 2015 um 4:54 pm

I suppose you’re referring to all the boxes and chart junk textbook publishers love to clutter their books with. All based on pedagogical assumptions that have been slammed by research on how people actually learn. The Army, which has its own research group that studies how people learn and isn’t concerned with defending its textbook market probably has already dropped all that stuff.

Of course the fact that boxes and other clutter get in the way of wider adoption of e-texts may well be a feature rather than a bug to far as the text publishers are concerned.

Michael June 17, 2015 um 4:32 pm

If the one you found is representative, it’s just an ordinary iBooks Author file. Change the extension to .zip and you can unzip it. This one doesn’t have any special features beyond embedded audio and video and the text being slightly too small for me to read comfortably without zooming. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.

Clicking a star plays the supplemental media.

eFTy June 22, 2015 um 5:55 am

PDF was a good format when it came out, but now it’s become a bloated tool only useful for physical publishing. Epubs not only have the reflowing text advantage, they’re also smaller in size and load faster. The format is also in constant development along with html and much easier to work on.

And since the fixed layout version adds rich media support, it makes using pdf’s on digital devices pointless.

Nate Hoffelder June 22, 2015 um 4:29 pm

I like PDFs over FXL Epub because they’re easy to make, they work everywhere, and they do more better than fixed layout Epub. Plus the format is not in development, so there’s no need to guess which features are supported on which platform.

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